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Castleberry Hill opposes ‘park-for-hire’ surface parking lots around stadium

By Maria Saporta

Nothing sucks the life out of a community more than surface parking lots.

So it’s no surprise that the Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association recently voted unanimously against a proposal by the Parc Vue Condo Development II, LLC, managed by Herman J. Russell, Sr., to change the zoning laws to permit “park-for-hire” surface parking lots on a wide swath of property near the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.

The Russell organization has proposed to remove “park-for-hire” lots as a prohibited use from the area that covers the better part of 10 blocks south of the new stadium between Northside Drive and Castleberry Hill.

The application had been scheduled to go before the Zoning Review Board on the night of Wednesday, Aug. 14, but Jerome Russell said on Monday afternoon that they had withdrawn their application so they could have an opportunity to meet with the community.

Yet it’s hard to see how the Russells and the Castleberry community will be able to reach consensus on allowing the fragile urban area to become permanently paved with asphalt – basically stifling any possibility of economic vitality on the property that is used for overflow parking during game days.

“Surface parking lots effectively destroy the neighborhoods surrounding sports arenas by isolating them behind seas of asphalt,” said Everett Lee Morris, IV, an attorney and financial planner who was speaking for the Castleberry community. “This is what occurred with Turner Field, which negatively impacted the neighborhoods of Summer Hill and Mechanicsville severely.”

In its application, the Russell organization argued that the “park-for-hire” should no longer be a prohibited use because the property has been operating as surface parking lots for years.

But that argument doesn’t hold much weight with the community.

“Mr. Russell has continuously and knowingly violated the zoning ordinances which clearly restrict any use of the property for surface parking,” Morris wrote in an email. “He is not bashful about his blatant disregard for the zoning laws and the well being of our neighborhood; in fact, he relies on his consistent violation of the law as a reason for this restriction being lifted.  He repeatedly argues in his application that because he has broken the law for so long, that the law should change to suit him.”

Morris went on to write that: “Our neighborhood has been attempting to get the city to enforce the zoning restriction which Mr. Russell admittedly violates constantly for years, with little success, as you can see from the way Mr. Russell brags about his consistent illegal parking lots in this application.”

This is not the first time that the issue of creating a parking overlay district around the new Falcons stadium has come up. Last fall, when a parking overlay district was proposed, the community strongly objected, and the Mayor Kasim Reed’s office quickly withdrew the request for such a district.

That led community leaders to believe the proposal had died upon the weight of being a bad idea – especially for a city that said it was seeking to reinvigorate the neighborhoods around the new stadium with new life.

But parking proposals are a bit like cockroaches. They refuse to totally die. They may bury their plans for months at a time, but then passionate parking promoters find ways to revive and reintroduce proposals for even more surface parking.

The Russell's application proposing to remove the restriction of 'park--for-hire' lots around the stadium

The Russell’s application proposing to remove the restriction of ‘park–for-hire’ lots around the stadium (click to enlarge)

In their application, the Russells stated that the change requested “would have no adverse environmental effects on the balance of land uses surrounding the property,” and that the change would “have no substantial, adverse impact on the surrounding neighborhood.”

But Morris said that the “executive board of the Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association, the CHNA General Body, the Neighborhood Planning Unit Land Use Committee and the NPU General Body all voted to deny this application UNANIMOUSLY.  Not by a majority, not by a super-majority, but unanimously.  Not a single person anywhere near these properties thinks that surface parking should be allowed, other than Mr. Russell, of course.”

Interestingly enough, Herman Russell Sr. was one of the leading business community advocates to locate the new Falcons stadium on the site south of the existing Georgia Dome so it could be better integrated with Atlanta’s urban fabric. The other alternative had been the north site, which would have been more than a half mile away from the two MARTA stations that straddle the existing Georgia Dome.

“I think the ideal location would be south,” Russell said in 2012. “I just think it’s a perfect area to locate the new stadium. It would make economic sense to put it there.”

But what economic sense does it make to put the stadium on the south site, next to two MARTA stations, positioning the world-class sports facility to connect downtown with the westside, if one then paves over most of the area around it?

Surface parking lots are the lowest common denominator in a city – a visual eyesore that suggests there are no signs of life and activity in an area. In Atlanta, we’ve seen how churches have torn down perfectly beautiful historic apartment buildings and performing arts facilities so they can have more parking on Sundays – leaving a painful empty parking lot the remaining six days of the week.

We as a city should be getting rid of all our surface parking lots and replacing them with vibrant activities – places where people live, work, shop, eat, play and enjoy nature.

Let’s treat parking as though it is our ugly, smelly garbage. Let’s bury it, hide it, deck it, camoflauge it. Let’s do anything other than letting it spread over our city’s blocks like the plague.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. dianne August 12, 2014 10:00 am

    And once again, this drives home all the misgivings the community had about putting the stadium there.  Huge stadiums don’t increase cohesiveness in neighborhoods.  Huge stadiums slice neighborhoods into fragments.  Add acres of surface parking and there’s the icing on the pile of s**t. 

    The only thing that surprises me about this parking plan is that it happened so quickly.  Usually, developers are a little more stealthy.   Now count the minutes until Reed tells us silly residents how it’s actually is a good thing for our communities.Report

  2. Sally Flocks August 12, 2014 11:54 am

    In the words of Michael Ronkin, President of Designing Streets for People, having a surface parking lot in a downtown area is like having a toilet in your living.Report

  3. Horacio Romero August 12, 2014 1:23 pm

    A wrinkle that we are tackling here in Castleberry Hill is that despite the zoning restrictions on park for hire, lot owners can apply to the city for and receive temporary park-for-hire permits (see Section 150-26 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Atlanta –  http://atlanta.eregulations.us/rule/coor/coor_ptii_ch150_artii_sec150-26 ). I am studying this process further, but I believe that there may be a problem with the way the city has handled these permits. Specifically, these permits are for the operation of temporary park for hire lots, not temporary variances to the zoning restriction on the operation of park for hire lots. So under Section 150-26 (b)(5), how can the Bureau of Buildings provide verification of the compliance by the lots with a proposed use that is not permitted under the zoning restriction? 
    Have you or anyone you know dealt with this issue? It is a backdoor destruction of our zoning restrictions.Report

  4. Susan Roe August 13, 2014 9:55 am

    With 96000 spaces in walking distance to the stadium, it is hard to understand why there is a need for 10 game days. At 4, max 6 hours use each game it seems like there would be better use.Report

  5. King Tommen August 14, 2014 9:30 am

    HJ Russel is a known slum lord and a major Kasim Reed contributor.  I’m not shocked that he blatantly violates current parking ordinances without repercussion, or that he is counting on his favor with Mayor Reed to get the zoning changed in the face of overwhelming stakeholder opposition.Report

  6. Joe Seconder August 17, 2014 7:22 pm

    You said it, Maria Saporta “Let’s treat parking as though it is our ugly, smelly garbage. Let’s bury it, hide it, deck it, camoflauge it. Let’s do anything other than letting it spread over our city’s blocks like the plague.”!!!Report

  7. SaportaReport August 18, 2014 9:33 am

    Thanks for reading Joe SeconderReport


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