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