Atlanta Council Rejects Cheshire Bridge Rezoning Proposal
(APN) ATLANTA — The City Council of Atlanta rejected the Cheshire Bridge rezoning proposal that would have eliminated grandfathered-in adult entertainment establishments from Cheshire Bridge in a nine to six vote, on Monday June 03, 2013.
Councilman Alex Wan (District 6), who represents Atlanta’s Morningside neighborhood, had introduced the legislation.
The legislation would have adopted a radical plan to sunset, or amortize, grandfathered-in businesses that would have certainly set up a court battle over property rights to go up Georgia’s appellate courts.
Previously, the Zoning Review Board recommended against the legislation, while the Zoning Cmte recommended approval.
Voting against the proposal were Kwanza Hall (District 2), Ivory Young (District 3), Cleta Winslow (District 4), Natalyn Archibong (District 5), Howard Shook (District 7), Yolanda Adrean (District 8), Felicia Moore (District 9), CT Martin (District 10), and Joyce Sheperd (District 12).
Voting for the proposal were Carla Smith (District 1), Wan, Keisha Lance Bottoms (District 11), and all three at-large Councilmembers: Michael Julian Bond (Post 1), Aaron Watson (Post 2), and Lamar Willis (Post 3).
Wan’s support for the legislation has been viewed by many in the LGBTQI community, including those in Midtown, as a betrayal of their support in 2009 of his candidacy.
However, the District 6 that once included Midtown and Morningside, that elected Wan in 2009, no longer includes much of Midtown. The southern half of Midtown, as well as much of northwest Midtown, has been redistricted into Kwanza Hall’s District 2.
Hall told Atlanta Progressive News early on that he would not support the legislation.
One Council office received hundreds of emails from Morningside residents in support of the legislation, but few against. The ones against, they said, were sent mainly by the attorneys for the adult entertainment establishments, as well as an open letter written by APN’s Editor, the present writer.
This means that many of the gay activists who posted comments in opposition on the websites of Georgia Voice, Project Q, social media pages, and others, may not have taken the time to email Councilmembers.
While over six hundred people signed petitions against closing the adult entertainment businesses, it is not clear whether the Councilmembers ever received those petitions.
Most of the nay votes can be interpreted, first, as votes in favor of property rights; and second, as votes keeping the adult entertainment businesses on Cheshire Bridge Road from relocating to other Council districts.
Developers like Scott Selig as well as the Atlanta Board of Realtors lobbied Councilmembers against the legislation.
Councilwoman Sheperd recalled in her comments that she is no close friend of adult entertainment businesses.
Sheperd said in her early days as a community activist before being elected to City Council, that she fought to close adult entertainment establishments, through rezoning efforts, in southeast Atlanta, on Metropolitan Parkway.
However, she said, she was advised at that time that any businesses that were already there at the time of the rezoning, were allowed to stay. She said that she and other community members have been able to use other means to close down some of these businesses, and that today, only two remain.
Of those remaining, she said she has a good relationship with the owners, that they respond to community concerns, and that they even participate in community clean-ups.
She also expressed concerns about the establishments currently on Cheshire Bridge relocating to other parts of her district.
Wan and Senior Assistant City Attorney Jeff Haymore argued the businesses would be able to relocate to other parts of the City–although they deflected numerous requests from Councilmembers regarding specifically which Districts and where–and that therefore the amortization scheme would not present First Amendment or free speech issues.
At the same time, they argued that adult entertainment establishments are associated with crime, citing a national study that is disputed by attorney Alan Begner and others, which does not make any direct connection between local crime and the adult entertainment establishments on Cheshire Bridge.
Therefore, what they were essentially arguing is that they wanted these businesses, and all the purported crime that they bring with them, to move to another District.
Because of this dynamic, the votes of the three at-large Councilmembers–Bond, Watson, and Willis–demonstrate that they were willing to sell their other constituents down the river by carrying out the bidding of White, upper-middle class voters from Morningside, who apparently were viewed as more politically powerful and important than the other voters represented by the at-large Councilmembers.
In the weeks leading up to the Cmte vote and Full Council vote, Smith, who voted yes, was targeted by the Morningside voters as the target of a petition in favor of rezoning that collected over four hundred signatures.
The Council Chambers was packed with citizens concerned with the outcome of the rezoning debate. Employees for Onyx, a predominantly Black club, made up the majority of concerned citizens.
Meanwhile, a row of grey-haired, White women, represented the Morningside neighborhood, one of them ironically knitting as the Council debated their nanny state legislation.
Councilman Martin described the vote as a “defining moment.”
Martin, who attended the ZRB hearing and who is the longest-serving current Councilmember, said, “I must say it was one of the more educational settings that I’ve experienced since I’ve been on the Council.”
“There’s a lot of information that’s missing. There’s a lot of legal information that’s been put forth to try and understand the rights of everyone in this. And there’s a lot of serious questions about how this one particular piece of legislation could impact all the different neighborhoods in strange kinds of ways,” Martin said.
“I don’t know if this is a piece of legislation that solves a problem in one neighborhood, but makes it potentially a problem for others as time move along. Let’s say in five years, the businesses on Cheshire Bridge will have to have somewhere to go. It certainly isn’t fair to put a business out of business, and I’ve been as pro-business as I can be,” Martin said.
Martin said the proposed change is “monumental and it will change the way that things operate. It’s not that hard for us to get an opinion from the Law Department that suits our ears.”
Councilwoman Winslow asked the Law Department why, if there is in fact case law allowing a municipality to amortize a nonconforming business, the Law Department did not make that known years ago to Councilmembers who were having problems with grandfathered-in nonconforming businesses in their Districts. Mr. Haymore did not respond.