Historic designation could boost Macon neighborhood

Napier Avenue just west of Interstate 75 and the side streets around it are a neighborhood of contrasts.

Many of the homes are over a century old. Some are fully renovated and well taken care of while others appear to have been abandoned and neglected for years. Some homes are occupied but are clearly in need of some work.

But an initiative by the Historic Macon Foundation aims to help more property owners bring out the full potential of their homes. An effort is under way to have the neighborhood designated a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places.

It would mean property owners could get state and federal tax breaks for renovations done to homes in the area. The designation has been used to breathe new life into 14 other Macon areas, including downtown.

“It’s easy to see the impact downtown,” said Ethiel Garlington, executive director of Historic Macon. “The downtown revitalization that is happening today is only possible with the tax credit incentive programs.”

The process to get the designation is a long one, and for Napier Avenue it began in 2016. The next step is a public hearing set for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium at A.L. Miller Village Apartments, 2241 Montpelier Avenue. Representatives from the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources will answer questions.

Garlington said there is no downside to the designation for property owners. It does not put any restrictions on what they can do with their homes and property.

One homeowner excited about the effort is Sara Nourachi. She owns 10 homes in the neighborhood, one of which is her residence and the others she rents. She would like to see the designation not so much for the benefit she might get for work done on her properties, but out of hope that it could spur improvements to other homes. She said she has enjoyed living in the neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of neighbors who really do care about their homes,” she said. “Unfortunately there’s a lot of blighted homes scattered in between there. Almost a third is probably blighted but I think this historic initiative will probably help clean up a lot of this blight and make it a really nice neighborhood.”

She and her neighbors have started the Napier Heights Neighborhood Association, with a website at napierheights.com.

Stephanie Miller bought a house on Duncan Avenue two years ago that she has been renovating and plans to move into it when she is done, hopefully within the next year.

“I wanted to have in-town Macon living, but with a yard,” she said. “I saw the house on Duncan and thought it was beautiful so I decided to buy it.”

Vickie Hertwig has done extensive research on the area for Historic Macon to be included in the application. She said the oldest homes were built in the late 1800s and many were built in the early 1900s. She said the neighborhood grew as street cars came to Macon, and rails from a street car line are still visible on Lawton Avenue.

“It’s a good example of how suburban neighborhoods evolved in response to changing transportation trends and economic trends,” Hertwig said. “This is an earlier example of a streetcar neighborhood.”

The district runs along Napier from I-75 to Brentwood Avenue as the west border. It encompasses about 227 acres of land and more than 650 buildings.

The application will go to the state for official review at the Feb. 22 meeting of the Historic Preservation Division then it will go to the National Park Service for review.

Wayne Crenshaw has worked as a journalist since 1990 and has been a reporter for The Telegraph since 2002. He holds a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Georgia College and is a resident of Warner Robins.