Zoning Board Defies Court Order; Crum & Forster Bldg. Stands

Nov 1, 2012

The historic Crum & Forster building in Midtown will stand.  At least for now.

Historic preservationists wore stickers Thursday urging the Atlanta Board of Zoning Adjustment to ignore a court order.
Credit Jim Burress / WABE News

Thursday afternoon, an Atlanta zoning board voted unanimously to ignore a court order that could pave the way for the Georgia Tech Foundation to demolish the Spring Street structure. 

Recently, the Georgia Tech Foundation and the lawyers with the City of Atlanta settled a lawsuit over the building's future, just moments before the case was to go before a judge.

Tech and the City signed a deal.  A Fulton County judge put his signature on it.  And the result was an order that the Board of Zoning Adjustment issue a special permit that would allow Tech to apply for a demolition permit.  

So the question before the Board of Zoning Adjustment was whether members should ignore the court order?   

Attorneys for the Georgia Tech Foundation argued no, that a court order is a court order, and all parties must oblige. 

But lawyers representing historic preservationists argue the BZA isn’t obligated to follow the order because the law department excluded the board from settlement talks.

“We respectfully submit that you need not follow a consent order that has been done on your behalf by your council when that council never asked you," said attorney Bob Zoeckler.

While the board at times appeared confused by the minutiae of the arguments, they were clearly bothered by the order.  One member even  interpreted city law as forbidding the board from complying.

The board voted 5-0 to ignore the consent order. 

Atlanta Preservation Center executive director Boyd Coons said the board made the right decision.

“I can’t tell you how much I admire these public boards for standing up in very adverse circumstances,” he said.

Lawyers for the Georgia Tech Foundation declined comment, saying they had no intention of arguing the case in the media. 

No one from the Ga Tech Foundation returned WABE’s calls.  

Since the board ignored the order, WABE legal analyst Page Pate says the court could hold members responsible. 

“If the court does find that they have violated the order, then they could be held in contempt,” said Pate.

By ignoring the order, the BZA spares the Crum & Forster building from demolition. 

But the choice assures the four year fight over the building's future will remain tied up in the court system.