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Board OKs permit for apartments

FOREST PARK — City council members approved a conditional use permit Monday night to allow the development of an upscale 12-unit condominium inside an abandoned apartment building.

Developer Bruce McNeilage of Spring Hill, Tenn., bought the building at 615 Georgia Ave., which required a conditional use permit, said Planning, Building and Zoning Director Al Wiggins.

However, the building’s history created a quagmire for officials.

“This is one of the most complex cases we’ve seen,” said Wiggins.

The two-building, 20-unit complex was “grossly over-built,” he said, and abandoned by its previous owner 10 years ago when the city began citing him for code violations. McNeilage bought one of the buildings, which houses 12 units.

“The new owner has been very cooperative,” Wiggins said. “He has agreed to meet all conditions we recommended based on parking, occupancy, anything that would be considered a nuisance.”

Wiggins said the city agreed to convey 3,700-square feet in an alley to create more parking spaces. The building is in Ward 2, represented by Councilman Dabouze Antoine, who took office in January.

The project is McNeilage’s latest development but not his first in Clayton County or metro Atlanta. He and childhood friend Christopher Zachary are co-founders of Kinloch — named for their Michigan elementary school —which buys and flips foreclosed properties.

“Our world has been College Park, East Point and North Clayton,” said McNeilage. “We’ve bought properties and fixed them up for sale for years in Tennessee. Forest Park has been compliant, professional and friendly to work with. We want to do other projects here. We have capital to do other projects.”

McNeilage said Kinloch said their goal is to make neighborhoods vibrant and stable. The property would not accept Section 8, or government subsidized housing, he said.

However, Antoine questioned McNeilage’s motives and his assertion that he’s talked to residents about the project.

“That building is in my ward and residents haven’t mentioned to me meeting you,” Antoine said. “I think it’s unfair, people have been living there 40-50 years.”

Antoine accused McNeilage of wanting to come into Forest Park, tear down houses and displace residents, only to rebuild high-dollar structures. McNeilage explained that was not the nature of this project.

“I buy something already on the ground,” he said. “Very rarely do I develop from the ground up or tear down. I’m bringing new people with new money into the community, not pushing anyone out.”

McNeilage said target tenants are single parents with two kids making $40,000 to $60,000 who can afford $700-$800 a month rent. The next step is home ownership, he said.

“They have to pass a background check and a credit check,” said McNeilage. “The goal is for them to own their home in two, three, four years. We helped them build up their credit, help with the down payment. My goal here is to sell 12 units to 12 separate individuals.”

Antoine said Forest Park residents make an average yearly salary of $12,000 to $17,000 and could not afford to live in the units. According to city-data.com, the average median salary in Forest Park in 2011 was $26,457, down from 2000’s $33,556 — five years before nearby Fort Gillem was recommended for closure.

Wiggins said the P&Z board recommended the conditional use permit be approved and no one else on city council voiced objections to the request. Once the motion was made and seconded to approve the permit, Antoine interrupted and said he wanted to make a motion to table the issue.

However, city attorney Mike Williams said it was too late because there was an active motion on the table. The motion was approved although Antoine voted against it.

McNeilage said the building will be ready for renting in 60-90 days. Resident Diane Lunsford said she was glad to see the improvements.

“I’m excited about the new building because it’s an eyesore now,” she said.