After three years of back-and-forth discussions with DeKalb County, it appears the city of Brookhaven soon will be the proud owner of approximately 12 acres of Brookhaven Park, commonly referred to as the “back” portion of the park.
Ownership of the “front” portion, where the DeKalb Services Center is located, is still being debated.
DeKalb County officially transferred the property at the corner of Peachtree and Osborne roads to the city on Oct. 25 and the city will pay $100 an acre for the property. The money has not yet been paid to the county, said city spokesperson Ann Marie Quill.
The city has been paying for maintenance and upkeep of the park since the city incorporated in 2013.
Because a Veterans Affairs hospital was once located on the land, the city is awaiting federal approval to make the transfer complete. City officials say they do not know when the federal government will sign off. DeKalb County officials said all information must come from Brookhaven.
“Right now we’re waiting for the federal OK, but it seems the transfer is imminent,” said City Councilmember Bates Mattison, whose district includes Brookhaven Park.
Since 2013, the city has sought to have Brookhaven Park transferred to its ownership. Because the park is separated into two parcels — the “back” 12 acres of passive park space, including a children’s playground, community garden and open fields, and the “front” 8 acres, where the DeKalb Services Center is located — negotiations have proved difficult.
The DeKalb Services Center, which has been in its location since 1978, serves people with disabilities. The center has more than 100 clients, including a large aging population. Along with day programs, the DeKalb Services Center also provides a hot lunch and physical therapy for those who need it.
Mayor John Ernst said the city contends the land the DeKalb Services Center occupies is park space and should be able to be purchased for $100 an acre from the county and $5,000 for the building because the legislation to create the city of Brookhaven included language that set that amount. The county argues the property is commercial land and says the city should purchase it for market value. In 2013, that market value was estimated at $4 million.
“The reason this transfer has been more difficult than other parks is because it includes two parcels,” Mattison said. “The front parcel [where DeKalb Services Center is located] is not considered as part of the park by DeKalb. That’s held up the process.
“In the long term we will have to have discussions with DeKalb Services Center. We want to make sure we protect their concerns. If there is a way to find a new building, that’s something to decide for another day.”
Brookhaven Park was originally part of the city’s parks master planning process and was included in public input meetings. An initial design with proposed improvements to the park was drawn up by GreenbergFarrow a year ago.
But the Brookhaven Park design plans were halted “at the last minute” when ownership issues arose, Mattison said. The city approved a $28 million parks master plan in February, but left off Brookhaven Park off the list.
A community meeting, scheduled for Dec. 10 at Lynwood Park, to discuss plans for Brookhaven Park is “picking up where we left off,” he said.
The GreenbergFarrow design from last year included a fenced area in which dogs could run loose. Brookhaven Park is currently a popular spot for people to let their dogs run off-leash, but some users have complained this is not safe.
“Right now the park is a de facto dog park. We need to address public safety,” Mattison said. “We need to be more proactive and decide if this will be a dog park or not. It’s not good policy to ignore our own dog leash law, so I support having a fenced-in area for dogs to run loose.”
Mary Ann Kelly, president of the Brookhaven Park Conservancy, said she and other volunteers are ready get to work to improve the park.
“We formed our organization three years ago and have been patiently waiting for a plan to fundraise for,” she said. “It’s been a long road because without owning the park, there was nothing the city could do to improve it. We are thrilled a portion is finally going to be acquired.”