Decatur City Commission signs off on redevelopment of AT&T buildingA rendering of the proposed condo development at the AT&T building. Image obtained via the city of Decatur.
This story has been updated.
At its regular meeting on Monday, Nov. 19, Decatur City Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for redevelopment of the former AT&T training center on the corner of East Lake Drive and Park Place.
Developer Thrive Group wants to convert the space to 34 condos. City Commissioners added a condition that at least four of the units would be considered workforce housing for people making 80 to 120 percent of area median income (AMI).
The vote came after an attorney claiming to represent a group called Green East Lake raised questions about whether Thrive can actually purchase the property. The attorney, Richard Hubert, said the property was originally acquired by AT&T under threat of eminent domain.
Hubert said the property must first be declared surplus before it can be developed.
“The appropriate procedure is for the City of Decatur Commission to table the current application abiding compliance with the procedures for abandonment and sale …,” Hubert said in a letter to commissioners. “Any other course will surely invite an injunction enjoining them from procedure or a writ of mandamus based on the law of remedies for abandonment of public property. If the City Commission approves this conditional use permit application, the city is acting beyond the scope of its power.”
Thrive CEO Chris Rudd said the Nov. 19 meeting is the first time he’s been made aware that someone is questioning the company’s ability to buy the property.
“We have no knowledge of that and we’ve not been privy to any details,” Rudd said. “First we’ve heard of that.”
It was news to the commission as well, and it almost resulted in the conditional use permit being tabled.
City Attorney Bryan Downs said, “I thought Mr. Hubert raised a very interesting issue,” but said in his view it was within the City Commission’s authority to approve the conditional use permit.
City Manager Peggy Merriss said the commission’s action will have no bearing on questions about the sale of the property.
“I think what Mr. Downs said is if you wanted to move forward, the reality is if there’s some other owner has a claim on the title, whatever y’all approve, it goes away if the claim is found in favor of the other person making the claim,” Merriss said.
Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of the permit, with Commissioner Scott Drake opposing it because of the questions Hubert raised.
Attempts to reach Rudd after the meeting were unsuccessful.
There is a Facebook group named Green East Lake Station. Leaders in that group declined to speak on record and declined to say whether Hubert represents the group as a whole or represents individual members of the group. Hubert told Decaturish he is representing residents of this group and has been talking with one of the group’s members, Jay Palmer, about the project. Attempts to reach Palmer were unsuccessful.
Hubert, who specializes in eminent domain issues, said he doesn’t know when AT&T acquired the property or who it belonged to before it came into AT&T’s possession. He said the property’s backstory is irrelevant because it was being used for a public purpose.
“We don’t have the resources and are not required, in my view, to do a title check and find out who originated the property and how it took place and so forth,” he said. “The property was there. It was owned by somebody who purported to have the power of eminent domain. They’re using it for a public purpose.”
He said the property should’ve been declared surplus and sold in a public auction.
The Green East Lake Station Facebook group includes members who are concerned about plans to develop the East Lake MARTA station. The AT&T building is near the East Lake MARTA station and was recently identified in a Livable Centers Initiative Study about the station.
Angela Threadgill, Decatur’s Planning Director, said while the site itself — located on the southwest corner of Park Place and East Lake Drive — was not a part of that study, the study did identify it as an opportunity for preservation.
“The property was not specifically studied, but the commercial building at 108 Park Place is called out as a potential historic resource and many participants during the study strongly suggested that the building be preserved and adaptively reused should AT&T look to sell it,” Threadgill said.
That’s what the company intends to do.
“We wouldn’t be tearing down anything,” Rudd said previously. “We’d be keeping the entire structure, just opening it up, adding some windows, bringing in some more light. It’s a remarkably impressive building. It’s a solid concrete building. There isn’t a single crack in the entire building. It’s in great shape.”
Editor’s note: This story was reported by viewing a live video feed of the Nov. 19 City Commission meeting.