Author Archives: kate

The Drought Continues

Yesterday, I visited the home of new clients. The couple moved to Montgomery from Albuquerque, New Mexico a while back and recently decided to construct a swimming pool in their back yard. My father was from New Mexico, and we had much to talk about. The newly excavated pool space and the resulting mounds of dirt, combined with this heat and drought, reminded us all of the New Mexico landscape. Our conversation turned to what we can do to prevent this temporary mirage from becoming a reality.

If you are getting tired of dragging garden hoses and sprinklers around the yard every few days, or even hours, there is an economical solution, far short of installing a custom irrigation system. A hose timer can be added to your outdoor water faucet for under $50.00. A hose timer has several settings which will turn on your sprinkler without you having to be there!

Hose timer

Hose timers are available at EWING IRRIGATION, 5890 Monticello Drive.  They carry the Calber 8444 Logica hose end timer, which is the one I often use for my clients and myself. A nine-volt battery operates the clock.

Timers are simple to install and set. But remember two things:

1) Do not use the timer in the winter, when freezing conditions occur.

2) Check your faucet for leaks before buying a hose timer. If your faucet leaks, you cannot connect the timer, because it requires an open faucet valve at all times. It is the timer that controls the flow of water.

If you still need a hose for hand watering and clean up, buy a hose splitter and put your timer on one side. Each side has its own control valve, so the main faucet valve can remain fully open for the timer while you operate the secondary hose as needed.

Hose splitters

Hose timers are also great for watering potted plants when you go on a trip. For more information, simply google hose timers, and get ready to be less stressed about your garden in this drought. Your plants will be less stressed, too.

Mark Montoya, the Practical Gardener, is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Conference To Showcase Historic Midtown Living

Montgomery will be THE HOT spot for historic preservation October 7 through the 9th. We will be the host city for the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation and the Alabama Historical Commission annual statewide conference Preserving Alabama’s Hometowns, Embracing Historic Places—Making Life Better. The focus of this year’s conference is to showcase historic preservation as a tool in creating a vital, cultural, economic, and tourism core for downtown Montgomery as well as preserving and reclaiming our historic neighborhoods in which to live. The keynote speaker will be Donovan Rypkema, an internationally noted expert on using historic preservation as an economic development tool.

This year the conference is offering several tracks that offer something for anyone involved in old house living. The Preservation and Historic Neighborhoods: Building Better Communities track includes presentations and conversations with city planners, residents of historic neighborhoods and key leaders in neighborhood associations across the state. We’ll hear about the role of architectural review boards, the value of master tree plans, urban planning and city codes to enhance historic neighborhoods and they will show us how it all fits together preserving historic neighborhoods and making our lives better, (but us Midtowners already know this!)

Another track, Preservation and the Decorative Arts, will focus on living with fine art, artifacts and their care and conservation. A few highlights that Montgomery Midtowners might especially be interested in are listed below.

  • How to live with our old stuff (antiques)- a presentation and discussion about 19th century Alabama-made furniture and imports.
  • Wooden window restoration workshop demonstrating how to improve energy efficiency and maintaining important materials and features of our old windows.
  • An informative walk through two of our midtown historic neighborhoods, Cottage Hill and Old Cloverdale.
  • A panel discussion with historic neighborhood planners and residents of these neighborhoods from across the state talking about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Networking with other old house enthusiasts at lunch in Rescued Relics at Old Alabama Town.
  • How to preserve your family papers, images and artifacts.

And of great note and fanfare, our own David Braly and Mark Montoya, of Midtown Montgomery Living, will be receiving an Alabama Trust For Historic Preservation Rehabilitation Award for their exemplary rehabilitation of Fire House #9 on South McDonough Street in the Garden District. They will be showcasing the Fire House on Thursday evening 7:30 until 9:30 for Fire and Ice Soiree, a fundraiser for the ATHP.

Katherine and David Rees on Galena Avenue in Old Cloverdale have also graciously volunteered their lovely home and formal gardens for Moonlight Garden and Candlelight Dinner Party as a fundraiser for the ATHP on Friday evening at 7:30. (Have you gotten the idea yet that lots of folks in Montgomery support the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation?) Built in 1906, the home is graced with antiques and art and guests can enjoy dining in this 1906 house and meandering through its Lime Gardens with ornamental iron work, brick terraces and a dance pavilion.

For a complete listing of all the offerings of this conference and for registration options so you won’t miss anything go to www.alabamatrust.info or call 205-652-3497. Many activities, including registration, are centered at the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

Katherine and David Rees (who are gluttons for punishment but yet so generous to share) will also open their fabulous home and gardens for the Friends of the Alabama Governor’s Mansion fundraiser on Saturday afternoon from 3:00 until 6:00. Call 334-233-8595 for ticket information.

How can any Montgomery Midtowner ever say there is nothing to do in Montgomery?

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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Remembering Ken Groves

This past Tuesday, Montgomery lost one of its great champions. In his honor and memory, we would like to share the following editorial that ran in the Montgomery Advertiser on September 30, 2010. A link to the full piece is available here. About this piece, Sandra Nickel says: “Truer words were never spoken.  Amen and thank you, Ken!”

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Ken Groves made city better place

SEPTEMBER 30, 2010

Ken Groves made his hometown a better place to live, which would be a fitting epitaph for the city’s planning director who died Tuesday after a brief battle with cancer.

Groves become the city’s chief planner nine years ago, and he helped to change the way many in the city look at planning and zoning issues.

He was an ardent champion of the city’s SmartCode zoning ordinance that allows for mixed-use zoning. The adoption of the code in 2006 allowed the creation of loft apartments and condominiums in downtown Montgomery.

Groves also worked diligently on the West Fairview Avenue redevelopment project — a project that epitomized his approach to development.

Instead of government officials telling the residents how their area should develop, Groves believed in asking them what kind of community they wanted — and then working with them to make it happen.

Even though there was no stronger advocate for smart growth development, he was not an “in your face” proponent. Instead, the soft-spoken planner worked to educate developers, government officials and the public on the advantages of the smart-growth planning and zoning. While not always successful, he made many converts, including many of the community’s elected officials.

One of his more recent projects was helping to plan an urban farm for property near the Montgomery Advertiser offices.

“The beauty of Ken’s work is that it will outlive him and there will be such a strong legacy that, as we go about our day-to-day lives, there will be efforts that Ken led that will be standing reminders of all the good he’s done,” said Deputy Mayor Jeff Downes, who worked closely with Groves.

“All you have to do is walk in downtown Montgomery and have a beautiful oak tree next to you as you walk. It’s a beautiful legacy.”

That’s true. But perhaps his most lasting achievement will not be the visible changes in the cityscape that he helped to create, but the changes in attitudes toward development that he helped to mold among the city’s leaders.

———–

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Bye Bye Bel Aire—Hello, Hornet Football!

They started showing up shortly after 8 a.m. last Saturday. As the morning progressed, the land in front of the old Cloverdale School building gradually was covered over by RVs, trucks and cars. And out of the vehicles came grills, coolers, lawn furniture and canopies. Fans of Huntingdon football and their homecoming rival, Birmingham Southern, were participating in one of the South’s favorite rituals:  tailgating.

In the not-too-distant future, Alabama State Hornet fans will be able to enjoy the same spectator sport. In a brief interview on Friday, September 24, ASU President William Harris confirmed that ASU will be constructing an on-campus stadium. “We have the land available. We have the site picked out,” he said. Trustees are in the process now of preparing bond documents to support the project.

Hearing this good news from Alabama State brought to mind the construction already underway on the eastern edge of the campus, an area formerly known as Bel Aire. To enable future expansion, the University had between 1995 and 2000 acquired all of the property between University Boulevard and the west side of Forest Avenue.

Not all of the acquisition went smoothly. Some of the land was bought from homeowners, but a significant number of properties were acquired through the process of eminent domain. The recently deceased African-American District Judge Charles S. Conley owned many parcels wanted by the University and actually sued, alleging that officials had discriminated racially in their offers of compensation.

When I first noted activity on the Bel Aire land this spring, I telephoned University spokesman Ken Mullinax to learn if it might herald the coming of the much-discussed football stadium and was disappointed to learn that there were other plans for that area of the campus. The recent news of a stadium site is exciting, and I’m sure welcomed by alums who want to join the ranks of Southerners who are able to make game days really special.

It will be interesting to see if folks living near the ASU campus are equally happy about the planned addition. For reasons I don’t understand, I have heard some say that an on-campus stadium is not a good idea and that play should continue at Cramton Bowl.

It will also be interesting to see where Huntingdon tailgaters go when the Cloverdale School frontage, now being offered for sale by owner Colonial Properties, changes hands and is developed. Were there not a fire station on East Fairview, it might make sense to just close the street on game days and allow the party to occur in the roadway. As that is not an option, I suppose only time will tell.

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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Colonial Revival

Time and events coincided to turn the interest of American architecture away from the excesses of the Victorian Era and toward the country’s historical roots. In 1876 our country celebrated its centennial with celebrations and commemorations all over the country. If you were alive in 1976, you probably remember “Bicentennial Fever” sweeping the nation in much the same way. The Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia helped focus national attention on American technology and decorative arts. One of its exhibits, a colonial kitchen with costumed interpreters, sparked larger interest in the colonial home. Decorative features like moldings, Palladian windows and columns of a more classical style began to migrate onto the irregular house forms we associate with the Victorians. At a glance these houses don’t appear to have anything to do with our Colonial beginnings. As the style developed, houses began to have more in common with our Federal and Georgian roots.

Montgomery was wild for the Colonial Revival. Important houses like the Teague House and the House of Mayors on Perry Street underwent significant alterations to bring them up to date. The House of Mayors lost its wrap-around porch and gained a classical entrance and some beautiful leaded glass in designs. The severe Greek Revival of the Teague house got a fancy sheet metal cornice and door surround (tap on it–it’s hollow!). The Griel mansion on South Lawrence Street, which was Italianate, lost its tower and gained afull-blown porch. Residents raced to keep houses up to date.

Montgomery’s newest residential areas, Capitol Heights, Cloverdale and the southern extensions of Court, Perry, Lawrence, Hull and Decatur that we now call the Garden District are also replete with examples of the style. In Capitol Heights, Colonial Revival shows its face in both grand and modest ways up and down Madison Avenue and South Capitol Parkway.

In the Garden District, the shape of the Queen Anne house persists on the northeast corner of Hull and Clanton, but the porch has round Doric columns and both the porch and eave moldings have dentil blocks and brackets. Just down on the next corner is a full-blown Colonial Revival with a very flat facade and beautifully proportioned entry and central Palladian window. In Cloverdale, Felder Avenue examples form a graceful sweep of substantial Colonial Revival on one of Montgomery’s most beautiful residential streets.

As time went on, brick houses began to outstrip weatherboard as a favorite exterior cladding, because of construction techniques allowing brick veneer for the first time. Smaller houses like the “Cape Cod” cottage became very popular. Graham Street in Cloverdale is full of little gems of colonial inspiration. The three houses with picket fences on the east side of the street between Felder and Park could be in any New England village. On the other end of the street near Thorn is a perfect example, with brick parapet walls enclosing the gable roof almost like Tidewater Virginia. I did say “almost.”

With only a brief side trip into some other styles, Colonial Revival has been the most popular and enduring stylistic language of residential architecture in our country. It was very popular in the catalogues of mail-order houses like Sears and Aladdin. Books about these mail-order houses are a good way to study the breadth of the style. One of  my favorites is Houses by Mail, by Katherine Stevenson and Ward Jandl. Any of the staff at Capitol Book and News can order it for you, or you can get a copy used on the on-line book sites like Alibris or ABE books.

Elizabeth Ann Brown has lived in and loved Montgomery’s Garden District for more than twenty years. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture and a masters degree in Community Planning from Auburn University. Her hobbies include pursuit of the ultimate chicken salad sandwich, bicycling, and working on her old house, a 1913 bungalow.

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Lowder Property Rezoning

Regular MML readers know that we’re closely following the debates over re-zoning in Cloverdale Five Points (the part of town with Sinclair’s and The Capri). For those not as geeked out about zoning as we are, the story so far is basically that the City wants to switch over to SmartCode in this part of town (We have collected drawings and documents here for your reference). That push is still going forward, but in the short term, the City is asking for a rezoning of the Lowder property at the corner of Boultier and Fairview. That’s the western part of the building that used to be a school. For those not totally conversant with the area, it’s near Huntingdon College (once an owner of this parcel), across the street from Sinclair’s and also from the 1048 nightclub.

As it stands, this property is zoned B-1-a. The City is hoping it can be zoned B-1-a-q. Your eyes glazing over yet? It seems the “q” stands for “qualifications.” According to City Planner Tyler Caldwell, “The addition of the q denotes qualifications that restrict potential developments on this property to conform to the standards laid out in the T4-O SmartCode Transect. The only additional qualification is the permission for 1 story structures; whereas, T4-O has a minimum height restriction of 2 stories.” Caldwell has summarized the qualifications in a document you can see for yourself – download by clicking here.

This sounds good to us. Confusing to wade through the jargon, but when you think about it, it sounds nice. This is what governments do. They prevent people from ruining neighborhoods in the name of unchecked property rights. And if you care about how your city looks and functions, this is the sort of thing you should care about.

Why the rush? Well, the property is about to be sold, and the City would like to ensure that whatever is built there maintains the look and neighborhood feel associated with SmartCode. In other words, not a big box store with a bunch of parking in the front. According to Caldwell, this rezoning does not impede the larger effort to have SmartCode for the whole Cloverdale Five Points area. That debate is still upcoming.

The Cloverdale-Idlewild Association voted unanimously at this week’s meeting to support the City’s rezoning of the Lowder property. The next step in the process will be a Planning Commission meeting at 5:00 pm on September 23. The Planning Commission meets at City Hall, Room 142 at 103 N. Perry St. Please contact Tyler Caldwell, City Planner, at 334-241-2728 or tcaldwell@montgomeryal.gov if you have any questions or concerns.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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How’s the Market? It All Depends!

This week, I ran across a very interesting chart that describes the various “states” possible in any given real estate market:

A severe buyers’ market means prices are extremely negotiable and may be falling. In Midtown Montgomery, it means in general that only those really needing to sell should be on the market because buyers expect and are getting discounts on sales prices and many other give-backs with dollar signs attached.

So how’s the market? Taken as a whole, Midtown is still pretty much tough sledding for sellers. Overall, we see 11.01 months of homes available for sale. That means in theory that if no additional homes go on the market, it will take just over 11 months for all the existing listings to be sold. The good news is that the inventory of homes available for sale is down somewhat from last year and appears still to be declining.

But..and it’s a big but…Midtown is not one monolithic market. It is the sum of many varied markets. Each neighborhood and price range is a mini-market within the larger Midtown market as a whole. So when you ask me (or whomever), “How’s the market?,” don’t be surprised if the answer is, “Well, it all depends!”

Let’s look at a few specifics, starting with Cloverdale-Idlewild. In the past 12 months, 13 homes were sold. And today there are exactly 13 homes on the market for sale. Clearly, there is that theoretical 12-month supply of homes, which would label Cloverdale-Idlewild a severe buyers’ market.

But for a real severe buyers’ market, we need look no further than Center City (Garden District, the two Cloverdales and Edgewood) homes priced at $200,000 or more. Currently there are 42 homes for sale and only 20 sold in the past 12 months. It’s the perfect opportunity for an old-house lover to sell his/her/their smaller home and move up to the bigger, more expensive home of their dreams! (More later on why the best time to move up is in a down market.)

Hillwood, however, is quite a different story. In the past 12 months, 13 homes sold in Hillwood/Hillwood West. And there are only 8 homes on the market today. In theory, it will take less than 8 months for those homes to sell, so Hillwood is a balanced market. This means that buyers won’t find the “deals” there that the national media has been telling them they should expect.

If you are thinking about selling and/or buying in Midtown, be sure you have the “How’s the market…my segment of the market” conversation with your agent. Then act accordingly to avoid disappointment down the road.

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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