UPDATE: VHCA Official Response to Proposed Development at 10th and Monroe

Invest Atlanta voted today (December 21, 2017) to support the sale of BeltLine land near 10th and Monroe.  The $166 million proposed development from Fuqua that was submitted with the bid to purchase the land consists of:
11 story hotel (150 rooms)
351 residential units (with 30% affordable units)
1 story grocery store (20,000 sq ft)
Restaurant space (15,000 sq ft)
745 parking spaces
The development would encompass the land sold by the BeltLine as well as land on Monroe and Cresthill that is zoned single-family and has a land use designation of single-family.
Invest Atlanta did not allow public comment before their vote.  All but two Invest Atlanta board members – Julian Bene and Bill Bozarth – supported the matter. Bene noted that he and previous IA Board member Kirk Rich had campaigned to have IA approve development goals for the parcel before the RFP went out to bid, and to make compliance with those goals part of the approval criteria.  That did not happen, though some IA board members subsequently agreed in open discussion that the idea had merit. 
IA made public comments the very last agenda item, after the vote.  Mayor Reed left the meeting before the public comments.  When comments were allowed, Councilwoman-Elect Jennifer Ide, members of the VHCA Planning Committee and VHCA Board, and residents from Virginia-Highland and Midtown emphasized disappointment with the lack of community input before the vote and the need for robust community engagement moving forward.  Councilmember-Elect Jennifer Ide and Councilmember Wan also submitted a letter to Invest Atlanta requesting that the vote be delayed until there was an opportunity for community input.  Councilmember-Elect Matt Westmoreland also attended the meeting.   
Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong, who is on the Invest Atlanta board, noted that this is the start of what is envisioned as a nine-month process and that proposed rezoning and land use changes will ultimately be voted upon by City Council. She and other members of Council expect a “robust community engagement process.” She was joined by several other members of the IA Board in emphasizing that the specifics of this development were “not set in stone” and could change dramatically. BeltLine CEO Brian McGowan agreed; the developer, Jeff Fuqua, and Jim Kegley, the owner of the single family homes on Cresthill and Monroe that are contemplated as part of the development,  said they were willing to consider many options and uses.
The drawings the developer submitted, which were noted to be “renderings only,” may be seen at IA’s website.  (https://www.boarddocs.com/ga/investatlanta/Board.nsf/files/AU9MR75C6628/$file/1016%20Monroe%20Award%20Fact%20Sheet%20v8%2012.20.17.pdf)  Given the assurances offered following the vote by Invest Atlanta, we accept the ‘rendering only’ concept’ at face value and will therefore not comment now about the absence of single-family residential and along Cresthill or the failure to take into account the single family home on Cresthill that is  not owned by Kegley. 
The letter that VHCA submitted to Invest Atlanta is included below.  VHCA will continue to partner with NPU-F and surrounding neighborhoods to insist on a meaningful public input process and will keep the community updated on the dates of community input meetings and the status of this project. 
______________________________ ___
Dear Dr. Klementich and Invest Atlanta Board Members,
With zero public notice and zero public input on content, the Invest Atlanta board is about to become a partner in a contract conditioned on replacing single-family land use designations and single-family zoning classifications with high density commercial and multi-family development in the Virginia-Highland National Register Historic District. These proposed changes are inconsistent with the city’s adopted CDP, the neighborhood’s City Council-adopted Master Plan, and the City Council-adopted BeltLine Subarea 6 Master Plan for this area. All of these public policy documents have supported the preservation of the historic single-family fabric of the Virginia-Highland neighborhood, which this contract proposal clearly disregards.
The consequences of this proposed development have not been examined and are not yet known.   In this circumstance, IA’s most minimal obligations are to educate itself about what existing City policies are in place in this neighborhood and what challenges its own proposal will cause.  IA should hear the recommendations and concerns of the city’s Planning Department, the Atlanta Public School System, and municipal agencies like Renew Atlanta who have active plans in this corridor.  It should also inform and consult with the impacted neighborhoods.
I.   Inconsistencies with the BeltLine Subarea 6 Plan and Redevelopment Plan
There has not been any analysis on whether this proposed development is consistent with the policies and goals articulated in the BeltLine Redevelopment Plan and BeltLine Subarea 6 Master Plan.
The BeltLine Subarea 6 Master Plan has the following statements about this area:
“Due to the wide variety of opinions regarding use and density in this area, and the fact that any redevelopment proposals seeking a change in the current zoning must engage the community via the standard public process, this master plan solely focuses on safety, transit, and open space considerations and reflects current in-place zoning.”  (p. 9)
“Design in Subarea 6 should reflect the goal of blending with existing neighborhoods, each of which has a distinctive character.  To achieve context sensitivity, design should follow a series of guiding principles that reflect the diverse character of study area surroundings.  Design efforts in historic settings should also be carefully coordinated with the City’s BeltLine planners and Atlanta Urban Design Commission to uphold standards of appropriateness.”  (p. 17).
The Atlanta BeltLine Redevelopment Plan also contains important statements about this area: “…  a majority of participants favoring the retention of this site as greenspace linking the 10th Street transit stop and plaza with Piedmont Park” and “low-density residential use supported by neighborhood retail.”  (p. 64).
The neighborhoods and NPU-F participated in good faith in the BeltLine Subarea 6 Master Plan.  The neighborhoods’ input during the process resulted in no suggested changes to the land use at 10th and Monroe.  The significant development and land use changes contemplated in IA’s contract are contrary to the representations that were made to the neighborhoods and City Council when they voted to adopt the Subarea 6 Plan.  Development that has not been discussed with any of the surrounding neighborhoods flies in the face of the neighborhoods’ participation and support for the Subarea 6 plan.
II.     Affordable Housing and Planned Growth
We are advocates of affordable housing and we welcome planned growth. We formally inventoried the neighborhood’s multi-family housing in 2012 and protected it in the 2014 Master Plan.  Parts of Virginia-Highland are already zoned for more density, and we embrace such planned outcomes.
At this exact site, we worked very cooperatively for three months in 2014 with the property owner and his then-development partner Carter.  The final concepts of that effort – which was abandoned because the very land under consideration was not awarded to the Carter team – preserved the single-family status of Cresthill on the northern boundary and would today produce far more affordable units than the non-residential uses now being put forth.
III.   Preservation of existing single-family zoning
The preservation of existing single-family zoning boundaries is a major topic here and in many Atlanta neighborhoods.
The proposed land use and zoning changes have the obvious capacity to further erode the single-family regulations that are in place for the remaining areas of the neighborhood next to and around this site. Any agreement that allows replacing existing single-family homes with multi-family housing should provide stringent new zoning regulations to prevent such a pattern from repeating itself on the next block.
Endangering nearby single-family housing may not be the intention here, but it certainly could be the outcome. This question needs to be answered for every neighborhood in Atlanta, not just historic ones.  The IA Board should not be indifferent to or turn a blind eye to this topic.
IV.   Formal City Planning
For a decade VHCA has been guided in such matters by Aaron Fortner of Canvas Planning and attorney Bob Zoeckler.  They have three combined decades of experience at the City’s Planning Department and are leading the City’s rewrite of its own zoning code.  A central maxim that we have learned from them is embodied in the slogan, “Plan first, build second.” In this instance, IA is proposing the exact opposite  –  launching this project first and leaving it to others to try to sort out on the fly.   

It is highly inappropriate, and it is unfair to citizens and organizations that have acted in good faith and have consistently advocated for affordable housing and planned growth.   Major changes deserve proportional process; they should be reflective and not conducted under the pressures on nearby citizens that go with the deadlines created by filing for land use and zoning changes.  This is especially relevant for attempts to create high density development within the single-family fabric of a neighborhood.
We are willing – as we always have been – to consider the future of this site and this portion of the community in logical and collegial setting.
V. Impacts on Traffic
IA needs to evaluate whether or not the traffic produced by a grocery store and hotel will confound the already infamous traffic on Monroe and what the impacts of this development will be on the viability of the traffic mitigation strategies that Renew Atlanta has already formally presented.  But the Board hasn’t studied those issues.  

Will the increase in traffic that the hotel and grocery bring imperil the safety of existing Grady students at the dangerous Monroe/10th intersection?  This is a site where a Grady student was hit by a car and killed  just two years ago, and the usual method of evaluating only the percentage of increased traffic associated with a given project may not be sufficient.  Grady High School has a scheduled expansion on the books and will be growing steadily over the next decade. Citywide athletic events will continue to occur at the adjacent stadium.
This is anything but a routine setting and will require a very sophisticated traffic study.
The Virginia-Highland Civic Association joins in NPU-F’s request that the final decision by Invest Atlanta be postponed until the public has an opportunity to provide input on this matter.
David Brandenberger                                           Jenifer Keenan
VHCA President                                                     VHCA Director, Co-Chair VHCA Planning Committee
david_brandenberger@yahoo.com                    jkeenanvahi@yahoo.com
cc:        Councilmember-Elect Jennifer Ide
            Councilmember Andre Dickens
            Councilmember Michael Julian Bond
            Councilmember-Elect Matt Westmoreland

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