By Collin Kelley
Despite threats of a legal challenge, the Atlanta City Council voted this afternoon, Sept. 3, to approve legislation proposed by Councilmember Carla Smith to rezone property on Glenwood Avenue along the Atlanta BeltLine from light industrial to multi-family residential to stop a Fuqua Development project. Fuqua has proposed a single-level, 155,000 square foot retail space, rumored to be a Walmart, on the 20-acre property.
Two votes were required to pass the legislation on the property located at 800 and 860 Glenwood Avenue. The first passed 12-2 with Councilmembers Ivory Lee Young and Joyce Sheperd voting against the rezoning, while the second vote was 11 to 3, with Young and Sheperd being joined by Felecia Moore in dissent.
Before the votes were taken, there were two attempts to convene an executive session, which would have been closed to the public, to discuss the rezoning issue in private because of legal implications. The majority of the council voted against an executive session, but seemed reluctant to speak at any length on the issue in case the developer and property owner file suit, which attorney’s threatened to do on Aug. 8 when the Atlanta Zoning Review Board (ZRB) took up the issue. The ZRB’s recommendation for approval of Smith’s legislation was voided last week by the city’s Zoning Committee citing an improper vote.
Councilmember Moore said she believed the rezoning issue should have gone back to the ZRB so that the city was following proper procedure and “crossing all its t’s and dotting all it’s i’s” in case of a legal challenge. “I have to vote against this rezoning change, although I think the plan proposed by the developer is awful. I hope there is still a chance for the community and the developer to sit down and come up with a softer site plan.”
After the votes, Councilmember Smith met with several dozen residents who had turned out wearing blue shirts and buttons with the slogan, “Save Our BeltLine.” Smith said there is still work to be done, since the Zoning Board of Appeals will hear an appeal to Fuqua Development’s already-granted special administrative permit (SPA) to develop the big box retail store in the BeltLine overlay zone, which calls for mixed-used and residential development. Fuqua proposed neither in their SPA. The Zoning Board of Appeals meeting is set for Oct. 10 at noon at City Hall.
Residents and neighborhood associations from Glenwood Park, Grant Park, Chosewood Park, Ormewood Park, Reynoldstown, Cabaggetown and others united to fight the Fuqua plan, rallied by Councilmember Smith’s legislation.
Liz Hill, a former Walmart employee who lives a half-mile from the Glenwood property, said the fight was not about Walmart but using the property in an appropriate way that won’t impact the surrounding neighborhoods.
Glenwood Park resident Brandon Tidwell said he wanted to see development in the area, but a big box retailer was not the answer. “Look at the mix of brownstones, retails and restaurants in Glenwood Park. It’s been successful, so why can’t Fuqua come up with something similar and not go with a big box retailer? I think there is still an opportunity for the community to sit down with Fuqua and propose something else for the site.”
Another resident who wished to remain anonymous said the potential adverse affects on Glenwood Park and surrounding communities was huge, especially with the lack of road infrastructure. “There are plenty of other areas around town who would love a Walmart or big box development,” the resident said. “Why don’t they go there instead of trying to force it onto a piece of unsuitable property?”
Colleen Kiernan, the director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, was pleased by today’s vote. “The Sierra Club is a proponent of the Atlanta BeltLine, so we also have an interest in seeing the correct kind of development happen along the trails. One giant store with a big parking lot is not part of the BeltLine vision.”
Councilwoman Smith encouraged the residents to “stay positive” as the process continues.
Smart Growth Atlanta, an umbrella organization made up of neighborhood associations in the area, is already collecting money at its website, smartgrowthatlanta.org, for a potential legal challenge.