Jeff Rader
Jeff Rader

There’s been a lot of interest in the current status and long- range outlook for DeKalb-Peachtree Airport’s Runway 9/27 Runway Protection Zone, which is 32 acres located opposite the 57th Fighter Group Restaurant west of Clairmont Road.

Most recently, the airport responded to a deliberately publicized effort by private citizens to facilitate unauthorized access to the property by posting the property against trespassing. Here’s some history, current facts and possibilities for the land’s future use.

First and foremost, the runway protection zone, known as “the RPZ,” is and has always been part of the airport since it was a Naval Air Station in WWII. The undeveloped land was reserved to provide a crash zone for aircraft using RW 9/27, the “crosswind runway” which was perpendicular to the airport’s main runways.

After the war, the Feds transferred the airport property, known as PDK, to DeKalb County to serve civil aviation. In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the closure of RW 9/27, recognizing its obsolescence. Since that time, the old runway has been converted to hangar space, allowing more aircraft to “base” at PDK, and pay local property taxes.

The runway closure makes the RPZ likewise obsolete, but it remains part of the airfield. Because the FAA requires that airport assets continue to serve aviation purposes or be sold at market value for airport benefit, the property’s future must include compensation to PDK for its market value.

As most neighbors know, the property was not actively managed while it functioned as a crash zone. Zoned “industrial,” the Clairmont frontage was intermittently leased to hauling companies, until noise complaints induced termination of such uses. More recently, the city of Brookhaven suggested the property for their paving operation, and the county accommodated.

At no time has recreation been a permitted use of the property, though neighbors may have taken the liberty to walk the site. Most recently, an unsanctioned group of people invited the media to accompany them onto the RPZ to document efforts to make recreational improvement there.

This overt trespass compelled the county to post the property so that there could be no misunderstanding of the property’s legal function and restrictions.

What’s in store for the RPZ? Clearly, it is ending its aviation use. The county must obtain a market price in any sale; the property is not subject to state laws allowing for transfer to the city as a park. But beyond those parameters, there’s really a lot of flexibility.

The northwest corner of the property near Ninth Street is a rugged, forested valley suitable for passive green space, under city management.

The Clairmont frontage is filled and disturbed, and could serve North DeKalb residents as a county Service Center, including a new tag office, freeing up the current Dresden Drive location for more of the urban development that has been so successful there. The Clairmont frontage could additionally accommodate a recreational facility to serve the many children that live nearby.

There’s also likely room for private development. The county has some flexibility to facilitate public uses, including “owner financing” of a sale to a public or nonprofit partner. Any non-governmental use would be subject to Brookhaven zoning controls.

One important caveat is that the ultimate decisions on the future use of the land must be made by your elected representatives in the open with public notice and stakeholder input.

DeKalb County holds title, and there are rules and restrictions, but still a lot of opportunity. Government ownership of the site gives us options to do differently than a private owner would, but it doesn’t make an optimal solution any less complex.

DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader represents District 2, which includes a portion of Brookhaven.

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