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"Atlanta has an over-the-top planning process that's full of requirements unusual in most of the United States," he says. "It's as tough of a place to develop as there is out there based on regulation, oversight, review, and scrutiny."
Racicot says City Hall needs to become more active in vetting developments that shape the city's core. Atlanta's zoning code hasn't received an overhaul since 1982, so the law hasn't evolved along with residents' desires to see smarter development. That's allowed Fuqua and other developers to build suburban-style projects intown.
"Fuqua is operating in an environment that makes what he wants to do legal," Racicot says. "The city could update their zoning and there needs to be a framework for change. The current Beltline overlay doesn't do that, but for now Fuqua has the right to build until the city makes some proactive changes."
By proactively rezoning properties prior to development deals, the city would be able to pressure developers, and indirectly banks and retailers, to play by its rules - not the other way around. Talks are underway to do just that along certain parts of the Beltline.
"Ninety percent of developers do the bare minimum that they're required to do under zoning codes anywhere in the country," Racicot says. "If the zoning lets them put up a cheaper building, they'll do it. Fuqua's not unique in that respect."
Fuqua insists his company will move forward with the 800 Glenwood Ave. development unless it's forced to stop. He'll likely file a lawsuit within the next few weeks to challenge the "illegal" proposals. Lawyers for LaFarge, the concrete company that currently owns the property, and a few committed tenants are considering suing the city. Fuqua could conceivably walk away from the deal, but the odds of that happening are slim to none.
Following Council's rezoning votes, Smith and her constituents gathered in City Hall to discuss the road ahead. Out in the atrium, Fuqua leaned against a brass railing, talked calmly on his cell phone, and plotted his next moves. When you see the whole world as property, there's always a deal to be done.
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