Atlanta Overrides BZA in Settlement on Historic Building, Crum & Forster

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(APN) ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta has entered into a Consent Order with the Georgia Tech Foundation Real Estate Holding Corporation (GTF) to allow the demolition of the historic Crum & Forster Building in Atlanta’s West Midtown neighborhood, despite the fact that the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA)–the sole deciding entity–disapproved of the demolition due to the building’s historic nature, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

The Consent Order is dated Monday, September 24, 2012, and Fulton County Superior Court Judge John Goger signed off on it.

The historic Crum & Forster Building is located at 771 Spring Street SW.  Neighborhood advocates including the Midtown Neighbors Association, have opposed the demolition.

The building “was designed and built by New York’s Helmle, Corbett and Harrison in association with Ivey and Crook of Atlanta in 1926.  Ed Ivey was the founding student of the Georgia Tech College of Architecture.  The three-story structure is built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. Its most striking architectural feature is a facade with three soaring arches, supported by two columns which accentuate the front entrance,” according to the website of the Atlanta Preservation Center (APC).
   
“Built for the Crum & Forster Insurance Company, the site is significant in establishing Atlanta as a regional center for insurance firms.  Crum & Forster was the first national insurance company to open their own house in Atlanta,” the APC states.

Georgia Tech seeks to demolish the building in order to develop the property to expand Technology Square.  Its plans include a possible twenty-seven story tower.

In April 2008, GTF applied for a Special Administrative Permit (SAP), but the City’s Bureau of Planning denied the application in July 2008.  GTF appealed to the BZA, who denied the appeal.

GTF filed suit in 2009, naming the City of Atlanta, the BZA, and its members at the time–Henry Bryant, Tad Christian, David Dorsey, Johnny Edwards, and Naomi Ward–as Defendants.

The current members of the BZA are Karl Barnes, Danita Brown, Martha Porter Hall, Eugene Miller, and Linda Sessler.

On August 17, 2009, the City Council of Atlanta designated the property as a Landmark Building or Site, in a unanimous vote; and Mayor Shirley Franklin signed the designation into law on August 25, 2009.

On April 17, 2012, GTC applied for a permit to demolish two-thirds of the building to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission; however, the Commission denied that application on August 08, 2012.

It is not clear where the City of Atlanta now derives the legal authority to override a BZA decision–or more precisely, where the City’s Law Department got the legal authority to tell the duly appointed members of the BZA what they “shall” do–seeing as how the BZA is granted the sole and unilateral authority to grant or deny appeals of zoning decisions made by the Executive Branch of the City.

According to Sec. 6-4029 of the Code of the City of Atlanta, the BZA has the following power: “To hear and decide appeals where it is alleged there is error in any order, requirement, decision, or determination made by an administrative official of the executive branch in the enforcement of the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Atlanta or in the enforcement of any ordinance adopted or amended pursuant to Georgia Code Annotated, Chapter 69-12, as now or hereafter amended.”

And yet the Consent Order agrees that the BZA “shall” grant the appeal, thus approving the SAP for the Crum & Forster building at its next meeting.

“The parties have agreed that, in the context of settlement and in consideration of the terms of this Order, the denial of the SAP should be remanded to the BZA.  At its next regularly scheduled hearing, the BZA shall order, with or without conditions, not inconsistent with this Order, the Director of the Office of Planning to grant SAP-08-024 within 10 days of its hearing,” the Consent Order states.

“In the event the SAP is not timely approved upon remand or the other conditions of this order are not satisfied, GTF shall have thirty days from the date of such action to file any objection thereto, and the Court shall have a hearing on such objections,” the Consent Order states.

According to one City Hall source familiar with the matter, two City Attorneys who normally handle zoning matters for the City refused to sign the Consent Order because they were uncomfortable with the legalities of overriding a BZA decision.

Consistent with this assertion, the section on page four of the Order has two spaces for attorneys’ signatures.  Georgia Tech’s attorneys, their bar numbers, firm name, and firm address are pre-printed below their signature line.  However, the space for the City of Atlanta attorney’s signature was not pre-printed.  Eric Richardson signed on behalf of the City; however, Richardson is not listed as the City Attorney on the online case record.  There, Lemuel Ward is listed as counsel for the City of Atlanta and the BZA.

The BZA will hold its next hearing on Thursday, November 01, 2012, beginning at 1pm in City Council Chambers.

(END/2012)

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