APS and city clash over pending property sales

Carstarphen: Reed’s office won’t release property deeds

With tensions over the Atlanta Beltline financing still unresolved, public schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen says Mayor Kasim Reed is blocking the district’s ability to sell surplus property.

APS is poised to sell several vacant buildings this year in an effort to raise revenue. But Reed’s administration has so far refused to turn over a deed to a long-shuttered school in Adair Park, Carstarphen told the school board on Monday night.

Pullman Historic Development is under contract to buy the former elementary school in Southwest Atlanta for $412,000, with plans to convert it into a live-work rental development. The property has sat vacant for decades, Carstarphen said.

“I can’t close a deal if I don’t have the deed,” Carstarphen said. “I am deadly serious about this job. I want the very best for our kids. I need every obstacle moved out of my way to have it done.”

Anne Torres, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said that some of the vacant properties are the subject of negotiations between the city and APS in an ongoing dispute over millions the city owes in connection with the Beltline. Atlanta has the deeds because the school district was once under the city’s purview.

Torres said the mayor is reviewing APS’s request, which was initially made in October.

That’s in conflict with an email Atlanta’s real estate director John Lavelle sent APS last week. According to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Lavelle wrote: “I regret to tell you I have been informed by the administration that it will not consider the matter of the proposed quit-claim deeds at this time.”

Asked about Lavelle’s email to APS, Torres repeated that Reed said he’s still considering the request.

“This is not a new issue. Since 1996, the city of Atlanta has held the deeds to a number of vacant elementary schools, including Adair,” Torres said.

The conflict is the latest in a series of breakdowns between the city and school district, largely over the Beltline. Until now, Carstarphen — for whom the mayor helped raise funds to recruit to APS last year — has largely stayed out of the fray.

Per a 2009 agreement, the city — which oversees the taxing district that funds the Beltline — must make annual payments to APS in exchange for using a portion of the school’s property tax revenue for the green space project.

Citing lingering effects from the economic downturn, which depressed the Beltline’s growth, the city is currently behind on two payments, totaling $13.5 million. Reed has said the money won’t be paid until the parties re-strike a deal, much like a mortgage modification.

He notes that the Beltline’s growth and international popularity is a boon to the city and school system, and that restructuring the deal would ultimately benefit both.

But the school system has insisted that the city should pay what it currently owes. Both sides say they’re working toward a compromise.

The issue has caused a growing rift between the mayor’s office and district. It’s unclear what the latest dispute could mean for future APS property sales.

Carstarphen said the district has 12 surplus properties, though it’s not immediately clear how many of those deeds are now held by the city.

Selling the properties is important not just for APS’s bottom line, but for communities who have long lived with abandoned buildings that have become “eye sores “ and “dangerous sites,” she said.

“I’m not able to do what I have to do because we are at the mercy of another entity,” Carstarphen said on Monday.

In addition to Adair, APS wants to sell about five acres, known as Butler Y, on James Jackson Parkway for $350,000; and a sliver of land on Doane Street for $12,000. APS holds deeds to those sites.

Like APS, Reed has also made selling aging and under-performing assets a priority in his second term.

Last year, he announced the city is under contract with a South Carolina developer to sell Underground Atlanta for $25.8 million. WRS Inc. was the only bidder on the property. The city is also vetting bids on the Civic Center, and Reed has said he’s exploring whether he can legally go outside the process to sell the property to an investment group.