The city of Brookhaven has filed a lawsuit seeking to make DeKalb County transfer ownership of the eastern portion of Brookhaven Park to the city, but a county commissioner says the land has never been part of the park.

The city claims in its suit, filed on Jan. 11 in DeKalb Superior Court, that the entire 21-acre property made up Brookhaven Park when the city incorporated in 2012, but the county only sold the western portion of the park to the city in 2017. The cost was $922, based on a state law that set the price for transferring parkland to newly incorporated cities at $100 per acre.

A DeKalb County map shows the division of Brookhaven Park, with the left portion owned by the city of Brookhaven and the right side currently owned by the county. The county is considering building a new city library in the park because it does not have another feasible site. (Special)

But DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, whose district includes Brookhaven, said the portion of property the county kept never was part of Brookhaven Park, though the county allowed local residents to use the open space in that section.

He said the property has a long-term lease to the Community Service Board, which operates a development disabilities center at the site.

“To characterize that as part of Brookhaven Park is actually inaccurate,” Rader said.

He said the section of land that includes the center is a separate parcel from the park and was subdivided before Brookhaven became a city. “So, I’m trying to convey that it’s actually not part of any park,” he said.

Rader said by including a substantial sum in its General Obligation bond issue to purchase the property, Brookhaven had admitted that the eastern parcel wasn’t eligible for the property transfer at $100 per acre.

But city officials say the park includes all the property.

“Brookhaven Park has been a park and was enjoyed as a park for decades before Brookhaven became a city. Now DeKalb County claims the park isn’t a park, which is laughable,” said City Manager Christian Sigman.

“At one time, the city of Brookhaven offered approximately $2 million for the land, based upon an appraisal conducted by the county, and DeKalb verbally accepted the offer,” city spokesperson Burke Brennan said.

The city was willing to offer more than $100 per acre for two reasons. First, the county argued it was not parkland and a lawsuit would have to be filed to settle that dispute. DeKalb officials also said the county was approximately $2 million short in building a new Brookhaven regional library building.

“Therefore, the hope was that they could use the $2 million from the park sale for a new building somewhere else in the city, which would benefit all residents,” Brennan said. “Per state statute, Brookhaven should pay $1,200 because it is approximately 12 acres.”

Brookhaven and DeKalb shared more than 30 emails and had 10 meetings on the property purchase in 2020, he said. The last communication from the city to DeKalb asking on the status was in November 2020. The city said in a news release that the county prefers to use the parkland as leverage against the city in unrelated policy and political disputes.

Rader said the county is considering a property owned by the city at 1623 North Druid Hills Road, near its intersection with Lenox Park Boulevard, for the new library building. City Councilmember Madeline Simmons proposed the site during a September 2020 town hall meeting she hosted, with Rader attending at her invitationRader said the city initially proposed buying the property with the CSB building for $2 million and leasing a portion of it back to the county for a new library. But City Council later rejected that location for the library.

Now the county’s Library Board of Trustees is getting an analysis done on the North Druid Hills Road property to determine if it is suitable for a regional library and can accommodate safe access to the site. Access would be from Lenox Park Boulevard, because a blind curve makes access off North Druid Hills unsafe.

He said if the analysis is positive, he thinks the opportunity will exist for the county to sell the property with the CSB center. Brookhaven would then need to subdivide part of it to lease back to the CSB so it can continue operations.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.