Office building owner sues Cobb, Braves

An office building owner is suing over the Cobb County Commission’s approval of the Atlanta Braves’ rezoning, which was necessary for the team to proceed with a mixed-use development outside the new ballpark.

Fairly Breezy LLC, which owns about two acres on Heritage Court, across from the Braves stadium site, filed suit in Cobb Superior Court earlier this month, saying the county ignored zoning law that requires applicants to be specific about their development plans.

Commissioners approved the Braves rezoning application July 15.

The lawsuit also alleges that the Braves threatened to “wall off” the office building if owner Fred Beloin rejected the team’s offer to buy the property. Beloin’s attorney, George Butler, described the offer as “sub-market.”

The Braves on Monday issued a statement that they “strongly disagree with their assertion of threats or that our offer was sub-market.”

The lawsuit describes the Braves’ development plans as a “pig in a poke,” meaning it is not detailed.

The Braves have said the mixed-use development will cost $400 million and include restaurants, bars, condos or apartments, at least one hotel, office space and a small entertainment venue that could be used for concerts or private parties. But the plans, thus far, do not specify where those elements will be located.

“One of the first things a rezoning applicant needs to do is provide a … site plan that shows the exact location of all the proposed uses,” Butler said in an interview. “There is currently no site plan in existence. The Braves are free to move the uses around, like pieces on a chess board.

“My client has a beautiful and pristine office park setting. He would like to know what the building height and what building is proposed next door, so he can consider what the impact will be. Zoning issues usually involve the applicant showing the neighbors what they are proposing and then inviting feedback and concern, so you engage in a back and forth negotiation.”

County officials declined to comment on the suit because it is pending litigation. But the Braves said they followed all of the county’s rules “set forth in the county zoning regulations.”

Butler said at the core of the suit is the allegation that Cobb County officials were not neutral arbitrators when deciding whether to approve the plan for the mixed-use development.

That’s because the county is investing more than $400 million of public money in the stadium and is counting on sales tax revenues and increased property values generated by the private development to recoup some of that money, Butler said.

“That implicit conflict is core to our argument,” Butler said. “By the time the commissioners got around to voting on this rezoning, they had already approved the Memorandum of Understanding … and all these other agreements” to publicly fund a portion of stadium construction.

“Cobb County and the Braves were totally in bed together and so, as a practical matter, the zoning result was predetermined. It was a foregone conclusion. It was wink, wink, nod, nod.”

The suit asks the court to overturn the commission’s unanimous approval of the rezoning.

“We want them to go back through the process, when they have their plans more solidified,” Butler said.

The Braves have said they want the stadium open in time for the first pitch of the 2017 season, and that a majority of the mixed-use development will open at the same time.

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