Construction moratorium along Memorial Drive in Atlanta may be repealed
By David Pendered
Atlanta’s next likely hotspot for redevelopment, Memorial Drive, could be relieved of a six-month building moratorium following a meeting Friday between a dozen affected developers and the sponsor of the moratorium, Atlanta City Councilmember Natalyn Archibong.
Archibong said she and Councilmember Carla Smith, the other representative of the Memorial Drive corridor, intend to co-author legislation to remediate the moratorium. Archibong said the plan is to introduce the legislation at the council’s May 18 meeting.
The moratorium the council adopted unanimously at its May 4 meeting evidently flew under the radar of the development community. Archibong said she didn’t hear a peep about her proposed six-month building ban in the corridor until May 5 – the day after the council vote.
Archibong said she is willing to consider repealing the moratorium. Smith was attending to her father’s funeral and did not attend the meeting. A video recording was made so Smith can watch it over the weekend.
“The idea behind the moratorium was not to stop those projects that are already in the hopper, or those that we’re excited to see come online,” Archibong said. “Frankly, I thought they were far enough along that they would not be impacted.”
It turns out that at least a significant number of the developments thought to be imminent are far from that stage.
Some delays relate to plans still being reviewed by Atlanta’s planning department. A half-dozen developers raised their hands when Archibong asked if their plans were pending at City Hall.
Other delays appear to relate to developers themselves changing their plans.
For example, David Cochran, president and CEO of Paces Properties, said the square footage of one of his projects is changing rather dramatically. The company is considering adding 40,000 square feet to one renovation project after discovering the roof needs to be replaced. As long as the roof is torn off, it may make sense to add height to the project, he said.
The purpose of the moratorium was to provide time for further discussion of the big vision for Memorial Drive that was completed in December by students at Georgia Tech. The studio worked under the guidance of Michael Dobbins, a Tech professor of practice and former Atlanta planning commissioners.
Some of the major findings involved ways to humanize the traffic aspects of Memorial Drive from near the state Capitol to the city limits, in DeKalb County.
The road is in the state highway network. As such, its purpose is to move as many vehicles as quickly as possible.
“Right now, it’s a big highway that people run down from Stone Mountain to the Capitol,” Archibong said. “But it’s our backyard.”
The starting point for negotiations Friday was the possibility of exempting from the moratorium those projects that have started the permitting process.
John Reagan, of Urban Realty Partners, urged against that approach.
“What is most reasonable is to lift the moratorium completely,” Reagan said. “From my experience, you’re not going to get this done in less than a couple or three years. You’re either going to have a rolling moratorium, which will take us out of this development cycle, or say that we have a development corridor, which may become a transit corridor at some point in time, and what do we want in it.”
Sharon Gay, a lawyer with McKenna Long & Aldridge who represents Paces Properties, reminded city officials of the legal overtones of the moratorium.
“To preclude private development, on private property, comes dangerously close to a taking,” Gay said.