By Nancy Leighton
One of the two ancient oak trees in front of the CVS Pharmacy at 520 Boulevard will not be leafing out this year to shade the parking lot and the street because they had to be cut down. By last summer, the leaves in the crown of one of the trees were noticeably thinner. By the end of the summer, the reduced leaf cover revealed that the tops of almost all of the large upper branches had broken off at some time in the past. This created hazardous conditions for pedestrians and vehicles on the street, sidewalk and in the parking lot. The city arborist inspected the tree and saw that the tree was dangerous. He signed the papers to allow that tree to be cut down, and he put two rows of bright pink flagging tape around the bottom to signal the tree cutting crew the correct tree to cut.
Saving these two trees were included in the conditions that the neighborhood, the city and the owner of the property agreed to in order to have the property rezoned commercial so the CVS could be built there.
The property on the east side of Boulevard, north of Hansell Street and south of Sydney Street consisted of 7 lots owned by real estate man Armond Hartman. The old house that is still at the north end of the CVS parking lot is where Hartman had his real estate office.
Hartman had a reputation for pushing the zoning code to the limit and then trying to go over it. At one time he wanted to build a shed to store the antique millwork that he was salvaging from the many homes in Grant Park that were undergoing renovation. He had plans drawn up and took them down to the building department to get a permit. When the building department saw the drawings they told him this building was too large to meet the code for his property, but he could apply for a variance, so he did. When the members of the Grant Park Neighborhood Association (GPNA) received the variance request, they were not in favor of it. Some said that such a big shed was not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood while others said it was not a shed at all but actually a barn. GPNA rejected the proposal, the neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) agreed, the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) denied it and the shed was never built.
So later when Hartman proposed to rezone the property on Boulevard from R-5 Two Family Residential to C-1 Light Commercial/Retail, GPNA members were already prepared to react to something they wouldn’t like. The original plan was to demolish everything, including the house and the trees, to create a typical strip shopping center. Eckerd Drugs was one store mentioned by Hartman’s agents as the store that would go in there. Area residents could easily imagine a huge Eckerd Drugs, like one which had recently been built on Ponce De Leon Avenue, dominating the corner of Hansell Street and Boulevard, and they wouldn’t agree to it. Yet everyone agreed there was a need for some type of retail development on that part of Boulevard because it was so close to I-20, and because there were so few other commercial areas in Grant Park.
The negotiations dragged on for many months, and finally GPNA, the NPU and Hartman’s agents agreed to the conditions for rezoning. Some of the conditions required:
-The Victorian era house at the north end of the property could not be torn down because it was part of the original fabric of the neighborhood. Moving the house to the then vacant lot where it is now would be acceptable.
-And the two large oak trees on the property would have to be saved.
-The style of the building must be compatible with the late Victorian style houses in the neighborhood.
-The back of the building must be secured so that no one could clutter the space with trash, hide there to attack customers in the parking lot, or be a security hazard to the adjoining neighbors.
-The lights in the parking lot had to be designed to only shine light down into the parking lot and not shine into the bedrooms of nearby neighbors.
-The store could not sell certain types of merchandise.
-Outdoor vending machines that would sell cigarettes were not allowed because they could attract minors to buy cigarettes.
-Vending machines selling drinks were not allowed because the drinks made a loud noise as they fell, and the noise would disturb the neighbors in the nearby houses all night long.
-Other vending machines were not allowed because they would attract loiterers and other people who were inclined to break into vending machines to steal the money. It is not clear if the Redbox movie rental box in the front of the store violates these conditions.
With the conditions agreed upon, the rezoning was granted and construction began. By that time Eckerd Drugs was pulling out of Georgia, making way for CVS to go in. The old house at the north end of the property was moved, saving it and making it possible to have a driveway to the store directly across from Sydney Street. A large landscape island was created to protect the two large old oak trees and the store was located at the back of the newly created commercial lot. In the intervening 20-plus years, additional trees and bushes have been planted to create an even fuller landscape island. The new trees have grown and flourished providing even more shade than the original two trees. The store is a place where many neighborhood people come and go to get the things they need.
The Grant Park Neighborhood Association, the other neighborhood associations, and the Neighborhood Planning Unit have many members who are passionate about the past, present and future of the area. They spend much time considering which things in the neighborhood are not of historical significance and can be replaced, which things are historically significant and must be saved, and how to negotiate with developers coming into the area to build something new that is complementary to the existing fabric of the neighborhood.
Boulevard Oak Cut Down II
By Nancy Leighton