A decaying car battery factory in southwest Atlanta, smack-dab on the Atlanta Beltline, was supposed to be one of the city's glittering redevelopment jewels by now.
The vacant Exide Technologies plant on Allene Avenue, which once spewed lead dust onto local homes, was to be reinvented as a 12-acre mixed-use project. But nearly eight years later, the plan remains wedged between a rock and a hard place.
The rock in this case is polluted soil that federal officials say Exide, based in Milton, Ga., still hasn't cleaned up. The hard place is the private firm that bought the site in 2006 and has sat on the property. With the city now suing it for code violations, the company claims it can't even afford to board up the rotting buildings, according to Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd.
"This is a very complicated situation. This is not something that is going to — poof! — resolve itself overnight," Sheperd says, likening the property to a miniature Atlantic Station.
Sheperd recently toured potential developers around the site and in mid-March held a community meeting to update Capitol View residents about city and federal efforts to speed along the project. Attendees included a contingent of Beltline officials and a half-dozen residents, one of them part of a real estate team considering its own redevelopment proposal.
Earlier this month the city took the property owner, Allene Avenue Redevelopment LLC, to court for code violations, including unsecured buildings and overgrown land. The city might also be considering seizing the property. "I wouldn't disclose anything going on right now," Sheperd said at the time. "That is a possibility."
But the bigger concern to Sheperd and some residents is whether the property owner will ever build the mixed-use project it proposed around a decade ago and which got the OK from nearby neighbors and rezoning approval.
No one seems sure who to ask. State records list several addresses in various states. CL traced one to Jim Pisani, CEO of Viasant, a Chicago-area cleanup company. Reached by phone, Pisani said someone would return our call. No one did.
Exide is still on the hook for cleaning up the site under a 2003 Environmental Protecting Agency agreement. But that's complicated, too, as Exide recently entered bankruptcy. Its public relations firm did not respond to CL.
Exide operated the facility from 1948 to 1988, according to the EPA. Between 2006 and 2008, the feds conducted emergency soil cleanups of many surrounding properties, including 29 homes. Exide was supposed to clean up the factory site but still hasn't.
The soil is probably only a danger if small children eat it, officials say, but it must be cleaned up for any redevelopment, which adds to the cost. Carter Williamson, an EPA official who's monitored the site for a decade, very roughly guessed the cost would be under $3 million, but no one really knows until officials start work.
Exide is currently negotiating a cleanup package of 15 nationwide sites, including Allene Avenue, with federal and state agencies, says EPA attorney Kevin Beswick. The agency should know by mid-summer whether a deal is possible.
"We want to get it back in the hands of the community and we want to get it back in the hands of Atlanta," Williamson says.
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