Preservationists withdraw support for declaring Eagle historic landmark

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The effort to declare the former home of the Atlanta Eagle a historic landmark easily passed another hurdle on Thursday – the same day the historic preservationists fueling the proposal revoked their support.

The city’s Zoning Review Board quickly approved ordinances declaring two properties along Ponce de Leon Avenue – the Kodak building at 300 Ponce and the former Eagle at 306 Ponce – as landmarks. The board’s approval came after Neighborhood Planning Unit E voted to support the effort on Tuesday.

“We think it’s an appropriate response to a building that’s focused on its cultural significance and connection to the LGBTQ community and the evolution of the Ponce de Leon Avenue corridor,” said Doug Young, the city’s assistant director of the Office of Design.

Young is shepherding the ordinances declaring the two properties historic landmarks through a lengthy and sometimes contentious approval process that formally kicked off in January when Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced her intent to preserve the buildings. Portions of the strucutures were built at the start of the 20th century.

The proposal now moves to the Atlanta City Council’s Zoning Committee, which could consider it during a meeting on Monday. If the committee backs the effort, it would move to the full City Council in June. Approval there would send it to Bottoms for final approval.

But as the effort to preserve the two properties moves forward, it does so without the support of Historic Atlanta. The organization was the force behind the landmark proposals and provided the research on which the city and Bottoms based the ordinances being considered. 

On Thursday, Historic Atlanta Chair Charles Lawrence said a compromise between the city and the property owner that dramatically scaled back the landmark designation for the two properties prompted them to pull their support. The compromise was unveiled publicly on April 20.

“As the first LGBTQ property ever considered for designation by the city, the severely limiting conditions fail to do justice for an important minority community in the city,” Lawrence said in a letter to the Zoning Review Board. “Further, several conditions may have been rendered in violation of the Atlanta Code of Ordinances. For this reason, Historic Atlanta must revoke its support for the designation until the above-stated issues have been addressed.”

The compromise calls for protecting the mid-century storefronts that face Ponce on both properties. The owner would be allowed to demolish the roof of the back-facing residential structure on the former Eagle site, which was built in 1898, as well as an expansive outdoor deck and stairwell. For the Kodak building, the compromise allows for the demolition of the entire residential structure, built in 1910, behind the storefront. 

Additionally, the conditions allow the property owner to build adjacent to, over and behind the commercial storefronts on both properties. 

Historic Atlanta’s objections focus on the former Eagle property. The organization wants the entire residential structure protected and its roof to remain intact while also preventing the property owner from building over and around the commercial storefront. 

Those concessions “would negatively affect the historic integrity of this incredibly significant historic place,” Lawrence wrote. 

Charlie Paine, secretary of Historic Atlanta and chair of its LGBTQ Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, criticized the compromise during a review of the proposal by the Midtown Neighbors’ Association on April 29. MNA approved the landmark designation ordinances.

Dennis Webb, an attorney for property owner Shahzad Hashmi, told the Zoning Review Board that the compromise is “a win-win” for Hashmi and the city.

“We’ve been working very hard with the city on trying to find a win-win for both the property owner and the stakeholders who have advanced this petition. We have spent a considerable amount of time,” Webb said. 

The compromise, Webb told MNA last week, will allow the property owner to build a $20 million to $25 million project on the two properties.

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