By Joe Earle
joeearle@reporternewspapers.net

DeKalb County Commisssioners Jeff Rader, left, and Kathie Gannon, right, address the crowd at a meeting at the Brookhaven Library.

Usually, meetings to update LCI plans don’t draw much attention in DeKalb County, county officials say. A few people may show up. They confer for a few minutes and go home. The whole thing, as one county official put it, typically is “pro forma.”

Not in Brookhaven.

When county planners called a public meeting Dec. 14 to update the Brookhaven-Peachtree Living Centers Initiative plan, a standing-room-only crowd packed the downstairs meeting room of the DeKalb County Library System’s Brookhaven branch at Apple Valley and Druid Hills roads to find out what was going on with their plan.

“I guess we need a new library,” joked DeKalb County Commissioner Kathie Gannon as she looked around at the group.

She got a laugh. After all, the stalled proposal for a new library — and the effect a decision on where to put a new library would have on the LCI plan – was on the minds of many of the 40-plus people, including two county commissioners and a representative of a third, who were crowding the meeting room.

Debate over when and where to build a new library cuts to the heart of Brookhaven planning these days. Some residents hope the library will become the community’s new heart.

“Brookhaven does not have a center,” resident Jack Honderd told the crowd. “It’s just kind of a sprawl down Peachtree Road.”

That’s where the LCI plan came in. Five years ago, Brookhaven residents got together and worked with county officials to draw up a plan to file with the Atlanta Regional Commission. The Brookhaven-Peachtree LCI plan was intended to direct future development in the area. Residents sought a plan that also would help give their community a center. They figured the new heart of the community would be near the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station. They thought it should contain a new library.

“I like the idea of having a library at the center of the community, where it’s accessible, where everyone can walk to it,” said Honderd, one of the people who worked on the plan and who showed up for the update discussion.

MARTA included the library in its plans for development around the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station. Although DeKalb County banked more than $3 million in bond funds for a new Brookhaven library branch, the MARTA development remained stalled due to economic problems. And some residents at the meeting complained that although the LCI planning effort had been under way for five years, little, if anything, has happened.

“What happened is the economy tanked and there’s been nothing going on in the county, in the state, in the nation,” Gannon said.

But, she and others said, the community now had a plan in place to direct development once it started again.

DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said the inaction at the MARTA development “leaves us with something of a quandary.”

Library officials hope to begin taking action on the Brookhaven library next year, he said. If the MARTA development remains stalled, he said, the library board could begin looking for an alternate location.

“What we need to do is determine whether the library can be built where it was supposed to be built,” and, if not, where it should be built,” he said.

“I think it’s a priority to go ahead and deliver that library.”

Because the MARTA development plan is on hold, some in the community have proposed building the library at other sites.

The new library, county officials said, could be built on the site where the current branch now sits. Someone at the meeting suggested the county investigate property where a grocery operated. Others in the community actively are promoting building the new library at Brookhaven Park, which they argue would give the community a center.

Honderd said he’s “very much opposed to” building the library in the park. “How often do you get 17 acres of greenspace?” he asked. “It can be a big part of our community in the future.”

Gannon said county officials would continue to work with MARTA but could look into suggestions made for the library site, including some made during the meeting. “It’s unfortunate that here we have a development that we have the money for and we don’t have a site for it,” she said.

As for the LCI plan, county planners said it would be updated to include developments that had been proposed or built in the area during the five years since the plan first was drawn up. They listed a few: a pharmacy on Peachtree Road, an office building and a mixed-use development on Dresden Drive, a mixed-use development on Cross Keys and Ashford Park.

The paperwork will be completed, forwarded to the county commission for review and then on to the Atlanta Regional Commission in January, the planners said.