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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fuqua, residents discuss possible Glenwood Park development changes

After months of protests, appeals, lawsuits, southeast Atlanta residents are discussing a possible compromise with Atlanta developer Jeff Fuqua that could bring about revisions to the controversial sprawling suburban-style retail complex he proposed near Glenwood Park and along the Atlanta Beltline.

Several neighborhood leaders recently met with Fuqua to discuss possible changes to the proposed shopping center, which in earlier plans included a 143,000 square-foot anchor tenant rumored to be a Walmart. Those concessions - plus new ideas from residents in Grant Park, Ormewood Park, and other nearby neighborhoods - will be presented and discussed at a public meeting scheduled for Feb. 16.

Last October, a group of local residents called Smart Growth Atlanta unsuccessfully appealed a special permit issued by the city's Office of Planning that gave Fuqua the green light to move ahead with the massive retail complex. Grant Park Neighborhood Association and some of its residents filed a subsequent appeal in Fulton County Superior Court. Meanwhile, Fuqua's firm, Fuqua Development, and current site owner LaFarge filed lawsuits against the city.

In their recent meeting, community leaders met with Fuqua to once explain "the importance of the Beltline" and reiterate their desires for denser, more urban-style development. But after losing their appeal, local residents are now considering striking a deal with the developer that could include minor concessions to the project's original site plan. According to neighborhood reps, the developer said that much of the 800 Glenwood Avenue site proposal couldn't be changed. For instance, a giant sewer trunk line running diagonally through the property needed to be left untouched. The street grid for the 20-acre site, he said, also was required due to Beltline and city regulations. He also told residents that a parking-deck, smaller anchor tenant, or multi-level urban-style building would not be feasible. We've reached out to Fuqua multiple times for comment.

But multiple sources have told CL that Fuqua could be willing to compromise on parts of the site's original plan. Some possible changes in the works might include a 250-unit senior residential center, two-story liner buildings along Glenwood Avenue to obscure the big-box anchor tenant from the street, and space for a food truck park. In addition, a "green-wall," residential units, and commercial space could be built between the Atlanta Beltline and the big-box store.

GPNA President Lauren Rocereta tells CL that residents were always willing to talk with Fuqua about a site plan that met both their needs. Although the proposed changes weren't exactly what she wanted, she thinks they're a step in the right direction.

"We can get some elements we want," Rocereta says. "But we're just not having any luck with having the majority of the development changed to [become more dense rather than sprawling]. "The best thing could be if the development was urban-style development. Nobody is fighting what vendors or retail merchants are in there, we're fighting for smart growth."

Councilwoman Carla Smith, who last year introduced a proposal to rezone - and effectively halt - the development, tells CL she's glad to hear about the continued talks and will help "do whatever her residents want to do regarding city legislation."

It's unclear how these discussions will impact the pending lawsuits and appeals. If Fuqua and local residents strike a deal, both sides could be willing to put their differences aside and avoid lengthy courtroom battles.

The public meeting on the potential Glenwood Park project changes is scheduled to take place at Zoo Atlanta on Feb. 16 starting around 6:30 p.m.

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