By Maria Saporta
A storm has been brewing within the Atlanta Planning Department’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC).
The real estate advisory group, which has been around since 2012, provides input to improve the Bureau of Buildings and the city’s development guidelines.
Up to now, it’s been a collegial entity. But that all changed at its March 3 meeting.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms replaced one of the founding chairs on TAC – Chuck Taylor – with residential developer Steve Brock.
Taylor presided at the March 3 meeting, but several people said that during the meeting Brock took on a confrontational tone against Tim Keane, the city’s planning commissioner, and the meeting went off the rails.
Taylor was so upset that he sent a series of emails to other members of the TAC; Joshua Williams, and stakeholders in the real estate community.
You have probably realized by reading Angela’s wonderful minutes that the Mayor has replaced me as her appointee to the TAC (though not as chair, which is elected by the TAC itself). It has been a pleasure and an honor to serve with some of you since the founding days, and I am proud of everything that we have accomplished. During our watch, the Building Department has gone from worst in class to best in class, a truly amazing transformation. I hope you will permit me a few parting observations.
I remain deeply troubled by the March 3 meeting. Since our founding, this group has been characterized by the respect and civility of its members, even when we disagree. That is particularly important in this new era of vitriol, self-interest and hostile confrontation in public discourse. While the tone of political and civil interaction in the rest of the country has deteriorated, this group has remained above the fray, working hard to support the Commissioner and the Department in a positive, collaborative fashion.
Until our last meeting, that is, when respectful discourse disappeared. I am concerned that if this is not addressed, this new tone will continue, and that the TAC will become yet another venue for promoting unabashed self interest. I urge everyone in the room to remember that we are first and foremost colleagues who are there to represent our organizations and the citizens of the City, not our own personal self interest, and I hope that the new Chair, whoever she or he may be, will exercise a firm hand in guiding the TAC in that direction. I hope that March 3 was an aberration, not the new norm.
Secondly, I want to urge you all to support Commissioner Keane in any way you can. A number of us worked very hard to get Tim hired, and he has done amazing work in transforming this department. At least one regular attendee of our meeting has been openly hostile to Tim and has posted numerous diatribes attacking him and calling for his removal. That person’s father and business partner, who now holds my former seat on the TAC, in my opinion has also been openly hostile to Commissioner Keane. I hope that the rest of you will avoid the temptation to jump on the self-interest bandwagon and will continue to advise and support the Commissioner in the best interests of the City.
COO Williams and the city’s communication department did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
When contacted, Keane also refrained from talking about the situation.
Keane became Atlanta’s planning commissioner in July 2015 after serving as the City of Charleston’s planning commissioner from 2009 to 2015. He immediately raised the profile of the department and launched several initiatives, including the Atlanta City Design project, a blueprint for how the city can double its population without damaging its quality of life.
Keane also has been leading the effort to redo the city’s tree ordinance and the city’s zoning ordinance.
Steve Brock, and his son Adam, have been vocal in their criticism of Keane and the city’s tree ordinance. Steve Brock also has a reputation of clear-cutting many of his developments, and he is known to push back against the city’s efforts to redesign his projects to save significant trees.
When contacted about his new role on the Technical Advisory Committee, Steve Brock downplayed the tone of the meeting.
In an email, Steve Brock responded:
Tim Keane and Chuck Taylor we’re (sic) upset with me over a post that they thought I made. When I pointed out that it was my son Adams (sic) post they apologized. I accepted the apology.
There have been no further discussions about it.
We are all professionals and will continue to meet, discuss development issues and work for the betterment of Atlanta.
The whole incident reminded me of a mayoral debate I moderated on parks and green space back in 2017. I asked each of the candidates to say (on a scale of 1 to 10) how important is it to preserve Atlanta’s tree canopy (with 10 being the most important).
All the candidates answered: “10,” with one exception – Keisha Lance Bottoms. Her response? “100.”
The situation outlined above brings up several questions.
Why did Bottoms name Steve Brock to the TAC? Is Tim Keane safe in his position as the city’s planning commissioner? And will the city move forward on strengthening Atlanta’s tree ordinance – once and for all?
Next week: a surprising twist – how John Noel credits Adam Brock for a “massive tree save” in northwest Atlanta; and their thoughts on the proposed rewrite of the tree ordinance.