Late Friday afternoon, the Atlanta Preservation Center (APC) posted an urgent message on its website regarding the twisting, turning battle over the fate of the Midtown Landmark Crum & Forster building. According to the APC, "what will likely be the final hearing" related to the building will take place in Fulton County Superior Court on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 at 9:30 am.
"This is the culmination of four years of APC’s efforts to preserve the Crum & Forster Building, the City of Atlanta’s Preservation Ordinance and the rights of Atlanta’s citizens.
"APC believes all concerned citizens should be present to witness the actions of Fulton County Superior Court Judge (John) Goger, the City of Atlanta and the Georgia Tech Foundation. Our current understanding is that Judge John J. Goger is likely to rule from the bench on all pending motions as well as the final disposition of the case."
The Crum & Forster was built in 1926 and is positioned across the street from the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. The GTF purchased the building in 2007 in an effort to expand nearby Technology Square. The three-story structure is built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style and its most striking architectural feature is a façade with three soaring arches, supported by two columns that accentuate the front entrance. Many argue that in a city where so many buildings have been torn down in the name of progress, this one is worth saving.
The GTF has said that it would like to preserve the front third portion of the building, but demolish the back two-thirds in order to make way for a High Performance Computing Center for Modeling and Simulation, a 24-story, 680,000 square-foot private and public development that would support the economic development of area through creating jobs, new tax revenues and a technology cluster. Some argue the under-utilized brick building is standing in the way of progress.
In November, the Crum & Forster survived yet another challenge 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, Inc. (GTF) to demolish the 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 in November 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.
Preservationists had been concerned by a 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 at the November hearing.
The Office of the City Attorney has now withdrawn from the case and the City, as well as the BZA, each have private outside legal counsel funded by the taxpayers of Atlanta.
According to the APC, "Due to the clear conflicts of interest in the Office of the City Attorney and the unusual way in which the City handled the “settlement,” a group of concerned citizen taxpayers has filed a Motion to Intervene which would allow these citizens to have direct standing in the litigation. Other motions, including a filing by GTF seeking to hold the BZA members and others in civil and criminal contempt, are also pending."
It is believed that Judge Goger is expected to rule on all pending issues involving the case on Tuesday in Superior Court of Fulton County (Court Room A8), located at 136 Pryor Street.
- The Atlanta Preservation Center contributed to this story