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Crum & Forster lives on as zoning board finds court order invalid

Midtown structure spared again as City’s Board of Zoning Adjustment ignores consent order that could have led to the demolishing of the Landmark building.

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

Rick D. Day November 02, 2012 at 12:13 PM
Where have you gone, Mary Norwood? Our city turns it's weary eyes to you.
Midtown Resident November 02, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Preservationists are going to be the death of this area. GTF will keep the only portion of the building worth saving AND bring jobs and construction to the area, replacing a vacant building and vacant lots. If I were GTF I would throw a big middle finger up at this point and decide not to do anything at all with the whole site, let the damn preservationist idiots, who have apparently never seen a historic building incorporated into a new one, have their way.
CL November 03, 2012 at 12:49 AM
Seriously, look at all the damage suffered by the city in the past when faced with similar gangs trying to force their selfish agenda on the rest of us. Those silly preservationists ruin everything. We're still forced to live with the Fox Theatre at that intact Inman Park neighborhood. Oh, the horror! It must be terrible to live in places like that ruined Charleston, SC.
Z Johnson November 05, 2012 at 01:16 PM
So true! And what about the awful Peters' house at Piedmont and North/Ponce? There was no chance at adaptive reuse for the old pile, and yet it still stands in the way of progress.
Carolyn McLaughlin November 05, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Arch – Again, thank you for your continued coverage. It is important for readers to know that the preservationist lawyers were there because of the Atlanta Preservation Center. Prior to GTF’s purchase of the property it was identified as a historic asset and the GTF has been told “No” every time it has asked to demolish the Landmark Crum & Forster Building.
Midtown Resident November 05, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Why are we even comparing to the Fox? That's a total straw man argument. The Fox is akin to Atlanta's Penn Station, except in our case it was saved (still a rallying cry). And RE: Peters' House. It actually has a use now, specific to that building, and nothing was proposed for the site at the time, it's not in an intense land use area, and ownership was completely different (with different goals...ala what you see now). Let's take a rational step back here. C&F has a pleasing Georgian/Romanesque facade and a unique connection to GT (not necessarily a noteworthy "history", per se). As pretty as its front is, 2/3 of the building is completely worthless and vacant, not necessarily conducive to a higher and better use given the site/location. Not to mention this building stands out in Atlanta in that area (from Spring...doubt anyone would even notice it from its sides or from W Peachtree), but would be Anywhere USA in many other cities. The progressive thing here is not to mandate that every last morsel is saved in present form at the expense of economic development and continued blight. What is commonplace in far more progressive, historic, dense cities is to incorporate or "reincarnate" the building into a new, modern building. Then that way at least the building is "saved" and progress happens. It's more interesting that way in these special cases (again obviously not Fox's case where the whole thing needed to be kept as is as a theater).
Christopher November 07, 2012 at 04:07 PM
This has to be a joke. This building of minimal historic significance and equally minimal aesthetic value is not worth all of this fighting. Georgia Tech wants to preserve the little piece of worth this building has and put it to better use. What is the problem?

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