The Brookhaven City Council continues to buy up city land to use as green space, with another purchase approved at the March 28 meeting.
The city is slated to close on the deal next month to buy 1.7 acres of residential property at 1664 Remington Road near Murphey Candler Park. DeKalb Commissioner Nancy Jester has pledged $353,400 from the DeKalb County 2001 Parks Bond Fund to pay for the full cost of the property.
The Remington Road property is located at the end of a cul-de-sac and alongside an existing 5.4-acre wooded parcel owned by the Ashford Glen Homeowners Association.
The city recently purchased some 33 acres of property adjacent to the PDK Airport to preserve as green space. But as Brookhaven continues to be developed, such sizable plots are now non-existent, said Councilmember John Park.
“To fulfill our mission [of preserving green space], we will have to go after 1- or 2-acre pieces of property,” he said. “When we see something, we have to grab it.”
Numerous residents living in the Dunwoody Forest and Ashford Glen neighborhoods near the Remington Road property spoke out against the land purchase at the March 28 meeting and raised concerns about lack of transparency.
Because the property is a thin strip of land, residents said the only reason the city wants to buy it is to set itself up to one day to purchase the 5.4 acre wooded parcel belonging to the Ashford Glen HOA.
Many also said they feared the city had plans to put in a parking lot for the busy Murphey Candler Park ball fields or a bridge to cross Nancy Creek to reach Murphey Candler Park, disrupting their tranquil neighborhoods with more traffic and people.
Councilmember Linley Jones, who represents the Remington Road area residents, said it was the sole intention of the city to use the area as a natural green space for the residents living in the area.
“The goal isn’t to shuttle people in from other areas to go to a modest green space,” she said.
The property currently has a vacant house on the site and an abandoned swimming pool and is already used by area neighbors as a park where people walk dogs and children play.
Within a week after the city takes ownership of the property, the Public Works Department will demolish the house and begin removing the pool, removing the driveway and installing a curb so vehicles cannot drive onto the site, said City Manager Christian Sigman. The plan is to return the land to its “natural state” with help from the city’s arborist.
Because the city will be using DeKalb County 2001 Parks Bond funds to pay for the land, the city will have to follow county restrictions that the property only be used for green space, explained City Attorney Chris Balch.
The city also is entering into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with DeKalb County that includes a 50-year restriction prohibiting the construction of “any structure or space for the parking of motor vehicles” as requested by Jones. Should the city violate the IGA, the property will revert back to DeKalb County, Balch said.
Jones said she insisted on the restrictions in the IGA to ensure to neighbors the property will only be used as green space and no parking lot is built on the site. She said she hoped the IGA mandate and the requirement county Park Bond money only be used for green space would prove the council did not want to do anything else with the land.
Jones said she learned about the 1.7 acre parcel over a year ago with residents in her district approached her about saving it from a potential developer wanting to build a large mansion on the site and destroying the mostly wooded lot.
Despite the restrictions, some residents said they fear the worst in years to come.
“I trust this council wants green space; I’ve never questioned their desire to have green space,” said Linda Alexander of Ashford Glen after the vote.
“What I don’t trust are the councils that come after them. As councils change, plans change, ideas change,” she said. “Murphey Candler Park Baseball has a strong conservancy – who is to say they won’t elect someone who will promise them parking?”
Daniel Loventhal, who lives on Ashford Trail, said several of the city’s plans, such as it’s Bike and Pedestrian Plan and the Nancy Creek Watershed Plan, show a trail connecting Murphey Candler Park through Ashford Glen and through 1664 Remington Road and behind the properties on Remington Road and Winchester Trail.
“This is purely step one in the process, regardless of what was said publicly,” he said.
Jones acknowledged that the city’s long-term plans — perhaps 20 years away — for its Bike and Pedestrian Plan and Nancy Creek Watershed Plan includes that trail.
“The city certainly has other plans … but tonight is not about those plans,” she said at the March 28 meeting. “Tonight is simply about acquiring green space.”
Other neighbors at the meeting were excited about the new green space.
Laura Bieze of Colt Drive said she currently can’t walk her dog to Murphey Candler Park or Blackburn Park, but with a connecting green space she will be able to do so.
“I’m thrilled we’re going to have green space within walking distance of our neighborhood,” she said. “I appreciate the council being responsive to everyone.”
Tom Reilly, who lives on Remington Road, said he believes the March 28 agreement to buy the land is a “historic event” in the city’s history.
“I’m always concerned about precedent; we have to do it right the first time,” he said. “We did it right the first time tonight.”
The city’s intention to buy the land has been a heated one for more than a year and became quite contentious at a meeting last September in which some residents hurled insults at Jones and Mayor John Ernst. After the meeting, someone keyed Jones’ car.
At the March 28 meeting, police officers scanned people with hand-held metal detectors as they entered City Hall and checked bags to ensure nobody had weapons. Sigman said the security measures were implemented out of concern as a direct result of the “rancor” and vandalism against Jones from that September meeting and will be reviewed after six months.
The actual purchase of the land is a bit convoluted. Prior City Councils had already eyed the property and the previous city manager had hired a nonprofit organization, the Conservation Fund, to broker the deal. So it will be the Conservation Fund who will be buying the property and then transferring it to the city, Sigman said.
The entire DeKalb County Board of Commissioners has to approve Jester’s pledge before the county parks bond money can be spent, but the city plans to move forward with taking over the property shortly after the April 15 closing date, Sigman said.
The city will “front” the money for the $353,400 price tag by using funds from the $2.4 million the city garnered last year after selling Skyland Park to the DeKalb County Board of Education, he said.
That $2.4 million is to be used specifically for green space acquisition. When DeKalb commissioners approve Jester’s pledge, her parks bond money will replenish the Skyland Park money, Sigman said.