Atlanta: Affordable Lindbergh’s Last Stand

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(APN) ATLANTA — A controversial rezoning proposal in Atlanta’s Lindbergh community, to be considered for the second time by the City Council of Atlanta on Monday, October 01, 2012, will in part determine the fate of some two hundred low-income families living in affordable multi-family apartments like the San Lucia Apartments near Adina Drive, Lindbergh Drive, Morosgo Drive, and Piedmont Road; as well as the ability of working families to have some opportunity to afford to live in the Buckhead area.

Developer Jeff Fuqua wants to build high-end apartments at market rate rents; a big box, 3.7 acre Wal-Mart superstore with a giant, 4.2 acre surface parking lot; and a park.  This, despite the fact that the existing shopping center there already has a Target, which already includes a grocery store inside.

Gone would be the San Lucia Apartments, which have held on despite the encroachment of unaffordable condos and luxury apartments all around them, as developers–unimpeded by City Council or the Mayor–have continued in their quest to gentrify every last square inch of Atlanta.

It is apparent that no effort has been made to consult with the existing residents or to provide for their relocation; of course, there is little affordable housing left in the area to relocate them to.

Council is to consider two pieces of related legislation: first, 11-O-1248, amending the 2011 Atlanta Comprehensive Development Plan so as to re-designate the area from a High Density Residential land use, to a High Density Mixed Use and Very High Density Residential land use; and second, 11-O-1067, a related zoning paper.  The legislation had been held for about a year.

Atlanta residents, including many who live in Buckhead, have vigorously opposed the plan.  Neighborhood Planning Units B and F have consistently opposed the plan.  Over five hundred Atlantans have signed a petition hosted on change.org.

At various Council meetings, residents have voiced concerns ranging from the integrity of the public input and CDP process; to concerns about the increase in traffic and how it would impact the walkability, livability, and transit-orientedness of the area; concerns about Wal-Mart and its impact on wages and small businesses; concerns about Wal-Mart’s sale of cough medicine which can be used in meth labs; and concerns about gentrification, Atlanta’s dwindling affordable housing stock, and the fate of two hundred, low-income, mostly Latino families with small children.

One woman whose named sounded like Ana Bello spoke at the July 12, 2012 Zoning Review Board (ZRB) meeting.  She said she represented the residents and asked what types of provisions were being made to transition the current residents to other affordable housing opportunities near transit.

The developer responded that that was their intent and that they would be working to do that, but offered no specific plans, meaning that no due diligence had been done to determine whether such relocation opportunities were even available in Atlanta’s existing rental market.  He added that construction would begin in the first quarter of 2013.

“I’m here really representing the current residents that are there right now, which hasn’t really been addressed all that much… My connection to the current residents is my Hispanic heritage so I act as a bit of an interpreter for them… I understand… that prior development proposals there was some mention of some sort of transitional provisions for the residents that are currently there,” she said.

“Some of them have been there for 18 to 22 years.  The rent they currently pay right now is probably, well, by general standards in this particular area quite cost-effective simply because they’re in the vicinity of the MARTA… Those things will not be afforded to them if they have to move from their current location,” she said.

“While the development may bring jobs to the area, the simultaneous elimination of affordable housing which will result, drives potential workers further away from job centers in the urban core due to lack of available affordable housing,” Jane Rawlings, Chair of NPU-F, wrote in a letter to Zoning Cmte Members on July 29, 2012.

The proposal “also speaks loudly to how we consider displacing people that need to live next to public transportation because they have no vehicles,” Sally Silver, Chairperson of NPU-B, said at the ZRB meeting on July 12.  Silver incidentally works for Councilman Shook, but spoke in her personal and NPU capacities.

“The integrity and meaning of the entire planning process and the NPU system would be profoundly called into question if a single developer is allowed to override years of planning, community involvement, the city’s long range plans as expressed in the CDP,” Andrea Bennett, Chair, Development & Transportation Committee for NPU-B, wrote, in a letter dated September 14, 2012.

On June 30, 2011, NPU-V, which includes the Mechanicsville and Peoplestown neighborhoods, and is thus not directly impacted by the development, joined in support of NPU-F, noting, “with such an overwhelming response of denial of the applicant… we only hope that our support of our neighbors can help advise and guide the result of the final vote on this matter.”

On September 15, 2012, the citywide Atlanta Planning and Advisory Board adopted a resolution opposing the plan as well.

One resident, Lappin Hammond, has gone to so far as to set up a website, savelindbergh.org.

The Community Development/Human Resources (CD/HR) Cmte lacked enough votes to approve the CDP legislation at its September 11, 2012 meeting, with Kwanza Hall (District 2), Alex Wan (District 6), and Howard Shook (District 7) voting nay; and Ivory Young (District 3), Cleta Winslow (District 4), and Chairwoman Joyce Sheperd (District 12) voting yea.  Shook and the three yeas did, however, support forwarding it to the Full Council with no recommendation.

On September 16, 2012, however, the Full Council referred it back to CD/HR.

On September 25, 2012, CD/HR again forwarded it to Full Council with no recommendation.

On September 26, 2012, the companion Zoning legislation was forwarded to Full Council with no recommendation, after Councilman Aaron Watson (Post 2-at-large) introduced an amendment requiring that one hundred of the new apartments be set aside for seniors, up to sixty percent of the “fair market rate or rent.”  

By tying the affordability to fair market rate, the rents that seniors would pay under the proposed amendment would not be constrained in any way by the Area Median Income, meaning that as nearby property owners raise their rents to extract as much as possible from working families, that seniors’ rents could go up accordingly.

While the amendment is better than nothing, the redevelopment would still present a loss of affordable housing units to the City; the current families would still be displaced; and the proposed new so-called apartments would not serve the greatest need in Atlanta, which is housing for families making at or below thirty percent of AMI.  Such families include those relying on breadwinners who work in retail, service sector jobs like those prevalent at the current Target shopping center.

APN’s prediction, based upon analysis and various sources, is that the plan does not have enough votes to pass Monday.

Yesterday, Councilman Shook released the following statement: “A contentious two-year public discussion about how to redevelop property in the Lindbergh/Morosgo area will soon draw to an end.  Months ago I announced my opposition to the plan, currently pending before the Atlanta City Council, which would permit the construction of a ‘big box’ retail store in an area currently aside as residential-only.  Despite recent design improvements, the plan remains opposed by the vast majority of the residents who have contacted me.”

“When I first ran for public office I promised to support neighbors, not developers or City planners, when determining what their neighborhoods should look like.  I have upheld every neighborhood recommendation since and will do so again in this matter.  My sincerest thanks to the many citizens who took the time to involve themselves in this important debate,” Shook said.

APN’s News Editor–the present writer–made comments opposing the legislation out of concern for the loss of affordable housing units during comments to CD/HR Cmte Meetings on July 10, 2012, and September 11, 2012.

(END/2012)

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