Preservationists urge Atlanta to stop demolition of two downtown buildings
By Maria Saporta
Historic preservationists are urging the city to issue a “stop-work order” of the proposed Wyndham/Margaritaville Atlanta project in the Fairlie-Poplar district in downtown Atlanta.
The proposed development would result in the demolition of two historic buildings – 141 Walton Street. and 152 Nassau Street. Historic Atlanta, a nonprofit preservation group, described those two buildings as “vital landmarks of the early days of Atlanta’s distinguished film and musical heritage.”
Charles Lawrence, chair of Historic Atlanta, Inc., wrote a letter to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and all members of the Atlanta City Council.
In the letter Lawrence argued that an agreement executive on Nov. 6, 2017 between the city of Atlanta and Atlanta Partners LLC is “unenforceable” because it involved zoning decision that violated the state’s Zoning Procedures Law.
The agreement was signed during former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration would permit the developers to demolish the two buildings if they would develop “at least a 10-story hotel” with a development cost of at least $100 million.
Historic Atlanta said the agreement circumvented the city’s required zoning process. Therefore Historic Atlanta said the agreement should be formally rescinded.
“We advise the city to invite the project developers to renew the zoning process, if they so desire,” Lawrence wrote. And he asked the elected officials for “your immediate action to issue a stop-work order and revoke the recently-issued demolition permits for 141 Walton Street and 152 Nassau Street.”
Before the agreement was made, Atlanta Planning Commissioner Tim Keane announced on May 11, 2017 that the city was initiating a process to designate both buildings as historic landmarks.
Keane’s staff then confirmed the buildings’ historic and architectural significance – 141 Walton for “its longtime use by motion picture film distribution and equipment supply companies,” and 152 Nassau Street because it was “the first commercial studio recording session ever conducted in the South and as the start of what later would become the country music recording industry.”
The Atlanta Urban Design Commission then designated the buildings as landmarks on June 14, 2017. The Atlanta City Council on July 17 voted unanimously to refer the designation ordinances to the Zoning Review Board and the Zoning Committee. The ZRB did not approve 141 Walton Street designation, but it did approve 152 Nassau Street – and the ordinances were sent back to the Zoning Committee.
But that committee never approved or denied the landmark status because “the process was abruptly halted” and left in “an indefinite state of limbo.”
Historic Atlanta believes the legislation was put on hold at the request of Mayor Reed and city attorneys because of pressure from the developer that “would circumvent state-mandated zoning procedures and obliterate the general public’s constitutional right to due process.“
The agreement between the city and Atlanta Partners that would permit the demolition of the two buildings if the project was at least 10 stories and valued at least $100 million. That “private” agreement ended up being a “zoning decision” without due public process.
It is then asking for Commissioner Keane to continue the landmark designation process.
Lastly it is asking for City Council to rescind the Nov. 6, 2017 agreement and to renew the landmark status legislation.
The letter is signed by Lawrence and the board of Historic Atlanta – Charles Paine, Clinton Tankersley, Emily Cavett Taff, Nedra Deadwyler, D. Makeda Johnson, Scott Morris, Kimberly Scott and R. Candy Tate.