Also Wednesday, a self-described Southern Polytechnic State University professor showed up with Waleed “Lee” Jaraysi and warned the Council that unless they settled the years-long court battle with Jaraysi, Al-Jazeera would start reporting on the matter.
The threat prompted Councilman Johnny Sinclair to respond, “In between their coverage of the crisis in Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, I hope they can find it in their time to come cover our little problem with Mr. Jaraysi.”
Goldstein initially attempted to postpone action on Chalfant’s proposal by moving it to the Council’s next committee meeting, and he would have been successful, with the council voting 4-3 to table the proposal, with Van Pearlberg, Grif Chalfant and Johnny Sinclair voting against.
But Mayor Steve Tumlin vetoed that decision, forcing the Council to tackle the subject Wednesday night.
By the end of the night, Council restructured the board in a vote of 4-3, with Goldstein, Annette Lewis and Anthony Coleman voting against the change.
The Historic Board had 11 members, of which seven were appointed by the City Council and four were appointed by the DMDA. The new board, which will take effect Jan. 1, is a nine-member board, with the seven council members and Mayor Steve Tumlin each appointing a member, as well as the council appointing a ninth, at-large member who has a background in historic preservation.
The DMDA’s four appointments, currently Tom Browning, Dave Reardon, James Eubanks and Al Johnson, will be removed come Jan. 1.
Chalfant has argued that the board needed restructuring because it was too easily influenced by Goldstein, whose family is the largest property owner in the downtown. Chalfant has observed how the HBR has granted Goldstein repeated extensions over the last decade for a demolition permit to bulldoze the historic Cuthbertson building on North Park Square. An ensuing legal battle over Goldstein’s plans resulted in that building being replaced with a hole in the ground, while the adjoining building, which was damaged in the demolition process, was covered by a blue tarp which flapped in the breeze for months. Chalfant and other council members have also pointed to the HBR’s decision to allow the Lucky Draw Tattoo & Gallery a few steps off the Square on Atlanta Street to install a “garish” yellow awning, a decoration Sinclair compares to a Corn Dog Seven restaurant.
“I feel like if the taxpayers of Marietta have spent an enormous amount of money on sidewalks, on crosswalks, on creating a historic Square, historic signage, historic lighting, renovating the Strand, supporting different historic organizations, the money we pump into the park, with all that going on, I don’t think it’s asking too much for the businesses around the Square to support the historic ambiance,” Sinclair said. “That awning goes in the exact opposite direction of that goal.”
The removal of the DMDA members from the HBR was important, council members argued, because the DMDA has long been considered to be under Goldstein’s control. For instance, his sister, Paula Goldstein Shea, is a member, as is Reardon, who is a tenant of Goldstein’s.
City attorney Doug Haynie said Chalfant’s ordinance, in addition to booting off the DMDA appointees, making the HBR act more like a zoning board, passing recommendations on certain matters to the City Council, who will have final say.
“If there’s a demolition permit, they’re a recommending board, and their recommendation comes to City Council,” Haynie said. “If there’s a new building, they’re a recommending board, and their recommendation comes to City Council.”
Downtown property owners must obtain a “certificate of approval” from the Historic Board before they make any changes to the exteriors of their buildings.
“The makeup of the board needed to be addressed,” Tumlin said after the meeting. “We’re ultimately responsible for zoning type issues, appearance, code enforcement and all, and I think it brought that back in where the elected officials will have more input into that process.”
During the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting, Michael Sabbagh, who identified himself as a Snellville City councilman, a Southern Polytechnic State University professor and a friend of Jaraysi, asked the council to reach a settlement with Jaraysi.
As Jaraysi watched from the audience, Sabbagh claimed that Jaraysi had the money to finish this dilapidated building on South Marietta Parkway near Interstate 75. The Council should allow him to use that money to finish it, he said.
“The money is available.” Sabbagh said. “I’ll bet you if this goes on the Al Jazeera news, they’ll find out about it.”
Yet Councilman Jim King revealed that he had already spoken with Sabbagh about the matter.
“Do you remember that we had a conversation last week?” King said. “Do you remember what we talked about in that conversation last week?”
Sabbagh said he did.
“Do you remember what you promised me at the very end that would happen that very same day? That the escrow would be exposed and would be made available. Did that indeed happen?” King asked.
Sabbagh said it did not happen.
“Thank you,” King said.
Cobb Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs granted an order for the city to demolish Jaraysi’s building in July 2010, a decision Jaraysi appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals. The appellate court sided with Grubbs in June, so Jaraysi appealed the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. The city is waiting for the Supreme Court to decide to hear the case or not. The Jaraysi case dates back to 2005, when the city granted him a permit to build an 8,000-square-foot “wedding hall” on the property. The city halted construction on the building in December 2005 upon discovering the structure being built was about 24,000 square feet. It has been tied up in the court system ever since.
Also Wednesday, the Council approved placing the question of whether or not to allow for Sunday alcohol sales on the March 6 presidential primary ballot, while they postponed a request by the Marietta school board to ask voters on the same ballot the question of issuing $7,145,000 in general obligation bonds to finance an 800- to 900-seat theater for Marietta High School. The bond question was postponed to the council’s next Finance Committee meeting on Oct. 26 when King asked to have more time to review the bond literature.