21 Aug 2014
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PATCH VOICES: It’s Time for a New Strategy On 800 Glenwood

PATCH VOICES: It’s Time for a New Strategy On 800 Glenwood

by Rick Laupus

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

A recent article by Ms. Rocereta and Ms. Allain (GPNA and SAND presidents) claimed that “we know we have the right strategy.” Given the performance of that strategy at the pivotal BZA meeting Oct. 10, I am inclined to disagree. Maybe the time has come to chart a new path forward.

Let’s review their two-prong strategy. The first, largely symbolic, part was to retroactively rezone the Lafarge property via Councilmember Smith. That rezoning(which would have surely landed the city in an expensive lawsuit), would have required the developer to reapply for the SAP. But only if–and this is a very big “if”–the second prong, winning the appeal to BZA, was successful.

It wasn’t. Complaining that she’d only seen the client (SGA/GPNA/SAND) brief “on the way to the meeting,” their woefully unprepared lawyer, Dana K. Maine, delivered supposition after supposition masquerading as fact. Why didn’t they offer fresh arguments not already ruled on by the GA Supreme Court? General traffic concerns are, as that court and the city’s lawyer, Lemual Ward put it, "not sufficient to meet the standard as an aggrieved citizen."

By contrast, the lawyers for Fuqua, Lafarge and Atlanta Planning were buttoned down, delivering crisp, precise disputations of the appellants’ facts and case law.

In the end, the Board’s final ruling was unanimous and unambiguous: the developer complied with the rules and met the regulations as encoded; the BeltLine Overlay supplements but does not supersede existing zoning; the complainants had no standing in law; the SAP was not issued in error. Even a former BeltLine official agreed.

And what now? While SGA, GPNA and SAND are left to lick their wounds, where’s Carla? Where is her public outrage at the Board’s decision? Where is her published statement of support for the community? All those resources at her disposal and not a peep out of her. Not a single, bloody word.

Instead, the following day, AJC readers were treated to a contrived “fact check” concerning a flyer (distributed by straw-dog candidate Bill Powell) that claimed she had never chaired or sat on a council committee. Oh, the outrage! How dare they! But nothing was said of the dashed hopes of an entire neighborhood.

Perhaps it is time Grant Park residents opened their eyes and smelled the political coffee. As far as 800 Glenwood is concerned you’re on your own, baby. Your council member has headed for the hills. Welcome to our world, the world of ‘Where’s Carla?’  We, the rest of the district not called Grant Park.

Perhaps it is time SGA, GPNA, SAND and the neighborhoods stepped back and reevaluated the confrontational path their leadership and council member has led them down. “Our previous victories demonstrate the merits of our arguments, our strategy and our cause,” claim Ms. Rocereta and Ms. Allain. But what real victories have they won? At best, they slowed the inevitable. At worst, they have done all residents along the BeltLine a major disservice.

And did they close the deal? No. Their dream for the BeltLine always seems to be just one more argument away. “We believe the Board of Zoning Adjustment ruled incorrectly on the issue of standing and therefore did not hear all of our arguments detailing why the SAP was issued in error.” But their arguments on both standing and the BeltLine Overlaywere heard. That they were poorly made is hardly the fault of the Board. Anybody who watched the proceedings knows the BZA bent over backwards to be fair.

One can certainly admire their dogged pluck, but rehashing the same failed strategy, (as they suggest they will) is by any measure folly. It will take more than a Wikipedia definition of “standing” to be successful. Challenging property owner rights in a state where such rights are sacrosanct is a very tall order.

What is really unfortunate is that this was the first big test of the BeltLine Overlay and they blew it–big time. And not just for 800 Glenwood, but for all of us. Going forward, their failure closed the door for similar arguments in other zoning disputes. Some would say slammed it.

Maybe, in a backhanded sort of way, that’s a good thing.

Maybe other BeltLine neighborhoods will begin the process of evaluating, cataloguing, anticipating and hopefully preempting similar issues before they rise to level of litigation. Reach across the aisle before they raise their sabers.

Maybe it will challenge the political complacency that has surrounded BeltLine development thus far and lead to a more proactive approach by Council representatives to protect it. At the same time, maybe neighborhood organizations should reexamine the line between themselves and their political representatives. And sharpen it.

Maybe it will spark the affected Glenwood neighborhoods to demand their leaders take a fresh look at all available alternatives before committing sparse resources to revisiting a doubtful strategy. Fresh, more sensible heads are needed to dampen what seems to be “groupthink” between SGA, GPNA, SAND and Councilwoman Smith. Broaden the idea pool. Pursue new, solution-driven strategies.

As hard as it may be, maybe it’s time to reach out to the developer and offer an olive branch. Who knows, maybe they’ll reach back. It isn’t, after all, in Fuqua’s or Wal-Mart’s interest to have a retail property that is shunned by the surrounding neighborhoods.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it should never have come to this foolish brinksmanship. Our councilperson had the power to do something long ago. Bring the parties together. Bring balanced solutions to the table. Leave the politics back at Council chambers. That’s what real leadership does–should have done here–and should be doing now.

Where’s Carla?

Mr. Laupus is a resident of Peoplestown.

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