Though in black and white, this is a fairly recent look at the now abandoned AT&T building at Decatur’s Park Place and East Lake Drive (running alongside the building). Thrive Homes wants to redevelop the structure, a plan that was at least temporarily stalled by legal issues raised during a Monday commission meeting. Courtesy of Thrive Homes.

Legal question stalls potential redevelopment of Decatur building

On Monday night Decatur’s commission approved a conditional use permit for Atlanta’s Thrive Homes to redevelop a 35,719 square-foot building at Park Place and East Lake Drive, currently owned by AT&T. Thrive’s plan is to add a third story build up to 34 multi-family units, with four set aside for work force housing.

But that scheme was delivered into disarray when, shortly before the vote, attorney Richard Hubert claimed that AT&T didn’t have the “authority” to sell the land. Hubert represents a group called Green East Lake, which opposes the proposed redevelopment.

Hubert said the property was taken by AT&T, originally Bell South, by eminent domain for public telecommunications purposes. Therefore, Hubert says, AT&T has to offer the property back to the original owner or go through “the legislative process” before it can be sold to anyone for private use.

The building was constructed in 1937. It’s uncertain, even to Hubert, who the original owner was, although it’s been speculated it might’ve once belonged to Oakhurst Baptist Church, which is on the other side of East Lake. Bell South took it over to house administrative offices, probably in the 1960s or 1970s. It’s been abandoned for about a month, with AT&T consolidating all its Decatur operations on its West College Avenue site.

Hubert also wasn’t sure what the correct legislative process entails, although he said it could mean going before the state legislature.

Christopher Rudd, president of Thrive Homes, was clearly shaken by Monday’s revelation.

“I didn’t know anything about this eminent domain until tonight,” he told the AJC. “We just want to bring an austere, dormant building back to life.”

For a while it seemed Decatur’s commission might table the project. But ultimately the conditional use permit was granted with the understanding that Thrive’s project might not survive without clear claim to the title.

Green East Lake was represented Monday by Decatur resident Jay Palmer, whose group opposes the East Lake MARTA LCI Study. That extremely preliminary concept plan calls for 430 multi family units on the nearby East Lake MARTA site. But according to current estimates it could be at least three to five years before any project commences.

“The main thing,” Palmer said, “is that [Thrive] is adding a third story. “This [surrounding] neighborhood is almost all single-story, single-family homes. We think [Thrive’s project] is inappropriate. It opens the door for taller buildings on the East Lake project.”

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