Historic showdown in Oakhurst

Threats. Intimidation. Yard signs. Snotty e-mails. Yes, the knives are out in Oakhurst, where the proposed creation of what would be Decatur’s largest historic district has resulted in a nasty neighborhood-wide squabble in which many homeowners have been forced to choose sides.

Terry Michel, a real estate agent who says she supports voluntary design guidelines rather than city imposed building restrictions, says she’s stopped discussing the issue with neighbors because the rhetoric on both sides has become too overheated.

“The vitriol is off-putting to me,” Michel explains. “It’s like watching Ann Coulter debate Al Frankin.”

So what is it about a historic district that has so many peoples’ knickers in a wad?

Mainly, the argument comes down to control over one’s own property. If a house is included in the district, then the owner would need to get a “certificate of appropriateness” to tear it down, build an addition or make significant exterior changes. Construction plans that aren’t seen as keeping within the historic character of the neighborhood – say, replacing a 1920s Craftsman bungalow with a modernist stucco triplex – may not be allowed.