Brookhaven, GA, May 12, 2016 – Commentary, by Rob Smith – On Tuesday night, the Brookhaven City council unanimously voted to approve the sale of Skyland Park to the DeKalb Board of Education (BOE) in a land swap deal, allowing the park to be relocated to an adjacent property, lessening the footprint of the park by ~5.5 acres, half of its current size. In this deal, the DeKalb BOE would build a 900 person school on the acquired property, adjusting and changing many elements of our quiet corner of Brookhaven. The community was publicly informed about this Tuesday morning, with a vote only 12 hrs away.
There was no official community meeting or discussion to review the project, let alone a formal notice to the directly impacted residents of Skyland Estates in Brookhaven. While I was privately hearing about this project for months, my assumption is that it would have eventually been brought to a public forum. I was wrong. The move to get this to a vote was sneaky and entrenched in legalese, which “allowed” the city to not disclose this to residents. Not involving the community was a choice by the city council, not a requirement. When questioned in the meeting, the attorney on the project didn’t know critical facts for potential other options, as asked by city Councilwoman Linley Jones (see video here).
What else did we miss in this deal? While this park did it have its issues, it was OUR community park. No one ever asked the city to make improvements — they came to us over a year ago and asked “what do you want”, and we told them, just like everyone else did. The facts are the park that I bought a house across the street from is changing, and I wasn’t able to be heard. The decision was made before we walked in the meeting on Tuesday. There were a dozen options that could have been pursued for community say, and they weren’t. It’s very disappointing.
So, where do we go from here? Well, we need to focus community energy on how to shape this construction project. We need to get involved. City Council and the mayor agreed Tuesday night to stand by the city residents and work with the BOE on not only the construction and aesthetics, but really the community footprint. We need to discus things like traffic, drop off lines, street lights, sidewalks, drug free zones, noise, greenspace/tree buffering, policing, etc. I plan to get community support, and ensure we get meetings scheduled with proper notice for groups to attend — groups from not only Skyland Estates, but the rest of the affected area.
The point of this commentary is not to challenge the BOE’s interest in this property, or the fact a school is getting built-in Brookhaven, but rather to document and highlight — as in how I perceive it — the intentional sloppiness of this deal by the city in order to quickly and quietly push it through. I’m for diversity, and I’m for helping kids, and in the end, I think another school in our community is a plus. My kid will likely go there, and I’ll get to walk her to school every day.
But now, my radar is up on what else is going on behind closed doors. What other deals are being worked out, only to be divulged to the city with limited time to react? This set a terrible example for how these types of things should be done in this city, and I hope city council and residents remember this, and use it as a template on what not to do.
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