The fight over 19 acres of land the city wants for the Peachtree Creek Greenway is heating up after court-ordered negotiations proved fruitless.

The city is refusing to pay more than its appraised value of $340,000 while the property owners say the tract of land is worth $2.3 million because it is prime for townhome development. The attorney for the property owners also states the city is “acting in bad faith and showing egregious conduct.”

The 19 acres the City Council is seeking to use eminent domain has the address of 1793 Briarwood Road. (Google Maps)

The City Council voted in June to use eminent domain to acquire the undeveloped land at 1793 Briarwood Road that is included in the first “model mile” of the Greenway trail and park expected to break ground early this year.

The city appraised the property last year for $340,000 and said they tried to work with Mark Morgan and Lifestyle Family Group, the property’s owners, to pay that amount. The property owners say they intended to build a townhome development on the site and countered with a $2.3 million price tag.

With the vote approved to use eminent domain, the city filed in September a petition to condemn in DeKalb County Superior Court, which meant the two parties would enter into negotiations with a court-appointed special master. A special master essentially serves as a judge to hear evidence from both parties before making a ruling.

Those talks in November again proved fruitless. On Dec. 21, the city ceased talks with the property owners through the special master and filed a “Declaration of Taking” to seize the property. The city paid the $340,000 appraised value into the registry of the court, which is to then go to the property owners.

Christian Torgrimson of Purley Friese Torgrimson, an attorney for the owners, on Jan. 11 filed a court motion to dismiss the land-taking, alleging the city is breaking state laws in its use of eminent domain.

“[The city] has ignored statutory rules and protections by attempting to amend these ongoing proceedings, all in order to avoid the results of its unlawful actions and bad faith conduct and the required payment of fees and expenses incurred” by the property owners, she states in the motion.

The city declined to comment.

A city plan for phase one of the Peachtree Creek Greenway.

In the motion, Torgrimson said the 19 acres on Briarwood Road is one of the few remaining large tracts of land in the city “that since late 2016 has been primed for development of a townhome community along with other compatible uses.”

The motion said discussions between Morgan and City Manager Christian Sigman began in the summer of 2016.

On Sept. 19, 2016, City Attorney Chris Balch offered the property owners $120,750, stating the price “represents 5 percent premium over the appraised value obtained by the city,” according to the motion. No appraisal was included with the price offer, according to the motion.

On Sept. 21, Morgan made a counteroffer to sell an easement of the property for the $120,750 or sell the entire property for $495,000, “despite the fact that at the time he did not believe it represented fair market value,” according to the motion.

The motion says that Balch responded not with further negotiations, but instead “threatened Mr. Morgan with legal action and repercussions if he did not negotiate.”

Morgan was “shocked and understood Mr. Balch’s statements to be a direct threat of condemnation in order to force him to sell,” according to the motion. On Sept. 29, Balch emailed Morgan again and acknowledged his “unduly harsh” response, and increased the city’s offer for the 19 acres to $190,000.

In an interview, Torgrimson said the city violated state law by sending out someone to appraise the Briarwood Road property without informing the property owners.

“The city’s appraiser did at no time get on the phone and call saying he was going to appraise the property,” she said, which means the city essentially “admitted to trespassing.”

Morgan broke off negotiations with the city when he realized he would not be paid $495,000 and hired Torgrimson.

The only appraisal Morgan received from the city, according to the motion, was more than one month after entering into negotiations. That appraisal was a redacted two-page letter dated Nov. 15, 2015, stating the value of the Briarwood Road property was $191,500.

During the special master hearings in November, the city presented an appraiser who stated the land was worth $340,000 based on an appraisal made in December 2016. The appraiser acknowledged he did not contact the property owners to ask permission to inspect the land, according to the motion.

That appraisal states only 3.16 acres of the 19 acres can be developed. But Torgrimson said in an interview the appraisal needs to be thrown out for having no supporting information that fails to comply with state law.

“We don’t take this lightly,” Torgrimson said. “The city is acting in bad faith and showing egregious conduct. And we still don’t have a resolution. What we are trying to do is get the case dismissed.”

The $2.3 million number came up in settlement talks, Torgrimson added, and added the entire property can be developed into townhomes.

“The value of the property continues to increase. The Brookhaven market is exploding,” she said.

A hearing on the motion is expected to take place in February, she said.

The City Council last year approved a $35 million master plan for the Greenway that includes approximately three miles in Brookhaven. The 19 acres on Briarwood Road is included in phase one of the Greenway project, about a 1.25-mile section between North Druid Hills Road and Briarwood Road.

33 replies on “Eminent domain case for Brookhaven’s Greenway property heats up”

  1. Yeah, no one is buying that 19 acres is worth only $340,000. People are paying that for half an acre. This is theft, plain and simple. This is what happens when you elect Democrats Luke John Ernst to mayor. This is truly sad but will lead to her another Brookhaven Court loss just like the Hastings illegal action.

    1. Actually it’s Joe that’s been pushing for this. Ernst goes along with whatever because he likes all the funding and sweetheart deals for his own district.

      Joe Gebbia says the government should be run like a business and would like the gov takeover of District 4’s Buford Highway.

      And there are plenty of District 4 bigots supporting Joe saying Buford Highway is all illegals and an eyesore.

      Ernst is complicit, but not the root of the problem.

    2. It’s also worth noting that the potential takeover of Buford Highway was a big part of creating the city of Brookhaven- by Republicans.

      Ernst didn’t create this- he’s just along for the ride.

  2. It’s totally Mayor Ernst. Who’s running the show? Mayor Ernst. Gebbia, Park, Jones and Mattison are complicit and messengers for Mayor Ernst’s agenda. Trying to get people to believe otherwise is protecting the Democratic party over plain as day truth.

    1. Clearly you’ve never heard of (or would like to forget) Mr Lysol. . . and don’t have a clue about the 4th District.

      Nathan Deal wants to use eminent domain to redevelop Buford Highway.

      Do you not consider Nathan Deal a Republican?

    2. I don’t know if you’re trolling or living in an alt-reality, but it’s pretty common knowledge around here that many registered Republicans would like to see a “cleanup” of Buford Highway.

  3. There is more than one anonymous commenting here. Either way, Ernst is the mayor end of story and you can find plenty of example of democrat lead over reach under his rule. Like being the tie break vote to prevent a subduction from putting up gates because it prevents the community from using their private roads and ameniries. A vote that was deemed illegal the following week and overturned. Gebbia is wrong as well but he cannot do this without support of mayor and city manager and attorney. A clean up of Buford Hwy is good for all of us. Taking private land at pennies on the dollar for a “Park” no one wants is entirely different. Lastly, republicans don’t believe in Emenant domain. But sure, let’s enrich more atttorneys, that seems to be working so well. Also Amy, let’s take it easy on the name calling or accusing people of being Ruasian bots or trolls, no need for that here in Brookhaven.

  4. Because Buford Highway needs to cleaned up.

    Read the Brookhaven police reports posted online. Crime and arrests all along Buford Highway and Clairmont Road

    Read the real estate website on safety in that area and check out their crime heat maps. The only area in Brookhaven shaded red hot is along Buford Highway and Clairmont Road.

    Read the restaurant inspection reports posted online. Failing scores given to several businesses located along Buford Highway and Clairmont Road.

    Read the test scores online for Woodward Elementary located nearby. They fell in 2017, the overall grade went from D to F, another new principal was named in a revolving door of principals. This despite all the free stuff and free meals provided.

    Finally, drive along those roads. You see litter laying on the ground, overflowing garbage bags at the Marta stops, buildings and landscaping neglected.

    Why don’t the businesses along Buford Highway and Clairmont Road form a CID, tax themselves, for the purpose of tackling, cleaning up their problems if they so want to preserve the area? What are they waiting for?

    1. I visit Buford Highway Every. Single. Day.

      Litter and some people not abiding by the law doesn’t give the government carte blanche to seize whatever property they want.

      Someone else breaking the law does not give the gov. the moral authority to seize the property of law-abiding citizens.

      Try again

  5. I am not for government take over of property but there is only three acres of nineteen that can be developed as the rest is floodplain. Building for townhomes backing up to shopping center with nightclubs and if you are not aware it not Phipps plaza. City and property owners should work it out and move on. Let owner develop the three acres and in development compels them to build infrastructure for trail everyone gets what they want.

    1. What about all the OTHER properties along Buford Highway the GA gov wants to seize or push out as part as the Peachtree Greenway?????

      Restaurants, gas stations, supermarkets. . . .

      It’s for “the greater good” for the GA gov to seize private businesses and property to provide a sewer park. While setting up a tourism tax?

      Mmmmk.

    1. So because that was as possibility 9 years ago that justifies the city taking 19 acres for $20,000 per acre? Its also helpful to remember that 9 years ago half of this city was in foreclosure, town Brookhaven didn’t exist, and the total wine was an abandoned shopping center. You know what else didn’t exist 9 years ago, the corrupt city of Brookhaven taking to steal people’s land.

      1. 9 years ago half the country was in foreclosure.The area which is now Brookhaven fared pretty well during that difficult period. You clearly oppose Eminent Domain, but the City has done nothing wrong. It has exercised it’s authority within the law in an open and transparent manner for the good of the entire community.

        1. You don’t think the city demanding the owner sell at $20,000 per acre is wrong? What about the constant waste of tax dollars during this fiasco? Or how the city provides no comps as justification? What about the city not abiding by the law? Of if this is ok with you? Name us a single other property that sold for that price range in Brookhaven within th past 20 years. They don’t exist.

        2. What about the other properties they want to takeover? How is taking someone’s business- like a gas station for example- “for the good of the entire community”?

    2. Is it helpful to remember that a lot of properties along the Brookhaven and GA state gov redevelopment eminent domain path HAVEN’T listed their properties for sale?

  6. “Reader:”

    “Read the test scores online for Woodward Elementary located nearby…”

    I passed every day for three recent years at Woodward ES and it is a school well led and blessed with a great faculty. My son got an excellent start there and I know the kids there now, do, too. You may be a “Reader” but you may need to do more homework and research more deeply.

    In education, it isn’t where you start it is where you finish. Your and my kids,
    since they benefit from our pure and God-given awesomeness get a great start. Woodward’s current kids start WAY behind and will always be shown poorly in point-in-time, grade level measurements. Yet they progress and they excel to the highest levels in life. And in spite of the tarring and ridicule of people like you.

    Your recommendation for improving the standardized test scores at a school that is virtually 100% “low income” with virtually all students learning English as they try to master subject matter is … to replace them? That is brilliant. Forwarding your insightful comments to the DeKalb Board of Education now.

    Am I being to sarcastic? Too truculant?
    Thank you. That’s what shoot for when dealing with snobbery.

      1. Facts supported by statistics, historical trend lines and score results. What more does one need to read?

        Typical Democrat response Amy, name calling and insults since there’s no defense for the indefensible.

          1. I check it every single day. Tons of “stopped for questioning” and people not having proof of insurance, suspended licenses etc, failure to signal etc

            Would love to hear your reasoning on why MLK Day should be spent berating John Lewis though.

            I’ll wait.

  7. To those saying crime is bad on Buford Hwy –
    I read an article just this week saying Brookhaven was in the top 10 safest cities in Georgia.
    Buford Hwy is a pretty safe place really. Compare it to other places in Dekalb like say Stone Mountain. I doubt many of you even get out of your car on Buford Hwy. The biggest threat to anyone’s safety along Buford Hwy is the fact there’s no sidewalks.

      1. Anyone can check it daily on the Brookhaven police website. There is a lot of “stopped for questioning”- and released, failure to signal, no valid registration/no insurance/ suspended liscence charges etc.

        Obviously I dont agree with people driving without insurance etc, but the CONSTANT attempt to portray the District 4 area of Buford Highway as “ghetto Murderville” is pure propaganda.

  8. This is theft plain and simple. The city said they had an appraisal for 120k, but didn’t produce it. The owners said the land was worth more and the city’s response was to make threats and try to take it. Only when the property owner had to spend his own dollars to defend his rights the city suddenly produced an actual appraisal for three times the amount they started with. This administration thinks they can do whatever they want. I’ve heard it directly out of their mouths. This is happening all over brookhaven. it makes me ashamed of my government and Brookhaven 🙁

    Eminent domain for the public good is one thing. There are laws and procedures for it. Threats and illegal procedures is another.

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