A $2.2 million agreement the city of Brookhaven thought it made with DeKalb County to purchase about 7 acres of the front portion of Brookhaven Park has yet to be finalized a year later. Now the county is saying it may need to build the city’s new library in the park because it has no money to buy another piece of property.
Brookhaven Park’s approximate 20 acres is almost evenly divided between the city and county. The city owns about 12 acres at the back of the park with the address of 4518 Peachtree Road. The county owns the front 11 acres, including approximately 4 acres where the DeKalb County Services Board is located, at 2660 Osborne Road.
To build the new library that was funded by a 2005 bond referendum, DeKalb County needs a piece of land. But the county does not have money to buy property in booming Brookhaven, said DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader.
“We need a site for that library,” Rader said. “Since the city was formed [in 2012] we’ve been trying to find out where they want it to be.
“We need it to work financially, and land in Brookhaven is not inexpensive,” Rader said. “This land [at Brookhaven Park] is for the attractive price of nothing.”
When the City Council approved the $2.2 million resolution to buy the front portion of Brookhaven Park, Mayor John Ernst called it a “historic” moment. The $2.2 million was coming from the $40 million parks bond referendum approved last November. The agreement was believed to be the end to a years-long battle between the city and county for the city to finally acquire all of its namesake park.
But DeKalb County has $4 million approved as part of a 2005 bond referendum that must be used to build the city a new library. The city’s library at 1242 North Druid Hills Road is a tiny 6,800-square-foot, outdated building squeezed into a secluded 1-acre lot between Sylvan Circle and Apple Valley Drive. The county plans to construct a modern facility at least twice that size to serve Brookhaven residents.
Councilmember Bates Mattison said the city’s $2.2 million for the Brookhaven Park property was intended to go toward the county’s library fund, bringing its total to about $6 million to acquire property and build the new library.
“We were to pony up the extra $2.2 million for [the county] to get it done,” Mattison said.
“But I had always assumed when negotiating for the front transfer [of Brookhaven Park] that it would not be contingent on the library location,” he said. Mattison’s suggestion is that the city and county work with MARTA to build the new library on the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA property.
But a budget of about $6 million is not enough to build a contemporary library, Rader said. Brookhaven Park also provides great visibility for the library from Peachtree Road, he said.
And while Brookhaven may have thought it would be able to buy the 7 acres with the parks bond money, there was never a contract saying so, he said.
“I know Brookhaven committed money to [buy the property], but there’s been no contract,” Rader said. “There is no agreement between us and them. There was an expectation to obtain a site for the library, either there [in Brookhaven Park] or another site the city may provide. But we do need a site and we can’t spend a lot of money on another site.”
Recently, the county’s library board wrote a letter to the city saying it wanted to build the new Brookhaven library at 4518 Peachtree Road, the back portion of Brookhaven Park owned by the city.
Mattison sent a statement earlier this month to county officials on behalf of himself and the council telling them that building a library in Brookhaven Park was not viable.
“We have a parks master plan with citizen input that has no library on it and the loss of greenspace is a nonstarter,” Mattison said. “The master plan needs to start yesterday, including the Peachtree Road improvements, to do what the citizens want.”
Rader said the cross talk he hears from the city about what it wants to do with Brookhaven Park is confusing.
“We seem to not have alignment again,” Rader said. “We don’t have a contract with the city. The configuration of property that may or may not be transferred to the city is still unresolved. It seems like the goal posts have been moved and we are still looking for a library site.”
The city has suggested building the library where the DeKalb County Services Board building is. The building has been at the site since 1978 and is a popular resource for adults with disabilities, Rader said.
The county has no plans to relocate the building, he said. And because the DeKalb CSB has a long-term lease on the entire front portion of Brookhaven Park, the land is not considered park property under state law and can be sold at market value, Rader said. DeKalb tax records show the 2660 Osborne Road property’s assessed value at $3.5 million.