A ban on new development at Wellstar Health System’s Atlanta Medical Center site in the heart of Old Fourth Ward continues more than a year later. Plans for the prime real estate in the gentrifying neighborhood remain unknown, however.
The Atlanta City Council at its Nov. 20 meeting voted 11-1 to extend a development moratorium on the hospital’s property for another six months. The first development ban issued by the city was last October, shortly after Wellstar announced it was closing the hospital on Nov. 1, 2022.
Mayor Andre Dickens said the reason he has issued executive orders banning development on the AMC site was to ensure the 25-acre site with roughly parcels was not redeveloped with ”luxury condos.” The city council must approve all executive orders.
The mayor has also said the moratorium gives him and other local leaders time to ensure the future development of the property includes healthcare services, such as another, perhaps smaller, hospital.
Councilmember Amir Farokhi, whose district includes the AMC site, has been vocal against another development moratorium. He cast the lone “no” vote to extend the ban at the Nov. 20 meeting. He also voted against the ban during the Nov. 13 zoning committee meeting.
“I think that the community thinks that opening it up for development, still with the aim of having some level of healthcare access, is the best path forward rather than freezing things as they are today,” Farokhi said at last week’s the zoning committee meeting.
“We have the Civic Center site, which has sat vacant as a figurative black hole for a decade plus, and we don’t want to see that happen with this site,” he said.
Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari, whose district also includes a portion of the AMC site, voted in favor of the moratorium. She said at the zoning committee meeting she has been in talks with Wellstar representatives over the past year and they are “very amenable to doing something that is health related at the site.”
Bakhtiari also said until the city and Wellstar have an actual written agreement saying healthcare would be part of any redevelopment of the AMC site, they were not ready to vote to lift the moratorium. Bakhtiari acknowledged health care services would also likely not be on every parcel, but the city must ensure it is part of the overall plan.
Bakhtiari said they would also be reaching out to the mayor’s office to determine what plans it has for the property.
“My hope is that we come to a conclusion and perhaps we’ll not have to wait six months on this moratorium,” Bakhtiari said. “But I will not be in favor of this remaining a black hole forever.”
The mayor’s office did not return a request for comment.
Councilmember Marci Collier Overstreet, chair of the zoning committee, said she also supports the moratorium because she wants the city to be at the table during negotiations to ensure healthcare and supportive services are key components of new development.
“And not just another grand, old, tall, beautiful building that’s will be 100% unaffordable,” she said.
Local and state leaders were shocked last year when Wellstar announced it was closing Atlanta Medical Center. The 460-bed hospital in Old Fourth Ward played a key role in the city’s healthcare system for more than a century because it served some of Atlanta’s most vulnerable people, including low-income and Black residents.