Welsh Questions Smith’s Timing on Glenwood Rezoning Legislation
(APN) ATLANTA — Robert Welsh, a candidate for City Council of Atlanta District 1, criticized incumbent Carla Smith in an interview with Atlanta Progressive News, over the timing of Smith’s introduction of two pieces of legislation changing the zoning and land use designations for 800 and 860 Glenwood Avenue SE.
There, developer Jeff Fuqua has proposed a redevelopment to include a Walmart with a large parking lot.
Welsh claims that Smith waited over a year to introduce the legislation; that she waited until, in his opinion, it was too late to avoid a legal battle; and that her delay was influenced by her history of receiving campaign contributions from developers.
He has reiterated these claims in two videos posted on Youtube:
“The Beltline Overlay was approved in 2011… it was definitely approved long before this issue had been proposed as of late. This idea that she’s just now getting around to doing something, or trying to give the appearance of doing something, it’s really poor leadership,” Welsh said.
“What you have is, I think, her trying to look like she’s doing something but all the while she knows good and well that it’s too late,” Welsh said.
“We’ve had folks that have attacked us for coming out and bringing this up,” he said.
“This application [for the Walmart] has been in the works for two years. Why wasn’t this [rezoning legislation] done two years ago?” he said.
“We know what areas of the Beltline were slated to be developed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out a piece of property is not conforming to the Beltline overlay and say we need to have proactive rezoning,” he said.
“This is about 1,200 parking spaces and a site plan that’s deplorable,” he said.
“Carla Smith is trying to be a hero and use that politically so she can win reelection,” he said.
“At the same time you take money from the developers and the lawyers, including Jeff Fuqua,” he said of Smith.
“I got a call from a developer recently, and I said I don’t want your money; this is grassroots. I don’t want those types of interests to be influencing those decisions. At the end of the day you can’t serve two masters,” he said.
“She’s calling us a liar. Folks are calling me a racist and saying because I want to represent the whole district, that I hate White people? People are stealing my signs. These folks are vicious,
they’re attacking me,” Welsh said.
“Grant Park, Ormewood Park, Woodland Hills are doing well. What about the rest of the district?” Welsh asked.
Welsh says he has knocked on some three thousand doors in the district. “I’ve seen the desperation and the hurt in people’s eyes. She doesn’t have a platform. Her platform is meet and greets. She has nothing written about her platform,” Welsh said.
“This Glenwood thing is the poster child for what’s wrong with her leadership,” Welsh said.
Smith said she was limited in what she could say about the rezoning legislation due to the possibility of litigation.
“We don’t want a massive parking lot, that then you have to walk all the way across the place to get to your retail. With new urbanism, that puts the stores up close to the street or up close to the Beltline,” Smith told Atlanta Progressive News.
When asked why not introduce her legislation a year ago, Smith said, “there was no indication that we needed to.”
The first two times Fuqua applied for a Special Administrative Permit from the City, the permits were denied, on November 20, 2012; and February 02, 2013.
Fuqua made a third application, on March 26, 2013; this time there were indications the City would approve it.
“We could really see the train coming. At the point that I dropped the legislation I could see that the train was more than likely coming and the neighborhood and the NPU asked me to drop it,” Smith said.
“The City did approve the [third] SAP after I dropped the legislation,” Smith said. It was approved on July 12, 2013.
“The Beltline is now in the process of proactive rezoning for the entire Beltline,” Smith said.
“There was no place for the City Council. It was for the NPU, the City, and the developers,” Smith said of the first year or so of the process. Smith noted that typically a developer asks a Councilperson to make a zoning change, but in this case the developer did not make any such request.
Things changed when the NPU asked her to get involved. “That was when they asked me to do it,” Smith said.
Smith introduced the zoning and land use papers as personal papers during the Full Council meeting, according to the May 20, 2013 Meeting Minutes. They were then referred to Zoning Committee and Community Development/Human Resources Cmte, respectively.
In his video, Welsh inaccurately states, however, that Smith introduced the legislation on August 08, 2013, nearly three months later.
Rick Hudson, Land Use and Zoning Chair for the Grant Park Neighborhood Association and one of the co-founders of Smart Growth Atlanta, confirmed to APN that the neighborhood leaders asked Smith to intervene when she did.
Hudson said that for the first year many neighborhood leaders did not believe zoning legislation was necessary because “we were told the Beltline plan had the force of zoning.”
“The Beltline enabling legislation says that the Beltline plan is almost the same as an overlay to the existing zoning, and that’s what we were told the whole time during the master plan process,” Hudson said.
“We’re saying he [Fuqua] should never have gotten the [third] SAP granted because of the argument about the Beltline plan,” Hudson said, adding there were procedural issues with the granting of the SAP as well.
“They let him come back under the same application number for three different times,” Hudson said.
“After the second time, we had heard rumblings that the planning department was working with them on fitting into the street grid only and not complying with the master plan. At that time, it was late April, early May, and that’s when I went to Carla and said Carla, let’s rezone this puppy,” Hudson said.
Hudson says his group has also filed an appeal with the Board of Zoning Adjustments regarding the SAP that will be heard next month.
The Zoning and Land Use papers passed Full Council on Monday, September 02, 2013.
The zoning paper passed eleven to three, with Ivory Young (District 3), Felicia Moore (District 9), and Joyce Sheperd (District 12) opposed, and Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large) not voting.
The land use paper passed twelve to two, with Young and Sheperd voting nay, and Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large) not voting.
As for the donations, Smith says the donation from Fuqua was from 2004, nearly ten years ago. “He’s one of those people that gives money,” she added.
“That [the timing of the legislation] had nothing to do with me taking money in 2004. I didn’t even remember that until he [Welsh] brought it up,” Smith said.
Smith acknowledges having received many donations from developers and real estate interests, but notes that many of them are personal friends who happen to be developers or real estate agents.
She also acknowledges receiving contributions from McKenna Long & Aldridge and attorney Sharon Gay, but notes that “McKenna makes lots of donations and represents a wide range of clients.”