By Guest Columnist BARRY BRANCH JR., a Cooledge Avenue resident of 25 years.
In a little over a month, many current and former residents of Cooledge Avenue, a small, close-knit street with just over thirty homes located in Virginia Highland at the point where the neighborhood borders Midtown, The Beltline and Piedmont Park, will be gathering for a block party to celebrate the historic street’s 100th anniversary.
But on the eve of this party, there is an impending development at the bottom of the street along Monroe Drive that threatens to dampen the celebration – a proposal by the Atlanta Botanical Gardens (ABG) to build a five-story self-storage facility.
Cooledge Avenue and adjacent Cresthill Avenue are unique in that they are believed to be the only two original brick streets remaining in the city of Atlanta. But for almost thirty years, the brick on Cooledge Avenue was hidden under a layer of asphalt applied in the early 1970s to facilitate a bus route. In mid-1998, after two years in which almost every resident of the street joined together to raise $24,000 and petition the city of Atlanta to remove the asphalt and repair the underlying brick, Cooledge Avenue was restored to its original historic condition.
This cooperative and collaborative spirit epitomizes the residents of Cooledge Avenue who have joined forces together over the years with their Virginia Highland and Midtown neighbors to defeat several large proposals along the southeastern edge of Piedmont Park that would have completely altered the park’s natural beauty and required the destruction of many large old growth trees and the demolition and rezoning of many single-family homes.
The plan by the ABG to replace an almost 30,000 square-foot warehouse building that has stood for decades on a high-profile site at the intersection of Cooledge Avenue and Monroe Drive and overlooking both the Atlanta Beltline and Piedmont Park with a self-storage facility is different from these past proposals in that it not only impacts the surrounding area but directly threatens the historic character of Cooledge Avenue. And unlike the other large proposals that would have directly bordered Piedmont Park, this development is legally permissible under its current industrial zoning classification.
As a resident of Cooledge Avenue for over 25 years, I have watched the fast transformation of the surrounding area, especially since the Beltline was first proposed. My neighbors and I have often discussed what we thought would inevitably replace this old warehouse with ideas ranging from the typical mixed-use residential/retail to a large food hall, and hoped that any new development would not destroy the brick street we had so tirelessly worked to restore. What we never envisioned was that this property would become the site of a self-storage facility, especially since one already exists directly adjacent to this.
When news broke of the impending development, and the ABG released the first renderings of their proposal, the residents of Cooledge Avenue decided that rather than oppose this project, we would join together and engage with ABG to realize a design that would best complement the historic character of our brick street and have a minimal negative impact on the surrounding area. We also were cognizant of the fact that this building, in its high-profile location, would be viewed daily by hundreds of commuters along Monroe Drive and perhaps thousands of people using the Beltline on weekends.
In coordination with members of the Virginia Highland Civic Association, several meetings were held with ABG executives to ask the organization to be a good neighbor and community member, express our concerns with the project and offer solutions for a less intrusive development. Our main concern was that we did not want the building to look like a self-storage facility, and we presented examples of several recent self-storage facilities throughout metro Atlanta that achieved this.
We requested that rather than using stucco and typical commercial windows in its design and that the façade be covered in brick with architectural-style windows to create a more discreet exterior along both Monroe Drive and Cooledge Avenue. We requested that the ingress/egress onto Cooledge Avenue be restricted to emergency vehicles to help preserve our historic brick street from increased truck traffic. And we requested that the building engages with the increasing pedestrian traffic in the area by creating some small retail spaces on the ground level.
It initially appeared that the ABG was agreeable to our reasonable requests as they provided a revised drawing of the building at a Beltline Review Committee hearing held on Jan. 18. Although the ABG had improved on their initial design, it still lacked a number of our requests to use more brick in its design, restrict access onto Cooledge Avenue, and create additional ground-level retail space.
Since then, the ABG has gone silent regarding any progress updates to the community so we are unsure where things currently stand. We sincerely hope that they have been busy since that meeting redesigning the proposed structure out of respect to both the Virginia Highland and Midtown communities and especially to those residents on Cooledge Avenue.
We also hope that they will create a building that they can be proud to present to our community and to all those who will pass by it on a daily basis. We would welcome an opportunity to re-engage with the ABG at any time on this matter.
Would you like to write a guest column for SaportaReport? The SR team strives to uplift and amplify the diverse perspectives in our community, and we want to hear from you! Email Editor Derek Prall to discuss the specifics.
I was under the mistaken belief ABG owned and operated a botanical garden. Obviously, they are a development company — and indifferent to what damage they can do. The Atlanta zoning map and planning department failed this neighborhood by allowing a FIVE story industrial building to be permissible on this site. And the neighborhoods should have seen this coming. Where was NPU-E when the comp plan maps etc. were approved every year?
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