A glassy condo tower proposal on the edge of Cabbagetown is ruffling feathers for being too audacious and expensive in a tight-knit community known more for century-old shotgun bungalows, folk art, and PBR consumption, according to the project’s detractors.
But thanks to a loophole in Atlanta’s BeltLine subdistrict density overlay ordinances, development officials say the 27-story “statement” building is perfectly legal and could break ground as soon as May 15.
Quietly percolating since late 2018, the condominium proposal has been put together by a coterie of international investors and Syke Ventures LLC, a California-based conglomerate of trust fund barons with offices in Buckhead and Alpharetta.
Syke Ventures’ plans became public during NPU-42-0’s development overview forum this week—the board’s first in-person meeting since March 2020—held in the socially distanced auditorium of Cabbagetown Community Center. All members of the Neighborhood Planning Unit were in attendance, along with one vocal community member.
According to George Burdell, a development attorney representing the investment group, the 27-story structure would rise on what’s currently a small wooded lot in the 200 block of Pearl Street, just north of Memorial Drive. The project will be called “The Pearl” in homage to its street and prestige, the attorney noted, though he did acknowledge the name is “a bit ironic” given the proposal’s relatively immense scale.
Burdell appeared to anger board members when, during a brief PowerPoint presentation, he asserted that the condos' starting prices of $875,000 will entice a “perfect demographic” of homebuyers and prevent “even a whiff of riffraff.”
“You start sliding down into the $700,000s,” Burdell said, “and next thing you know, there’s a restaurant manager living next door, or a firefighter moving in.”
Syke Ventures, according to their legal representative, is financially positioned to pay all applicable fines related to inclusionary zoning measures, ensuring the $724-million proposal remains “strictly unaffordable,” Burdell said.
In an effort to further guarantee unaffordability, Syke Ventures also plans to implement universal HOA fees of $3,135 monthly for even the tightest, ground-floor, 400-square-foot condos—a means to stymie younger buyers who tend to be “sadder,” Burdell said.
The exorbitant fees, however, will cover first-for-Atlanta amenities in the building. According to Burdell, those will include a multilevel tanning salon, smoothie bars in each elevator, a roving cat therapist, a “concierge ninja,” and an onsite kennel from which residents can pick “impressive dogs” to borrow for BeltLine walks.
Several board members expressed concerns that the tower’s proposed height could be problematic, in that it would cast many streets of modest homes in shadow each afternoon. Burdell called that “a favor” and “free shade” before wondering aloud if a system of non-negotiable, involuntary, hourly leases could be imposed on anyone “benefitting” from the building’s sun blockage.
Board member Stacy Jackson quizzed Burdell on what considerations his client has made for legacy residents who might be negatively impacted by the expected 38-percent property tax hike the mid-rise venture would singlehandedly inflict. Burdell, fidgeting, asked her to clarify the question seven times before everybody just kind of dropped it and moved on.
The NPU, which serves as a localized advisory panel to city councilmembers, has twice lambasted earlier, cheaper, windowless versions of The Pearl tower, NPU chairperson Sloof Lirpa said on record this week. She then ridiculed the proposal as “a soulless obelisk of shame” before preemptively voting in favor of it.
NPU secretary Brian McGillicuddy continued that critical tone.
In closing a dramatic spiel, the rumored 2028 mayoral candidate said the Syke Ventures proposal isn’t right for the context, and that so much glass could blind longtime locals being displaced and expat Bostonians pouring in.
“The only ‘statement’ this proposal makes,” McGillicuddy told the attorney, “is that the development firm you represent lacks any semblance of compassion, let alone creativity or guile.”
Clearly peeved, Burdell unfastened a velvet mask and responded: “I appreciate your criticism, like that of the board overall. But it’s always been our M.O. to not get bogged down in matters like architectural integrity and legacy impact, not when crucial Q3 profitability is involved.”
During a brief community input session, the meeting’s lone spectator—frequent attendee and excitable community activist Ray Gingnimbee—likened Burdell and his team to plunderers of old.
“Over on Pearl Street, that’s a perfectly quiet, vacant lot as is,” Gingnimbee told the board. “There’s plenty of housing to go around, as far as I know. I’m just so sick of developers acting like this is a city.”
Jackson asked the commenter to provide more context, or “something resembling substance” in his argument against the development.
“Well, I mean, why can’t it be like the country around here, where everything’s nice and the same, year after year,” Gingnimbee said. “That’s exactly what this town needs—more stasis!”
Discussions involving the Syke Ventures proposal concluded when Burdell began laughing uncontrollably and stepped outside the community center. In his absence, the board unanimously voted to table the matter until April is over.