More than 50 people packed a conference room at Brookhaven City Hall Sept. 21 to confront city leaders and demand what they planned to do with nearly 2 acres of land at the end of Remington Road at the southern end of Murphey Candler Park should they purchase it.
Mayor John Ernst, Councilmember Linley Jones and City Manager Christian Sigman met with residents of the Dunwoody Forest Neighborhood Association, several of whom were angry and hostile, to explain the city was seeking to purchase the 1.7 acres of residential property at 1664 Remington Road to preserve the slice of land as green space.
The property, zoned residential, has been looked at by the city to buy for the past several years, Ernst said. The city is in talks with the property owner but has not purchased the property and may not purchase the property, he added. Sigman explained the city cannot use eminent domain to purchase green space.
Many residents criticized the city for an apparent lack of transparency by not telling them of the plans to buy residential property near their homes. They also wanted to know what the city planned for the property, but Jones said it would be up to the community to decide.
“Many people are not accustomed to our grassroots form of government where the community plans … what to do with property,” she said.
A single-family home that has been vacant for 12 years is currently on the property that has a wooded yard that backs up to Nancy Creek. Neighbors in the area already use the land as a neighborhood park where children play and adults walk and run. Many residents said they are able to cross Nancy Creek to get to Murphey Candler Park via a stormwater pipe.
Most homeowners spoke, and some shouted, their opposition to the city buying the land because they did not want a public park or space in their neighborhood. They said, among other things, a public space would bring unwanted traffic to their streets and that crime would increase because of people from outside the neighborhood coming into the area.
Many also accused the city of planning to connect the property to the approximate 6 acres owned by the Ashford Glen Homeowners Association to put a parking lot on the property to alleviate the current parking woes at Murphey Candler Park, known for its sports complex.
They also stated they did not want any kind of connectivity, either via a bridge or another kind of path, from their neighborhood over Nancy Creek and to Murphey Candler Park.
Ken Fedor, who lives on Ashford Trail, said he has major concerns about the city seeking connectivity from the neighborhood to Murphey Candler Park.
He said he and his son currently cross Nancy Creek using the stormwater pipe to get to Murphey Candler Park, but to open up the area to the public would mean dozens and dozens of cars would be parked in the neighborhoods so people could access the public trail to the park’s sports complex.
“Fix the parking, please, at Murphey Candler Park before creating other parking issues,” Fedor said.
Linda Sherbert said the windows on the back of her home look onto 1664 Remington Road and to have the property become a public space would be a “disaster.”
“We already have green space. This sounds like a grab for ‘greed’ space,” Sherbert said. “You want this to make a gateway to Murphey Candler Park. We want the peace and quiet and that’s why we live in a cul de sac. We don’t want the city of Brookhaven there.”
Not everyone was opposed to the city buying the property. Todd Copilevitz of Colt Drive said he understood the process the city goes through to buy land is as transparent as possible.
“It really embarrasses me the amount of fear mongering that is going on,” he said. “Do not try to gin up a bunch of fear … argue facts instead of theory.”
Tom Reilly with the National Wildlife Federation and a Remington Road resident said the purpose for the city to buy the land is to keep it the way it is. “All we are looking at is a change of ownership. Your imagination is doing a lot of damage here,” he said to opponents.
Ernst tried to assure the crowd they would have input on anything that would occur on the land should the city buy it.
“What I hear is there is great fear and trepidation of change. There is fear of a parking lot, there is a fear of crime, there is fear of a parking on street,” he said. “We don’t know if we are going to acquire it.”
Ernst also acknowledged there is a distrust of government but that the city was trying to be as transparent as possible by holding a community meeting to talk about land it hasn’t purchased yet to try to quell the rumors. Normally a municipality does not discuss real estate purchases with the public before a purchase has been finalized.
He also said there are deed restrictions that can be requested by neighbors to ensure that a parking lot or paths are not put on the property.
Jones, who represents those living on Remington Road in District 1, said she first got the idea of the city purchasing the land “in the heart of Brookhaven” after talking to residents who wanted to save it from redevelopment — perhaps from someone who wants to build a large estate on the land and then ban anyone from using the property. She said the idea would be to keep the land as it is, if that is what the community wanted to do.
She also tried to assuage the fears of the city building a multi-use path to connect the Remington Road area to Murphey Candler Park by explaining the idea is part of the long-term plan — approximately 20 years in the future — of the city’s recently approved Bicycle, Pedestrian &Trail Plan.
“This is not anything that’s in play now or will be in our lifetimes,” she said.