Advocacy Was Successful But Recourse Has Sealed the Fate

Crum & Forster

The Atlanta Preservation Center’s endeavors to preserve all of the Crum and Forster Building are now at an end. Although advocacy for the building was successful at every public hearing, recourse to the Fulton County Superior Court and direction by the Mayor’s office have sealed the fate of the building.

As has been anticipated, the Georgia Tech Foundation demolished the eastern two-thirds of the Crum & Forster Building at 771 Spring Street on Sunday, September 1, 2013. 

The Georgia Tech Foundation has stated its intention to demolish most of the building with a view of preserving the façade. The court decision, however, does not require that this portion be preserved. 

The APC presented a record of the entire five year effort as part of the public record in the hearing before the City’s Board of Zoning Adjustment on February 7, 2013. The  submission serves as our analysis of the results of this issue.  
 
SYNOPSIS

The Crum & Forster building at 771 Spring Street SW was purchased by the Georgia Tech Foundation in December 2007. The Foundation applied for a Special Administrative Permit, a pre-requisite for applying for a demolition permit, with the intent to use the site for surface parking. This was denied by the Office of Planning in July 2008. The Georgia Tech Foundation’s appeal of this decision made to the Board of Zoning Adjustment was also denied.

The APC was involved in the effort to establish the building as a locally designated Landmark.  The Atlanta Urban Design Commission’s process for this effort was followed and Landmark designation was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the City Council on August 17, 2009 and approved by the Mayor on August 25, 2009. 

The Georgia Tech Foundation sued the City and the Board of Zoning Adjustment challenging the Landmark designation by the City as well as the Board of Zoning Adjustments’ decision. The APC provided defense in support of the City’s decisions. The case is still pending in Fulton County Superior Court. The hearing is scheduled for September 24, 2012 at 9:30 am.

Application by the Georgia Tech Foundation, Inc. for a permit to demolish approximately two-thirds of the Landmark building was filed on April 17, 2012. Additionally, Councilmember Kwanza Hall introduced legislation to de-designate portions of this Landmarked property on April 16, 2012.

The Atlanta Urban Design Commission heard the second application for demolition on Wednesday, May 9, 2012. The applicants and the opposition spoke in the hearing. Two members of the economic review panel were appointed, details of this are available here. These two panelists appointed John D. Shlesinger, Vice Chairman of the worldwide commercial real-estate firm, CB Richard Ellis Group, Inc., during the latter part of May. This panel is charged with reviewing and making recommendations to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission related to the unreasonable economic return aspect of the application for demolition.

The Economic Review Panel submitted its recommendation to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission via a letter on Thursday, June 21, 2012. John Shlesinger submitted the letter on behalf of the Panel. The letter stated that the Panel was unanimous in its finding that reasonable economic return could not be achieved if all of the Landmark building remained. The letter is available here. The APC submitted materials to counter the Panel’s findings.

Via email to interested parties, Doug Young of the Commission indicated that the Economic Review Panel requested a deferral of the case from the June 27, 2012 Commission hearing. In requesting this deferral, the Panel did not indicate its preferred date for the case to be heard. The APC has been informed that the Commission has been advised to grant this deferral.

At the June 27, 2012 Atlanta Urban Design Commission hearing the application for a Type IV Certificate of Appropriateness for demolition due to unreasonable economic return submitted by the Georgia Tech Foundation for 771 Spring Street, the Crum & Forster Building, was deferred to August 8, 2012.

The Urban Design Commission heard more than an hour of testimony from both the applicant and the opposition at the August 8 hearing. The opposition’s testimony was spearheaded by APC counsel, Robert Zoeckler. Additional pointed comments were provided by: Josh Rogers, Executive Director of Historic Macon; Betty Dowling, Professor Emeritus of Georgia Tech and former AUDC Chair; Tony Rizzuto, Land Use Committee Chair of the Midtown Neighbor’s Association; Mtamanika Youngblood of Historic District Development Corporation; Regina Brewer, Preservation Planner for the City of Decatur and former AUDC Chair; Robert Craig, Professor Emeritus of Georgia Tech. There were more than 70 citizens in attendance to support the denial of the application.

After the testimony, the Commission posed questions to the representatives of the Georgia Tech Foundation including their counsel, Carl Westmoreland; John E. Majeroni, Executive Director of the Georgia Tech Office of Real Estate Development; and Tom Ventulett of Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates, Inc., architects for the proposed project. The Commissioners questioned the members of the Economic Review Panel: Tom Aderhold, President of Aderhold Properties; Scott R. Taylor, President of Carter & Associates and John D. Shlesinger, Vice Chairman, CB Richard Ellis Group, Inc.

Subsequent questions and comments by the Commissioners indicated that it was apparent that other options for the site had not been sufficiently explored and that the other parcels on the block owned by the Foundation were not taken into account during the Panel’s review. These findings led to the passing of a motion not to accept the Economic Review Panel’s findings. This was followed by a denial of the application siting that the applicant did not satisfy the required standard for the application and that the Panel’s report was arbitrary and based on erroneous finding of material facts. This decision by the Commission is a well-fought victory, not just for this specific site but also for the integrity of the City of Atlanta’s legislation that protects its historic assets.

On Monday, September 24, 2012, Atlanta City attorneys settled the lawsuit previously brought by the Georgia Tech Foundation (GTF) against the City of Atlanta and the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA). This was done by the signing of a Consent Order just moments before the specially set trial was scheduled to begin. As a result, the case WAS NOT HEARD by Fulton County Superior Court.  No evidence was presented from the BZA hearing that upheld the Office of Planning staff’s denial of the GTF’s Special Administrative Permit (SAP) or from any other source.

The Consent Order states:  “At its next regularly scheduled hearing, the BZA shall order . . . the Director of the Office of Planning to grant SAP-08-024 within 10 days of its hearing.”  The BZA hearing will be held on Thursday, November 1, 2012, beginning at 1:00PM in City Council Chambers on the 2nd Floor of City Hall, 55 Trinity Ave. SW.

Issuance of the previously denied SAP application (which showed the Crum & Forster Building completely demolished) could allow the rapid application for and issuance of a demolition permit.

On Monday, October 22, 2012, an ante litem notice was delivered to Mayor Reed and City Council President Mitchell from Attorney Mary Huber on behalf of six City of Atlanta taxpayers. Their claim is for attorney's fees and costs of litigation in connection with a petition to set aside the ultra vires and unlawful provisions of the Consent Order. This Order was issued on September 24, 2012 in the Georgia Tech Foundation's suit against the City regarding the Landmark Crum & Forster Building.

On Wednesday, October 24 the proposed legislation to de-designate two-thirds of the Landmark Crum & Forster property was before the Atlanta Urban Design Commission (AUDC) for review and comment.  By a vote of 7 yeas and 1 abstention, the AUDC opposed the legislation.

At the same hearing, under the area of Other Business, the AUDC, by a vote of 7 yeas and 1 abstention, decided to send a letter regarding the Consent Order. The letter to the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) will urge that quasi-judicial board not to comply with the Consent Order and not to reverse its original decision. To comply with the Consent Order and issue the previously denied Special Administrative Permit would allow for the application and issuance of a permit to demolish the Crum & Forster Building in the very near future.

At the November 1, 2012 hearing of the BZA, the BZA stated very clearly that its members had not been a party to the Consent Order and that they had not been consulted by the Deputy City Attorney ostensibly representing them. Furthermore, they disagreed that this attorney had legal or proper client authority to "settle" the case in this manner and accordingly determined that they were legally unable to follow the Consent Order.

 
The Office of the City Attorney has withdrawn from the case and the City as well as the BZA each have private outside legal counsel funded by the taxpayers of Atlanta. 
 
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.
 
On Tuesday, January 8, 2013, Judge Goger signed an Amended Consent Order which remanded the matter to the BZA. At its February 7, 2013 meeting the BZA complied with the Amended Consent Order. 
 

 

  • PRIMARY DOCUMENTS: Applications, Proposed Legislation, Economic Review Panel Letter and Consent Order are available here.
  • PUBLIC RESPONSE: Documents and Links are available here.

HISTORY & SIGNIFICANCE

The Crum & Forster building, 771 Spring Street, was designed and built by New York’s Helmle, Corbett and Harrison in association with Ivey and Crook of Atlanta in 1926.  Ed Ivey was the founding student of the Georgia Tech College of Architecture. The three-story structure is built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. Its most striking architectural feature is a façade with three soaring arches, supported by two columns which accentuate the front entrance.

Built for the Crum & Forster Insurance Company, the site is significant in establishing Atlanta as a regional center for insurance firms. Crum & Forster was the first national insurance company to open their own house in Atlanta.