Senoia extends ‘Walking Dead’ wall permit
by Sarah Fay Campbell
The Senoia City Council voted unanimously Monday to extend the wall permit and road closures for filming of AMC network hit show “The Walking Dead” until Nov. 30, 2015, with the option for annual renewals through 2019.
The closures of Morgan Street and Amey Street and the permit for construction of the 15-foot metal wall were originally approved for Sept. 11 to Nov. 26 of 2014. In July, Michael Riley of Stalwart Films asked for an extension until 2016, with the option of extending the permits through 2019.
Because some construction needs to be done that will require closing the road, the road closure will now begin Aug. 25.
Under state law, a governing body can’t vote to “bind” a future governing body, according to Senoia City Attorney Drew Whalen. Because the term of the some of the current city councilmembers expires at the end of 2015, the council can’t take any action to approve the closure past the end of 2015.
A public hearing was held at Monday’s city council meeting, and two residents spoke in opposition.
Kathleen Sullivan, who lives on Pylant Street, spoke for herself and on behalf of her neighbor, Fred Morris of Morgan Street.
Sullivan said she and other residents of the historic district have to follow all kinds of special rules and jump through many hoops to build decks or outbuildings. “But Stalwart Films has been blessed by you all to construct the poster child for ‘not in my backyard.’ The problem is, the wall is in my backyard,” she said.
During the public hearing held July 7 on the original permit, “I said that the wall would be ugly. None of us had seen it yet,” she said. “But, OMG, it is uglier than I could ever imagine.”
The rusty corrugated metal and shipping containers don’t belong in her residential neighborhood, according to Sullivan.
She urged the council not to approve the request long-term. “We don’t know the impact.”
Sullivan said that the wall could constitute a legal nuisance. If the city subjects its residents to that nuisance for five years “you will be disabused of reality to not know that some legal action will come out of that.” She said that she and her neighbor are considering hiring an attorney and “taking whatever steps are legally necessary to be able to live our lives in quiet enjoyment of our properties."
Sullivan said she seriously doubts that Tyler Perry or Pinewood Studios would “try to dictate to the people of a small city what they can and can’t do on their own property. We would expect Stalwart to film for a few weeks. But five years? Please,” Sullivan said.
“Only in Senoia are we expected to suck this up.”
Sullivan said that several people told her it was a waste of time to even come to the hearing. “Because everything is, I quote, ‘pre-approved for Stalwart,’” she said. “I refuse to believe that. All of you are elected by those of us who live here, not the ‘walker stalkers’ who buy an ice cream cone and a bottle of water on Main Street and go home to wherever they live, thankful that the wall is not in their community.”
Sullivan urged the council to go slowly. “It’s too long of a span of time. There is too much at stake.”
Karen Allen of Seavy Street said she doesn't think the closing of the streets is a good thing for the city. She’s particularly concerned about access to the post office and Gin Street. There has been no mention of Gin Street, she said. In the past, when Gin Street has been closed for filming, there have been times it is almost impossible to get to the post office.
Speaking in favor were Scott Tigchelaar, president of Raleigh Studios Atlanta and developer of the Gin Property, and Suzanne Helfman of the Senoia Downtown Development Authority.
Tigchelaar said that, come the end of 2015, the council will be able to get citizen input, “see how things are going and grant those additional renewals at your discretion.”
Tigchelaar said the material of the wall reminded him of the dilapidated former cotton gin that was on the property before he bought and developed it.
Helfman spoke about all the things the film industry has brought to Senoia and said she is confident that if unexpected issues come up, “the city and Stalwart can handle them.”
The city has put together an agreement with Stalwart that lays out requirements.
“We have put a lot of time and effort into this agreement,” said Councilman Jeff Fisher. “We’ve gone back and forth with this thing. There is no carte blanche on the movie industry in this city.”
“We had a lot of discussion about what was going to be an appropriate agreement with Stalwart,” Fisher said.
Under the agreement, if filming ceases for more than 180 days, the roads will be opened until filming resumes. All temporary construction will have to be done according to building codes, and all temporary structures will have to be removed once the filming permit expires.
Stalwart will provide the city with a certificate of insurance on Morgan Street, and agrees to return it to a condition as good or better than its current condition.
While the permit is in effect, Amey Street will become a two-way street. It will return to a one-way street once the streets reopen. Stalwart will have to provide a 24-hour contact and access for all utilities and services.
If there is any breach of the requirements of the film permit, Stalwart will have 60 days to remedy the violation.
The film industry has brought a lot of revenue. “Along with that comes a lot of challenges,” said Mayor Larry Owens. And some of them “we are just beginning to deal with.”
Senoia has been “blessed with a lot of opportunities and, in some cases, in some ways, we’re setting a standard for the rest of the state about how to deal with these challenges.”
“This is going to be a learning experience for all of us. It is going to be a prosperous experience for all of us,” he said. “It already has been and it will continue to do so.”