Brookhaven, GA, June 10, 2016 – by Trey Benton – The City of Brookhaven has been trying to come to an agreement with DeKalb County for almost three years to buy Brookhaven Park. And City taxpayers have been footing the bill to maintain it, even though they don’t own it. After months and months of stalled negotiations, City officials are now saying they “should” send the County the bill for that maintenance.
Brookhaven Park’s highly visible location on Peachtree Rd. is seen by tens of thousands of commuters each day when they drive past, or look to the right when sitting in morning southbound traffic. With many Brookhaven residents frequenting the park, Optech, the City’s ground maintenance vendor, has been maintaining the greenspace since 2014. City leaders have apparently resigned themselves to that maintenance cost as necessary, in order for the upkeep to be on a regular schedule and up to City standards.
But the patience of City leaders to continue to encumber Brookhaven taxpayers to pay for upkeep may be wearing thin and City leaders say since the County appears content with Brookhaven cutting the grass and other general maintenance practices on their land, perhaps they would also be content with actually paying for it.
During Tuesday’s City Council Work Session, Councilmembers and Staff discussed the status of the Brookhaven Park Master Plan as part of a broader citywide initiative. Brian Borden, the City’s Parks and Rec. Director told the Council those plans have been put on hold until the City owns the park. The impetus for the City hitting the proverbial “pause button”, is the ongoing dispute between the City and the County over the transfer of Brookhaven Park to the City.
Prior to the City of Brookhaven’s incorporation, residents across DeKalb paid for the land, and in reality, the name on the title is of little consequence for residents wanting to utilize it, says Councilman Bates Mattison. Where the wicket gets sticky, as City Attorney Chris Balch pointed out, is the legality of Brookhaven as the City proper, commencing to improve land they do not own and the associated liability issues attached to those efforts.
Mattison would like for the City to consider putting the formulation of the Brookhaven Park Master Plan back in motion – a tentative plan has already been created for the back of the park – and is one step away from being approved by Brookhaven City Council. Mattison says, “If we do not have an approved master plan, funding for Brookhaven Park will be left off the table. It’s really the only park we have in District 3 of significant size. Brookhaven Park is an extremely important park and we want to make sure that even if we don’t have the title, we can still plan that park.”
The DeKalb County Services Center, which is a County facility for individuals with developmental disabilities, sits on the front parcel of the two parcels that make up the nearly 30-acre park, and is essentially a “commercial” use. For the transfer conversation to move further, the County maintains the City must be willing to pay fair market value for the “commercial property” the Service Center sits upon. Former City Manager Marie Garrett said numbers she heard tossed around were around $4 million.
It’s not likely Brookhaven will cough up that kind of cash to buy Brookhaven Park. Mostly because all of the other parks transferred to the City came in at $100 per acre, and as a matter of precedent, Brookhaven contends the parkland – aside from the Service Center building – should come in at the same rate.
In the meantime, the City continuing to maintain the park grounds does not appear to be in jeopardy because, after all, City leaders believe Brookhaven citizens reap those benefits. But from another perspective, so does the County, and all City taxpayers are paying for the maintenance of property the City does not own.