Atlanta's Zoning Review Board last night voted 2 to 1 to recommend a rezoning ordinance to Atlanta City Council's zoning committee. If passed, the measure could stall veteran developer Jeff Fuqua's proposed retail complex at 800 Glenwood Ave. Many residents from Grant Park, Ormewood Park, and other nearby communities think the plan, which is rumored to include a 143,000 square-foot anchor tenant that could be Walmart, runs contrary to the vision of walkable, dense developments adjacent to the smart-growth project.
Atlanta City Councilwoman Carla Smith had proposed two pieces of legislation several months ago to change the property's land use and proactively rezone the lot from light industrial to multi-family residential. The rezoning would not allow for Fuqua - who already has obtained a special permit that exempts him from some zoning requirements, acquired a demolition permit, and will soon apply for a building permit - to move ahead with the shopping center.
The contentious meeting last night drew a standing-room-only crowd that consisted of hundreds of local residents. Citizens heckled, supporters applauded, and at least one woman wept tears of joy after the ZRB voted to recommend the ordinance. Dozens of people who couldn't squeeze into Council chambers were forced to watch TVs in City Hall's atrium while the board heard arguments and discussed the controversial rezoning law.
Longtime residents, neighborhood association leaders, and the Georgia Sierra Club argued that Fuqua's Glenwood Park proposal didn't mesh with the needs and wants of the surrounding communities.
"We crave more quaint dining, shops, and retail, which are part of the spirit and vision of the Beltline master plan and don't create pedestrian hazards for our high school students or neighbors." Grant Park Neighborhood Association President Lauren Rocereta said. "Not many people will be excited to walk, run, or ride past a sprawling development with a giant parking lot of wasted space. It makes no sense."
Representatives for Fuqua Development and Lafarge, 800 Glenwood Avenue's current property owner, argued that the proposed development is compatible with the community's plans for the area along the Beltline. Doug Dillard, Lafarge's high-powered attorney, called the rezoning proposal "unconstitutional" and threatened legal action if it were to ultimately become law.
"This legislation is a taking of a very valuable property right," he said. "If it passed, we have no choice but to try to go to court and see if we can restrain Council. We're not going to stand by and let these valuable property rights to be taken."
ZRB members followed with a lengthy discussion and exhausted nearly all options, even coming close at different points to deferring and voting against the legislation. Most of the debate arose from the proposal's unusual circumstances given that it was pushed by an elected official rather than a developer. They noted the adamant community support and recommended the rezoning by a slim margin.
As for what's next, Smith's rezoning legislation now heads to an upcoming Zoning Committee meeting for further discussion. The fight is far from over.
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