Atlanta ZRB Rejects Cheshire Bridge Rezoning Proposal
(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta Zoning Review Board (ZRB) has rejected two proposals to get rid of existing adult entertainment establishments that remain on Cheshire Bridge Road–Atlanta’s historic “red light district”–in a series of two to one votes.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the proposal would have attempted to eliminate the grandfathered-in status of numerous businesses that were already in place when the City approved a new zoning status in 2005 for NC 4 and NC 5, two non-contiguous stretches of Cheshire Bridge Road.
The ZRB’s recommendation now goes to the Zoning Cmte of the City Council of Atlanta; then the Full Council. The Council has been known to override a ZRB recommendation, so it is not a done deal.
However, the decision of the ZRB, which is a quasi-judicial board, is important because public comment on zoning matters is only allowed before the ZRB, not before the Cmte nor Council.
Atlanta City Hall was packed tonight, May 09, 2013, as people who work and live on or near Cheshire Bridge road expressed their opposition to Councilman Alex Wan’s (District 6) proposal to get rid of numerous adult entertainment establishments.
The vast majority of those in attendance were against the proposal, including many activists in support of preserving the Onyx nightclub; neighborhood residents opposed to the proposal; activists with a new grassroots organization, QUEER UP Atlanta; representatives of the Atlanta Board of Realtors (ABR), as well as developer Steve Selig.
There were also about two dozen residents–primarily from the Morningside neighborhood–in support of the proposal, including Dianne Olansky and Jane Rawlings of Neighborhood Planning Unit F.
ZRB Members Joe Alcock and Mark Reece were the two Members to oppose recommending approval, and to support recommending rejection.
“It is a challenge for us as a Board… We have assured property owners the businesses they have in place… has this grandfather safety net. This amortization casts doubt on further rezonings. A group could present a case against a particular business type,” Alcock said.
“There are still nonconforming businesses that exist in this NC – restaurants, car washes… who’s to say in two years,” they aren’t next, he said.
“I think in some ways this will set a precedent… As we move on and hear cases in the future, we’re gonna be asked to be consistent. The concept of amortization could be expanded to other uses,” Reece said.
“Are there reasonable alternative sites is another question. If I move to another district, will amortization follow me?” Alcock said.
ZRB Member David Coleman was the only one to support the proposal; and Calvin Lockwood and Cynthia Mitchell abstained.
The ZRB staff members said they believed the changes were legal under Georgia law, and said the legislation was motivated by a desire from greater real estate development and higher property taxes in the area.
The ZRB started out giving twenty minutes to each side, pro and con.
On the pro side, Rawlings said that the NC zoning concept was not about big box development and therefore was not about gentrification.
However, this assertion is not consistent with the ZRB staff’s presentation, which made clear that the intent of the legislation, again, included increased real estate development and higher property taxes.
One Morningside resident said that she was afraid to walk her children down the sidewalk on Cheshire Bridge Road, and said she did not know what to tell them about the adult businesses.
On the con side, included Aubrey Villines, Jr., for the Onyx nightclub; ABR representatives; Mr. Selig; APN’s News Editor, the present writer; three QUEER UP activists; and numerous current and former employees of Onyx and other nightclubs.
These current and former employees testified how they used their earnings from working in the adult entertainment industry to put themselves or their children through college.
QUEER UP Atlanta activists raised concerns about gentrification of the surrounding neighborhoods.
After the twenty minutes for the con side elapsed, and there were still people lined up to speak, the ZRB graciously allotted an extra ten minutes, then an additional two minutes, to each side, to accommodate all speakers.
As previously reported by APN in two legal analyses, the legislation, in its multiple iterations, raised a number of legal concerns including concerns related to property rights, free speech rights, and equal protection.
As for property rights, numerous speakers opposing the legislation noted that never before in Georgia history have the courts upheld a scheme to sunset, or amortize, grandfathered-in businesses, also known as legal, nonconforming businesses.
Numerous speakers also raised freedom of speech concerns, seeing as how sexual entertainment, dance, and literature is a protected form of free speech.
The present writer provided additional legal analysis to the ZRB, including reference to a federal court decision in 1981, in Purple Onion v. Jackson, which struck down Atlanta’s adult entertainment ordinance from 1976 over freedom of speech concerns. Incidentally, the 1976 ordinance also had an amortization provision.
The present writer, in remarks to the ZRB, also raised equal protection concerns, in that the legislation would have established a certain grandfather clause, a sunset clause, for one section of the City, while maintaining a separate, general grandfather clause–a permanent grandfather clause–for the rest of the City, without any rational basis for treating the two parts of the City differently.