Brookhaven, GA, August 24, 2016 – by Trey Benton – Brookhaven Councilmembers authorized City Manager Christian Sigman to negotiate the purchase of the PDK greenspace Tuesday evening, a greenspace comprised of 29.21 forested acres spanning two Clairmont Rd. parcels.
Each of the sitting Councilmembers and the Mayor all promised greenspace preservation and acquisition in their election campaign platforms, and a number of residents who spoke during Public Comment reminded them of those promises and how important it is to save and preserve this land.
Beyond those promises made by Councilmembers, during their March 20th Council retreat, City Leaders decided they would be ramping-up efforts to acquire more greenspace – not only for land needed for the Peachtree Creek Greenway initiative (that Master Plan was also adopted Tuesday), but greenspace in general. The City says they have in their possession a recent appraisal showing a $5.7 million valuation, which is the amount Sigman is authorized to negotiate. If successful, Brookhaven will have been able to purchase with the intent to preserve one of the largest forested single land tracts inside the Atlanta Perimeter.
Sigman said when he joined the City Staff 3 months ago, as he was getting up to speed on the goings on in Brookhaven, one of the things he had to do is read all of the planning documents to give himself and other staff members direction in terms of their work and efforts. He pointed out the Parks and Recreation Master Plan specifically sets a target goal to raise the number of greenspace acres per 1,000 residents over the next 10 years from 5.6 acres per 1,000 residents, to 8.0 acres per 1,000 residents.
A question that came up Tuesday was how the City plans to pay for the land. “The goal is to use non-City resources first,” explained Sigman. “This may include but is not limited to grants, tax credits, naming rights, sponsorships, bake sales and anything else we can come up with not to use our own funding.” He said if City resources were to come in to play, monies could come out of the City’s General Fund, HOST proceeds, Stormwater Fund, utilizing the funds secured in the Skyland Center/Skyland Park deal or loans. “At the end of the day, I think this a great opportunity to make progress on the stated approved goals of the City Council,” Sigman added.
But before Councilman John Park made the motion to authorize the City Manager to pursue the greenspace purchase that just so happens to be adjacent to his home, he responded to an earlier call from former City Councilman Jim Eyre, for Park to recuse himself from the conversation. Eyre suggested it would be inappropriate for Park to participate in the vote because with preserving the land as greenspace Park would receive a financial gain via an increase in his property valuation.
Park refuted Eyre’s claim by stating he went to great lengths including getting an opinion from City Attorney Chris Balch, having an appraisal done on his home contemplating the value with the greenspace as is or with it developed. He said that appraisal showed because of the size of the stream buffers that lay between Parks house and the greenspace, there would be no value increase. “Therefore, I will not be recusing myself,” Park added. “And we will proceed in the best interests of Brookhaven and I hope this puts this to rest.”
Park also explained that purchasing this greenspace is an “extension of Brookhaven policy.” He noted in matters of real estate purchases, the City would do most of the work behind closed doors in Executive Session so as to not divulge their own negotiations to other interested parties. But in this case, Park said, this is a Government to Government negotiation, a “quiet sale”, meaning the property will not go out to open bid and will be sold for the appraised value.
Before the eventual unanimous vote, Councilman Bates Mattison, said he supports securing the greenspace but does not support doing so with “unidentified funding sources.” He said one of things that has been discussed is using stormwater funds for the purchase, and that, he did not agree with.
“We’ve heard from so many people tonight, our stormwater infrastructure is woefully inadequate,” said Mattison. “We have flooding issues with this park as it sits undisturbed already and our stormwater budget does not have in it any kind of funding for the purchase of this park.” He said if the City is going to buy the PDK greenspace, he wants it done in such a way that does not “raid our stormwater fund.”
Mayor John Ernst said that after he became Mayor, he spent time reading through the budget the previous Administration had unanimously passed, an Administration that included Mattison. “The PDK greenspace was budgeted for purchase,” Ernst said. “It was taken out of the stormwater fund and had been allocated to be used for this year. I’m glad that in future years we can be able to figure out other means to purchase greenspace. I hope that we can find other sources, but I’m also willing to support this financially in the future to preserve this greenspace.”
Ernst went on to say, the purchase of this property has a generational impacts. He said if he does nothing else on City Council, and he says he plans to do alot more, if the City can get this done, his term as Mayor is a success in his mind.
The “PDK Greenspace” land is and has always been part of PDK, ever since it was a Naval Air Station in WWII, according to DeKalb Commissioner Jeff Rader. “The undeveloped land was reserved to provide a crash zone for aircraft using Runway 9/27, the “crosswind runway” which was perpendicular to PDK’s main runways,” he says.
In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the closure of Runway 9/27, recognizing its obsolescence and infrequent use. Since that time, the old runway has been converted to hangar space, allowing more aircraft to “base” at PDK, and pay local property taxes.
The need for the PDK greenspace to serve as a Runway Protection Zone, or RPZ, became obsolete because of the runway closure, freeing it up for sale. Brookhaven Council has now authorized the City Manager submit a Letter of Intent and negotiate the terms to buy it.
Concilmembers Linley Jones and Joe Gebbia also spoke and said they were in support of the City moving forward with the PDK greenspace purchase and proud the City is able to do so.
Stay tuned as this topic continues to develop.
** This story has been updated. A previous version stated that Mattison voted “Nay” when he actually voted “Yea.” The vote was unanimous to approve.