The Atlanta Botanical Garden’s (ABG) plan to build a self-storage facility in Virginia-Highland has secured a key permit from the City. But silence since then leaves it unclear if the plan will include retail space pressed for by the community and Atlanta BeltLine advisors.
On March 23, The Atlanta Department of City Planning approved a special administrative permit (SAP) for the project at Monroe Drive and Cooledge Avenue, and granted three variations requested by ABG. But the status remains unclear, as ABG and Public Storage, the company that would operate the facility, did not respond to comment requests.
As of June 2, the City’s online system showed no applications for demolition or building permits. The Virginia-Highland Civic Association (VHCA), which won some early design concessions, says it has not heard from ABG since, despite commentary in January from the Atlanta BeltLine Design Review Committee (DRC) calling for more neighborhood review of the retail space and other suggestions.
“We have no news, nor did we have any expectation of any, including contact,” said Jack White, co-chair of the VHCA’s planning committee. “The ABG is really quite considerate in managing the expectations it does not create.”
The plan is part of a land swap proposed by ABG to get rid of an existing Public Storage facility where it intends to build a new entrance.
A fixture of Midtown’s Piedmont Park, ABG has a longstanding plan to expand by 7 acres along Piedmont Avenue and Westminster Drive, right on a section of the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail that is under construction. In November, the Garden announced the self-storage swap as key to that plan. An existing Public Storage facility at 268 Westminster would be demolished, and a replacement built on a triangle of land in VaHi where Cooledge Avenue and Kanuga Street meet Monroe Drive (officially numbered at 1011 Monroe and 597 Cooledge.) Also sitting along the Eastside Trail, that property is currently the site of vacant commercial buildings and is next door to an existing self-storage facility from the competing firm Extra Space Storage.
ABG initially touted the plan as giving it a grand new entrance on the BeltLine, while downplaying the new facility’s impact elsewhere on the trail. The VHCA reacted with fury to the content of the plan as well as its filing shortly before the Thanksgiving weekend when everyone was distracted.
ABG made some design changes in response to VHCA concerns, including a proposal to add office space to the structure. The three zoning variations ABG sought related to that plan: adding opaque glass along the neighborhood side to block the view, increasing a tree-planting zone on the Cooledge sidewalk, and reducing a building setback requirement to gain parking space for the offices.
The DRC, which advises the City on such applications, in January blasted the plan as inherently bad for the BeltLine. The DRC ended up voting to recommend approval of the sidewalk variation and denial of the other two. But the real message was to look harder at retail uses and come back with a different plan.
However, that has not happened, and the City granted all three variations. “The non-storage uses are supportive of the active use requirement encouraged by the city, the Atlanta BeltLine and the residents of the Virginia-Highland neighborhood,” said the SAP approval about the setback variation. “Strict application of the regulations will decrease the opportunity to construct as part of the development any spaces for active use.”
The SAP approval did not include any conditions and did not reference the DRC’s comments. “That was, of course, a huge surprise to absolutely no one, but we all were grateful for the reconnections to reality that the DRC members’ comments provided,” said White.
The self-storage facility is allowed under the zoning, and an appeal period for the SAP has passed. It appears ABG could file to begin demolition and construction at any time.