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Dahlonega council blocks Butler building demolition
Owner wants to build hotel at site of KKK sign controversy
Butler building
The Parks, left, and Butler buildings stand in Dahlonega on Monday. The two structures are at the center of a debate over historic preservation in the Gold City, as the buildings' owner wants to tear them down and build a three-story hotel. - photo by Nick Bowman

The Butler building in downtown Dahlonega won’t be demolished any time soon.

In a meeting on Tuesday, Dahlonega City Council members unanimously sided with the town’s Historic Preservation Commission over property owner Roberta Green Garrett, who hopes to demolish the building and an adjacent structure to build a 70-plus room hotel near the Gold City square.

Green Garrett owns both the Butler and Parks buildings on East Main Street — found by the Dahlonega HPC to have historical value worth preserving in the town. The fate of the structures caught national attention in February when a sign advertising the Butler building as a former meeting place of the Ku Klux Klan was posted on the building along with a KKK banner.

“Inappropriate signage” was discussed during the Tuesday meeting as both sides — on one Dahlonega councilmen and on the other Joey Homans, the Forsyth lawyer representing Green Garrett — vented frustration about what has been a years-long, difficult process of deciding what should be done with the two vacant buildings.

“You indicated in your 20-minute presentation how frustrated you are with the city at times and how we’ve seemed to have been a roadblock here,” City Councilman Ron Larson told Homans, saying that there are “two sides to every story” and that the city has “witnessed some very inappropriate signage issues and so forth from your client that I don’t think speaks to cooperation or working together.”

There was no other discussion of the KKK sign during the meeting.

Homans had his own complaints about working with the city to build the hotel downtown, including not getting reports on time to prepare for meetings, having to contend with city-hired experts defending the Butler building — an unusual step in the planning and zoning process — and being asked to restore a building that engineers have said can’t be salvaged “at a reasonable cost.”

“It comes across to the applicant that the citizens are here to serve the government,” Homans said. “... We’ve tried our dead-level best to comply with your ordinances.”

Homans was present on Tuesday to request the city council overturn the HPC’s vote in late September that the Butler building was historically significant and therefore could not be demolished and should instead be renovated.

But that won’t work within the current plans for the three-story hotel, which could have more than 70 rooms and a parking deck both built with brick.

Councilmen and Homans debated the specifics of the project for about 15 minutes, including how the proposal has changed over the years and whether the Butler building could be incorporated into the new hotel rather than leveled to make room for it.

Ultimately, both sides agreed that the process had been belabored and that the city and the developers should work to find a hotel design that worked near the square.

“We want to make sure it’s done right,” Larson said. “We’re tired of two lots of blight in our city for the past couple of years. We’d like to see this move forward. We’re as frustrated as you are with how long this process has taken.”

Homans said the developers “would welcome that opportunity to look over the (proposals) rather than feeling ambushed at meetings.”

But while councilmen said they wanted communication to stay open, that doesn’t mean they think the HPC was wrong to deny the request to demolish the Butler building.

All four voting members, Larson, Mitchell Ridley, Bruce Hoffman and Roman Gaddis, sided with the HPC decision to block the demolition.

“I think there’s a willingness to work (together),” Gaddis told Homans. “… I think there’s a spirit of collaboration and the want to get this done. We want to (not) have two buildings of blight in our city on Main Street.”