By Maria Saporta
In a spirit of cooperation, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, announced Feb 4 that he would be turning over 10 disputed property deeds to the Atlanta Public Schools “right away.”
Now 10 months later, the City of Atlanta has yet turn over those deeds.
In an interview Dec. 1, Reed said he has no intention to turn over those deeds unless APS agrees to require buyers to offer affordable housing.
“The only request we have made – if property is sold for real estate development, have it include affordable housing,” Reed said. “APS has decided that will stop the process.”
The deeds have been part of a legal tug of war between the City and APS for nearly two years.
APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen Sunday night said the disagreement boils down to who actually owns the school property.
The issue dates back to 1973. That’s when APS became an independent entity – separate from the City of Atlanta, but the City continued to hold title to school properties even though APS was responsible for maintaining its facilities.
For 40 years, whenever APS wanted to sell property, the city would turn over the property deeds. That happened at least 50 times for the sale of more than 150 parcels.
But, in 2015,, the City of Atlanta and APS were in the middle of another testy dispute over the payments the Atlanta BeltLine owed the school system. The mayor stated he would not turn over the deeds until the BeltLine dispute was resolved.
A settlement on the BeltLine dispute was reached in January 2015. A week later, Mayor Reed announced during his State of the City speech to the business community that he would transfer the deeds of 10 properties to APS – receiving enthusiastic applause.
“It was the right thing to do,” Reed said after his speech. “It felt right. I think it’s just another step in having a strong relationship with APS. It’s really time to turn the page.”
But the page still hasn’t turned.
APS has had contracts to sell four of its properties. As an attempt to sell them, APS filed a lawsuit against the four properties: the George Adair School in Adair Park; Arkwright Elementary in Venetian Hills; Milton Avenue Elementary in Chosewood Park; and Rosalie Wright Elementary School in Florida Heights.
The City of Atlanta filed a motion to dismiss the case.
But Special Master Ned Blumenthal denied the City’s motion. And on Nov. 8, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jackson Bedford Jr. adopted the Special Master’s recommendation.
“The question in our lawsuit is who owns the deeds, and the City has lost at every turn so far,” Carstarphen said. “The judge has ruled in our favor.”
When asked to comment on the court’s ruling, Reed referred the question to City Attorney Cathy Hampton.
But he vowed to continue the legal fight – keeping the matter tied up in the courts as long as possible.
“That process is going to be a very litigated process,” the mayor said, adding it could take years. “If they would rather litigate these issues to the Georgia Supreme Court, let them. They should have housing for teachers. I’m stunned at this being a problem. This could be over tomorrow if they said we’ll have affordability.”
According to Glenn Brock, general counsel for APS, said the school system can only spend money for educational purposes. If restrictions are placed on developers that lowered the value of APS properties, it would go against the school’s mission,
Meanwhile, the properties APS has been unable to sell remain off the tax rolls – meaning less money for both the City and APS.
Stan Sugarman, co-founder of the Stryant Companies, has been trying to buy the George Adair School in Adair Park for years. He has no interest in entering the fray between the City and APS. All he wants to do is buy the dilapidated, but historic 1912 school and turn it into residences for artists using the wide hallways as places where they could display their work.
The school closed in 1973, and it has been completely vacant since for the last 15 years falling into disrepair because of a leaky roof and a lack of maintenance.
Sugarman said the plan is to pay more than $400,000 for the property and to spend about $2.5 million for the first phase of renovation. Eventually the developers would like to develop some additional buildings in the back on part of its 1.6 acres.
“We are very patient,” Sugarman said about being a pawn in the chess game between the City and APS. “We are sure all the parties will come to a reasonable conclusion. Everybody has good intentions.”
Asked about meeting the affordability threshold, Sugarman said: “My project is geared towards artists. It’s going to be affordable by design. It’s going to be very much in line with the rents in the area.”
Sugarman said ideally they would get some financial assistance from the City, which already requires affordability regulations. He hopes the City would be able to have the Adair School operate like an cooperative for artists and be reflective of the Southwest Atlanta community.
“We are definitely open to affordability,” Sugarman said. “But our project is going to be 100 percent affordable because it’s going to be for artists.”
The sooner the City turns over the deeds of the Adair School and the other properties developers want to buy and bring the buildings new life, the sooner the City and APS will be able to enjoy a reinvestment in Atlanta’s communities.
The 10 property deeds the City was to have turned over to APS in February included:
1) Adair E.S., 711 Catherine Street
2) Anderson Park, 2050 Tiger Flowers Drive
3) Arkwright E.S., 1261 Lockwood Drive
4) Milton Avenue , 202 Milton Avenue
5) West Atlanta, 1335 Kimberly Rd SW, 30331.
6) Wright , 350 Autumn Lane
7) Claire Drive., 73-93 Claire Drive
8) Daleview, 0 Daleview Drive
9) Adamsville, 286 Wilson Mill Road SW, Atlanta 30331
10) Benteen, 200 Casanova Street SE, Atlanta 30315
Note to readers: In the interest of full disclosure, my son David owns a house near the George Adair School.