City investigating Grove Park home built after Bottoms’ development moratorium

A senior attorney in the Atlanta solicitor’s office has resigned amid questions about a new home built and sold in Grove Park — a westside neighborhood subject to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ moratorium on new development.

Attorney Andrew W. Hughes, who was a senior assistant city solicitor, is the registered agent for a company that purchased a vacant lot at 1907 Baker Road for $38,000, and then built a 3-bedroom, 2,677-square-foot home on the property that recently sold for $411,000.

The purchase of the lot, construction and sale of the home all occurred after Bottoms set in place the moratorium designed to prevent real estate speculation and preserve affordable housing around the new Westside Park. It is a piece of the mayor’s promise to create or preserve $1 billion in affordable housing.

The mayor’s office began investigating the permitting process surrounding the construction, after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution raised questions about it, according to city records.

Palmerhouse Properties, the company that employs the agent who sold the house, has also launched an internal investigation. Agent Anthony Thomas filed an affidavit with the city swearing that he was the owner of the property and intended to occupy the home for at least 12 months. The permit application lists the project name as “Thomas’s house.”

Palmerhouse co-founder Tom Ellicott emphasized that all of the company’s 2,200 agents are independent contractors, but are still “obligated to abide by all federal, state and municipal laws and we take the matter very seriously.”

The moratorium allows for owner-occupants to improve their own properties, and for new construction or renovations of existing properties. Owners must submit affidavits swearing the improvements are for affordable housing, or that they intend to occupy the new structure.

This residence at 1907 Baker Rd NW is the property in question.

Credit: Stephen Deere

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Credit: Stephen Deere

Hughes confirmed to the AJC that he was the registered agent of the company that purchased the lot. As a senior city solicitor, Hughes specialized in code violations — such as those that run afoul of Bottoms’ moratorium.

He declined to discuss any other details regarding the deal.

City Solicitor Raines Carter did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Thomas told the AJC that the home was always intended for another buyer. He hung up on a reporter after being confronted with information from the affidavit.

An amenity with a catch

For years, the city promised that the Westside Park would provide a much needed amenity to underserved neighborhoods around it, such as Grove Park. But during that time period, Grove Park’s population dropped by roughly 50 percent, mostly due to the demolition of a large apartment complex, according to an internal city report last year.

Grocery stores closed. Banks shuttered. Many homes became uninhabitable.

Meanwhile, speculators swept up parcels anticipating the rise in values that would accompany the new park. More recently, developers have been renovating and building new luxury homes throughout the neighborhood.

Today, Grove Parks’ streets are a patchwork of renewal and decay — new residences with marble kitchen countertops sit next to houses with a caved-in roofs.

About half of the neighborhood’s population rent their homes, according to census data, and more than 70 percent spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing costs.

It’s unclear who purchased the home built by the LCC registered to Hughes. Although real estate websites indicate that the sale has closed, Fulton county real estate records have not been updated to identify the buyer.

“This moratorium was designed to provide time and a plan to help protect our legacy residents from displacement,” said Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland, one of the council’s most passionate champions of affordable housing. “That it was violated by a City employee, taking actions which will accelerate that very displacement, is both unreal and unacceptable.”

A day after the AJC raised questions, the city’s planning department last week issued holds on the various construction permits for the property, despite the structure having already been built.

“Property may be in violation of the Westside Moratorium affidavit,” the city’s Planning Department records say, adding that a certificate of occupancy will not be issued until further investigation.

It is unclear what the hold on the certificate of occupancy means for the buyer. No one answered the door when a reporter knocked last week. Hughes lives in a home roughly 200 feet away.