District 7 Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook spoke to the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods (BCN) on Thursday night to give an update on the Lindbergh "Big Box" saga. He also took time explain his stance on the issue after .
Because of a lack of quorum, the recent hearing of the council's zoning committee, the next step in the long process, was rescheduled for the morning of Aug. 20 — the same day the full council is set to meet.
"I'm going to continue to ask my colleagues to hold it there in committee for further discussion. The applicant has said they are fine with that," Shook said.
Shook explained that what . want to do is take a 21 acre portion of a much larger area governed by a law called SPI-15, currently designated for high density residential only, and turn it into mixed use that is slightly less than half retail. The retail would include a large anchor unit, widely believed to be a Walmart and smaller retail stores. Slightly more than half of the square footage would remain residential and include a 3 acre, $8 million dollar park as well as part of a concession by Fuqua.
"," Shook said. "I've been oblivious until now of the wild and wacky world of all that."
Discussion then ensued about the crime generated by the Walmart on Howell Mill Road. Shook said that any development coming in would cause an increase in some kind of crime because there is currently nothing there. The area is hardly pristine now, he said, in terms of crime.
"You don't want to be walking around there."
While many opponents cite a violation of SPI-15 as the main reason the development shouldn't be allowed, Shook explained that SPI-15 does not place the limitations that those opposed to the development think it does. He said that while he does not support the development, his duty is to decide whether or not it meets the requirements of SPI-15.
"It [SPI-15] is its not what people thought they were writing," he said. "It is weak," he said.
Questions such as, are there too many big box retailers too close together, should the parking be decked and should the uses be stacked are not addressed by SPI-15, Shook said.
"A lot of people assume those kinds of protections are in the SPI…none of them are."
While Shook said he has received countless emails in opposition to the development, he has yet to hear from anyone, including board members, how it specifically violates SPI-15.
"I need somebody to do something other than assume somebody else is going to explain how this fails SPI-15," he said. "My heart sank a little bit when the lone nay vote admitted publicly that he thinks it meets the criteria. When that gets into court, stuff like that is just devastating."
The parking lot that seems to be the focal point of much of the opposition even meets the requirements of SPI-15, Shook said. SPI-15 defines the parking to be capped at 3.7 spaces per 1000 square feet of retail, which the development adheres to.
"You want mixed use so you can walk, which is what this development represents," he said.
While Shook said the development, as has been presented, is mixed use, made clear with documentation that its listed intent is commercial. She and others at the meeting expressed concern over this discrepancy.
"I find it interesting that everybody says that they meet the requirements of the SPI-15 district," Rawlings said. "If indeed they met the requirements, they wouldn't need a rezoning."
"I'm going by what has been presented," Shook said in response. "I am aware that there is a back door issue that needs to be locked up to make sure that somehow this doesn't end up being totally commercial, which I have committed to do."
Rawlings asked Shook point blank if he would vote in opposition if he was presented with a list of how the development violates SPI-15.
"If you show me facts, I will follow you around all day long," Shook replied.
BCN Chairman Jim King told Shook he is worried about the precedent that would be set if the rezoning takes place and questioned why Shook hasn't asked for help to find more votes in opposition to the development.
"The neighborhoods want you to vote no," King said. "It is your district. I think they [other council members] will respect you if you represent your neighborhoods. I've seen you vote many times on principal before on other issues and I think this is an issue to the neighborhoods that is a matter of principal."
"With well contracted developers and their attorneys, and an administration that would love to see us start crawling out of our depression, I don't have a monopoly on the outcome of this," Shook said.
He went on to explain that council members are going to be told that the development meets the legal criteria as asserted by the planning department, ZRB and some neighborhood members - even ones that don't like the project.
"They are going to listen to me, some more than others, although there will be some that, the more they become aware with Buckhead's displeasure with the project, the more enticing it will become to vote for it," he explained.
"It is zoned residential and they want to change it to commercial. That doesn't seem like people are acting in good faith with whatever SPI-15 is, however weak it is," King said. "If that is what the agreement was, that it be residential, the City is not acting in good faith on that. That is the way it comes across and i think that is what is rubbing everybody wrong."
King and others at the meeting, including NPU-B's Andrea Bennet agreed that a logical step toward fighting the development would be to get the land use changed.
Until August 20, Shook said he is eagerly awaiting more information from those opposed to the project that he will be able to act on.
"The more people that talk about it, I honestly feel like some kind of consensus will begin to emerge," he said. "I'm in listening mode. What i am trying to do right now is engage the public and have you tell me what it is you like and don't like about the project."