Suwanee explores historic preservation district

Suwanee is exploring a local historic preservation designation for the city's Old Town, an area encompassing about one square mile in the heart of the Gwinnett County enclave.

City officials have sent letters to 700 residents and businesses, notifying them of a three-hour educational workshop Saturday. The meeting will feature sessions by field experts on the benefits and constraints of the program, meant to preserve the historic character of commercial and residential buildings.

If ultimately approved, the district, composed of areas along Main Street and across Buford Highway, would be the first for this community of 16,500.

"An historic preservation program can provide an avenue for citizens to protect their neighborhoods," said Matthew Dickison, the city's planning division director. "But in order to be successful, historic preservation programs require grass-roots, local support and that’s what we’re trying to gauge."

Such support has come in a number of cities, but not always. Recently, plans for historic designations in Marietta and Decatur met resistance from homeowners who felt their property rights were being violated.

Georgia has more than 130 cities and counties with historic preservation ordinances. A municipality can have up to seven districts, with the most located in larger cities such as Atlanta and Macon, said Leigh Burns of the historic preservation division at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Suwanee accountant Jerry Little owns a 63-year-old commercial building on Main Street that was renovated four years ago. He plans to attend Saturday's meeting out of "total curiosity" about preservation.

"I've heard once that's done, it makes it a lot more difficult to make any changes," Little said. "But I'll have an open mind."

Suwanee homeowner Randy Winfield, who lives in Old Town, said preservation is key to the city's past.

"If these properties are not preserved, we lose that history forever," he said. "They can't be replaced. They can't be manufactured."

Dickison said if residents support the idea, the process for establishing a district could take several months to a year.

"Right now, we're just trying to see if there's any interest," he said. "Do we have that local support in Suwanee?"

If you go

  • What: Meeting on possible local historic preservation program in Old Town
  • When: 9 a.m. Saturday
  • Where: Suwanee City Hall, 330 Town Center Ave., Suwanee