“We understand your concern and appreciate your patience as we work towards resolving this issue.”
Brookhaven resident Carey Brown is no stranger to responses like this. Over the past year, he has sent numerous emails to DeKalb County regarding the lack of upkeep on the county-owned portion of Brookhaven Park.
“It’s almost like a cookie-cutter response,” Brown said. “It drives me nuts.”
The 21 acres of Brookhaven Park are partly owned by both the city of Brookhaven and DeKalb County. The city owns the western portion, located at 4518 Peachtree Road. The county owns the eastern part, located at 2660 Osborne Road.
The city has been trying to purchase the eastern portion of the park from the county for years, but the county has said it wants to use part of the property to build a new, 12,000-square-foot Brookhaven library along Peachtree Road. Plans for the new library — replacing one currently located at 1242 North Druid Hills Road — have been in the works since 2005.
The years-long dispute between Brookhaven and DeKalb County over the land culminated in Brookhaven filing a lawsuit against the county on Jan. 11. But while the governments continue to duke it out, land on the county’s side of the property line falls into disrepair. The parking lots are filled with potholes. Fences are broken. Green spaces are unkempt.
Brown said before the city filed suit, he became so frustrated with the lack of upkeep he considered buying a billboard at the corner of Peachtree Road and Osbourne Road to show pictures of the potholes to passersby.
“It’s a little silly,” he said. “But I was prepared to do that.”
Amid all this back-and-forth, some citizens question how maintenance of the park was able to become so poor in the first place.
“Since the part of the park is owned by the city of Brookhaven and the rest of the park is owned by DeKalb County, I’m not sure who is responsible for maintaining this area,” said Mike Elliot, a park user and member of the Brookhaven Park Conservancy, in an email. “No matter what, the potholes have been getting bigger over the past year and are dangerous for pedestrians”
County Commissioner Rader, whose district includes Brookhaven, said standards for parkland upkeep and non-parkland upkeep are different. The county has previously stated that although it has allowed residents to use the open space on its side, its portion of the property was not part of the park when Brookhaven incorporated as a city in 2012. Currently, the Community Service Board operates a developmental disabilities center on part of the property.
“While we want all county properties properly maintained, the standard for a park is different from building grounds dedicated to non-park use,” said Rader in an email. “We look forward to patching the parking lot during the winter and repaving it when warmer weather permits later this year.”
While park lovers wait for improvements, library lovers have also been waiting for quite some time. The county prefers the location in the park along Peachtree Road, but Brookhaven City Councilmember Madeleine Simmons proposed an alternative site, 1623 North Druid Hills Road, during one of her monthly town halls in September of last year.
Rader said in an email that the Library Board of Trustees are in the process of evaluating the North Druid Hills Road site as a viable alternative.
Jaymee Morris, president of the Friends of Brookhaven Library group, said the library won’t be able to do anything with any funds they raise until they have a new building.
“We’ve kind of been in a holding pattern for so long that we just can’t wait until it actually happens,” Morris said. “Since we haven’t been able to have any of the typical programs that we’d run pre-COVID, that dollar amount tends to just go up as we’re not really allowed to continue to invest in our community or the building itself.”
Morris said to her knowledge, no one from the city or county had reached out to the Friends of the Brookhaven Library group for their perspective on where the new library building should be located.
The dispute between the city and county has halted progress on park upkeep, a new Brookhaven library, and also prevented Brookhaven from moving forward with planned park improvements. In 2018, the city passed a $40 billion park bond with 60% voter approval and set $6 million aside for updates to Brookhaven Park.
“[The plan] includes such things as running water, a new children’s playground, new pavilions, bathrooms,” said Lisa Pintozzi, president of the Brookhaven Park Association. “Just things that a park that hundreds and hundreds of people visit on a weekly basis should expect and require.”
While master plans exist for Brookhaven Park, updates have yet to begin in part because of access issues, said Pintozzi.
“Brookhaven cannot start the park improvements because of the fact that they have no access to that land,” Pintozzi said. “That land right now, the access to the park is all through DeKalb County.”
In an emailed statement, Councilmember Simmons said that last year the city submitted permits for construction and an access easement to begin improvements, but the county has not responded. The only way to get into the Brookhaven-owned side of the park for construction is through the DeKalb-owned side, and an access easement would allow Brookhaven the right to pass over DeKalb’s side of the park.
DeKalb County did not respond to requests for comment about the status of the easements or permits.
“The citizens of Brookhaven voted on that park bond. Money is there to make those park improvements,” Pintozzi said. “And the fact that the money is just sitting there waiting, cannot be used to improve the park and the lifestyle of Brookhaven citizens is a shame.”