Midtown’s Crum & Forster building survived another challenge Thursday afternoon as the City’s Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) voted unanimously (5-0) to reject a court order that could have allowed the Georgia Tech Foundation (GTF) to demolish the Landmark building located at 771 Spring Street.
The BZA voted to uphold the Atlanta Zoning Ordinance and the Community Partners Review Process by voting to ignore the consent order remanding it to approve the deal struck by lawyers for the City of Atlanta and the GTF for the Special Administrative Permit on the Crum and Forster.
In September, the City and the GTF reached a settlement of a lawsuit previously brought by the GTF against the City and the BZA that allowed the BZA to rule on the matter. The issue before the BZA Thursday was whether it should ignore the court order or not.
The GTF argued no, with its attorney stating that all parties must oblige to a court order. But lawyers for historic preservationists argued that the BZA should reject the court order since the BZA had not been included during settlement talks.
In the end, the BZA found the consent order to be invalid on the grounds that it 1) required the BZA to overstep its charge from the City Council, 2) would require it review an appeal it already had reviewed with no additional information- something the ordinance does not allow it to do and 3) the fact that the lawyers appointed by Mayor Kasim Reed to act on behalf of the BZA did not contact the BZA nor did they consult with the BZA on the case.
Additionally, the BZA expressed concern that the judge in the case signed the consent order without properly following procedure that should have required a review of the facts of the case.
The chairman of the BZA also commented that it was their obligation to respect the procedures of the government, which included the input of the Community Partners Review Process and the voice of the citizens of Atlanta.
Midtown Neighbors’ Association Land Use Committee Chair Tony Rizzuto told Patch that Crum & Forster supporters were "a little concerned" entering Thursday's meeting, but were "very happy with the results."
See here for a full synopsis of the continuing fight for the Crum & Forster.
Preservationists around the city had been concerned by the September closed-door agreement signed by lawyers other than the those with City of Atlanta Law Department who had been previously working on the case for the last four years. In a perceived show of protest, none of those City lawyers were present Thursday. WABE reported Wednesday that Simon Bloom of the local law firm Bloom Sugarman Evertt would to represent the City.
Rizzuto had previously said that the "action by the City demonstrates wonton disrespect not only for preservation, but also for its institutions, zoning ordinances, and citizens."
After Thursday's meeting, Rizzuto continued to express disappointment that Mayor Reed had attempted to "undermine the process" and that the BZA had viewed it "as a threat."
"It's very clear (Reed) understood the situation and it's not acceptable,'' said Rizzuto. "This is the mayor interceding with his own set of lawyers to overturn the public process and that's inappropriate. ... It’s disgraceful."
Noting that there are only 44 Landmark buildings in the city, Rizzuto added, "When you start knocking them down one-by-one with this kind of behavior that is not following the law and that is overturning the due process, then there's a serious problem there."
The BZA did have legal representation at Thursday's meeting and there's the possibility that its members could be found in contempt if it is determined they violated the order as case-watchers expect this saga to continue through the court system.
"(GTF) has lawyered-up from the very beginning and they've lost at every turn," Rizzuto said. "But then they spoke with the mayor and got him to agree to potentially undermine the process, which is very unfortunate."
GTF told WABE that it would not argue the case in the media. A phone message left by Patch with the GTF has not been returned.
- The Midtown Neighbors' Association contributed to this story