Memorial Drive construction moratorium reminds: ‘All politics is local’

By David Pendered

Legislation introduced Monday at the Atlanta City Council would lift the moratorium and create three study subcommittees. See the related news story.

Atlanta is a curious town when it comes to residents’ views of development. The latest example is unfolding in the wake of a six-month moratorium applied to development along the Memorial Drive corridor.

Memorial Drive redevelopment

The potential redevelopment of old industrial buildings along Memorial Drive could be affected by a framework plan to guild development in the corridor. Credit: David Pendered

Complaints erupted soon after the Atlanta City Council approved the moratorium – for the purpose of allowing residents to vet various proposals for creating a design framework for the corridor. The proposals were released in December by a group of Georgia Tech graduate students working under the guidance of Mike Dobbins, a Tech professor of practice and former Atlanta planning commissioner.

Atlanta Councilmember Natalyn Archibong, who sponsored the moratorium the council passed unanimously on May 4, became a pariah overnight.

One of the nicer negative criticisms of Archibong’s support for the moratorium, posted on atlanta.curbed.com, states:

  • “Perhaps I’m cynical, but I think what really motivated Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong is that she fears losing her traditional constituency – and her job. I read ‘interim development controls’ as ‘fear of gentrification.” – DurtyBird.

And that was one of the more pleasant criticisms. For balance, one of the positive comments states:

  • Memorial Drive streetscape

    The turn lane in portions of Memorial Drive offers the potential to install a median and other traffic calming measures to humanize the flow of vehicular traffic. Credit: David Pendered

    “Natalyn Archibong and her office have a great reputation in Reynoldstown for addressing constituents’ concerns. I have first-hand experience with her office and have been nothing but impressed. – Guest237.

Incidentally, Mayor Kasim Reed allowed the moratorium to become city code and doesn’t appear to have attracted bloggers’ attention. Reed did not sign or veto the legislation, resulting in it taking effect immediately, a spokeswoman said.

By way of context, the pro-development movement along Memorial Drive is emerging from some of the same neighborhoods that vehemently opposed plans to build Glenwood Place. Glenwood Place  is less than a quarter-mile mile south of portions of the Memorial Drive corridor, at the southwest corner of the interchange at I-20 and Bill Kennedy Way.

Glenwood Place is spearheaded by Jeff Fuqua, who oversaw several urban infill redevelopments before the recession when he was with Sembler.

Residents balked at Fuqua’s plans for Glenwood Place. They viewed it as “suburban style big-box development,” which would be anchored by Walmart – a frequent tenant of Sembler projects and a client of Fuqua. Residents filed a lawsuit, Fuqua filed a lawsuit. Residents appealed the approval of plans. After two years of back-and-forth, Fuqua started construction last month.

Glenwood Park

After two years of negotiations, that were acrimonious at times, construction started last month on Glenwood Place, a mixed use development a short distance from the Memorial Drive corridor. Credit: fuqua.com

The project is to be anchored by a Kroger in a retail center with a total of 175,000 square feet. It includes an apartment structure. The property fronts both Glenwood Avenue and Bill Kennedy Way and is served by a ramp that connects to I-20.

Meanwhile, the moratorium has sparked a conversation that included some notable notions about the realities and perceptions of developing in Atlanta in this wobbly economic recovery.

The politics of development remain local. But the money to develop structures is coming from outside the region, to a degree that appears to be greater than before the great recession.

Here are a few that emerged during a May 15 meeting Archibong convened with developers to hash out the matter:

  • Out-of-state lenders evidently are funding a significant amount of development in the city. Developers said investors in Boston, Washington, and New York – including Goldman Sachs – had called to inquire if the city was putting the breaks on the current development cycle. Evidently the failure of more than 75 Georgia banks, since 2007, has created a niche for bigger lenders to step into the spots vacated by the failed banks.
  • Memorial Drive, DeKalb County

    Atlanta Councilmember Natalyn Archibong wants to create an environment where developers are attracted to the portion of Memorial Drive east of Moreland Avenue, which marks the start of Atlanta-in-DeKalb. Credit: David Pendered

    Invest Atlanta’s representative, and a few developers, said the moratorium could have a chilling effect on efforts to lure retailers to the city. A big concern was what to say about the moratorium at this week’s meeting in Las Vegas of the International Council of Shopping Centers. ReCon is the global shopping center industry’s annual three-day convention, with over 34,000 attendees and 1,000 exhibitors slated to attend.

  • While Archibong has been clobbered for sponsoring the moratorium – which triggered no debate until after it’s passage – no one mentioned her related effort to ease the city’s floodplain legislation to facilitate development in the Memorial Drive corridor. The legislation, pending before council, says its goal is to ease hardship on property owners by bringing the city’s code into compliance with that of the regional ordinance adopted by the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. JSVH says:

    Please update the subtext under the “site map” from “Glenwood Park” to “Glenwood Place”. Those two developments are at opposite ends of great and terrible urban developments and should not be confused for one another even though they are right across the street. 🙂Report

    Reply
  2. urban gardener says:

    I’ve no idea why the moratorium, but have enough knowledge to hazard a guess…
    At all the meetings, Georgia DOT has been conspicuously ABSENT, and Memorial is a State Highway. So GaDOT has lots of say over what happens – and there is plenty of evidence for the City’s desires for Memorial being completely at the other end of the spectrum from what GaDOT is forcing developers to do.
    Needless to say this has caused serious headaches for developers.
    GaDOT’s absolute unwillingness to come to the table and be part of the process (one recent Taskforce meeting the GaDOT folks didn’t even bother to notify anyone none of them were bothering to show up) to me is reason alone for the moratorium.
    Why have developers pay their fees when the project’s going to sit forever b/c GaDOT won’t talk to the City to ensure the design requirements of the two are in alignment – so the plans are just going to stall out for the same length of time?
    At least this way the developers could at least keep their cash in their pockets…Report

    Reply
  3. mnst says:

    I was fine with the moratorium (I live in Reynoldstown just two blocks from Memorial), but I think the fact that Archibong is listening to criticism and adapting quickly shows exactly what the “Guest 237” comment was talking about. She doesn’t act based on an agenda (like some local government officials I’m thinking of)  but based on what she sincerely thinks the community wants. There was no shortage of people in my neighborhood talking about the need for a better review process, because of the totally underwhelming proposals we’ve seen for some apartment buildings—things that don’t relate to the street at all, look fairly suburban, and were mostly nothing more than big rectangular boxes with a little brick veneer and ornamentation. None of us wanted to stop the truly good developments, like Paces’, and it looks like our councilperson is finding a way to make sure the good projects aren’t impeded. 

    Regarding GDOT—doesn’t our mayor have a super-cozy relationship with the Governor? He should be working with the governor to get GDOT’s cooperation in this important city–state project.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.