Brookhaven, GA, September 21, 2016 – by Trey Benton – A heated meeting between Brookhaven City Leaders and residents of the Dunwoody Forest and Ashford Glen communities took place at City Hall Wednesday, a meeting that often took an exit from a rational two-way conversation about the City’s interest in purchasing a 1.7 acre parcel at the end of Remington Rd. The City says they would like to purchase the land and preserve it as greenspace. Neighbors say not so fast.
Several attendees said the City has only one logical intention, to create a connection through their neighborhood to Murphey Candler Park and they want no part of that. They said, some times shouting angrily, the City is trying to put one over on them and is not being completely transparent. They fear there are bigger plans in the mind of the City, plans that include a walking trail or maybe even a parking lot, a road, a bridge – a destination.
City Manager Christian Sigman, Mayor John Ernst and Councilwoman Linley Jones explained Brookhaven is looking at acquiring greenspace throughout the entire City, some for parks, some to simply leave undisturbed. And they said if anything were to occur on the property after acquisition, the community would be notified and be made part of the planning process.
Making an effort to settle the fear, uncertainty and doubt felt by the community, Ernst said nothing has been contemplated by the City for the land other than keeping it as it is – a forested lot. Jones and Sigman also expressed the same.
Paul Murphy, President of the Dunwoody Forest Homeowners Association said back in January of 2016, Councilwoman Jones spoke to residents of Ashford Glen who own a 5.6 acre forested parcel of land that sits between the Remington Rd. property and Murphey Candler Park. From there, Murphy said, the conversation turned some months later, in to the City being interested in purchasing the Remington Rd. parcel. He said he reached out to the City and believes he was given “some really not transparent information” about the potential purchase.
Murphy, while passing out a packet of information that included email exchanges with the City, results of an informal community survey and letters of opposition, gave a brief explanation of the Dunwoody Forest HOA’s efforts to date.
“We called a meeting on September 11th, and we talked about 1664 [Remington Rd.]. There were 32 people at that meeting,” he said. “31 out of the 32 people said they did not want any change to the lot.” He said the HOA also sent out a survey and only 1 person within 1,000 feet of the property said they were in favor of the City’s purchase.
Some residents in the room disputed the validity of Murphy’s survey results, however, calling the numbers skewed, saying it did not take in the opinions of the broader neighborhood of 113 homes.
Councilwoman Jones’ recollection of the January ’16 meeting, when she spoke to the Ashford Glen community about their some 6 acres of greenspace. She said the undisturbed land has been there since the Ashford Glen community was built many years ago and has remained untouched. At that meeting she said she threw out some ideas should the community want to work with the City to do something there.
“I spoke to them and told them I see that y’all can have good connectivity to Murphey Candler if you wanted the City to be involved in some way,” she recalled for The Post. “I would support an ask if you wish to make it, that the City purchase the property, and if you approve it, we could put in a bridge, or put in a path because we are in the process of acquiring greenspace.”
She said she, and that message, was well received.
Perhaps that conversation is where the fears of some Dunwoody Forest residents were sparked, fears that any connections to Murphey Candler through the Ashford Glen property and further, the Remington Rd. property, would present a future of havoc on their community.
Linda Sherbert, a 15-year resident of Dunwoody Forest whose home overlooks the 1664 Remington Rd. parcel, was one of the most vocal opposers to the prospects of any public acquisition of the land, or any public use. She often raised her voice to put an exclamation point on her statements of “strong opposition”.
“We already have greenspace there,” Sherbert said. “You want this to make a well-marked, easy access gateway to Murphey Candler Park. We want the peace and quiet. That’s why we live in a cul-de-sac. We don’t want the City of Brookhaven there.” She went on to express the City’s motives sound more to her like a grab for “greed” space rather than a grab for “green” space.
Over the years, neighbors in the Remington Rd. area have utilized the cul-de-sac parcel as a “private” neighborhood park. Their kids play there, they walk the property, they themselves traverse the land over to Murphey Candler Park utilizing an exposed stormwater pipe as a bridge over Nancy Creek. They say they have grown to have a fond appreciation of the serenity their “fingernail” of greenspace brings to their community, even as the echoes of loudspeakers from Murphey Candler penetrate their neighborhood.
Though Wednesday, the City reiterated over and over again they have no actual plans for the Remington land, or any connections to the City’s largest park and sports facilities. In fact, the City says, they are not even certain they can purchase the Remington Rd. land. “The price may be too high, the owner may decide not to sell,” the Mayor said.
Laura Bieze, a resident of Dunwoody Forest, tried to bring the conversation to a productive place a number of times. Others did as well. She said she uses the Remington property often and does not want to see it changed – or developed. She said she went for a walk around the neighborhood with her 12-year-old and talked to people who were outside, as well as her immediate neighbors. She said her sense after talking to people, is that if the City could have some legally binding way to keep the property as it is today, “no road, no parking deck, no electrical wires”, that idea seems to have some appeal in the community.
“There is a lot of concern of what was said when and who is being transparent and who’s telling the truth, how valid is the survey, that was passed out the day after a front and back single spaced negative handout from the secretary of the homeowners association,” said Bieze. “[The survey] had a yes or no question attached to it, which I feel really skews our process. Maybe in this room, if we could just think about if the neighborhood would be happy if we kept that a wooded lot? Would that make people happy?”
Ernst said there can be deed restrictions placed on the property to keep it exactly as it is today.
Todd Copilevitz, a resident of Colt Drive said this is a civic process. “The thing that really embarrasses me is the fear mongering that’s going on,” said Copilevitz. “You want to talk about fear? We’ve got pipelines running through our front yard that are rupturing a state away. I’m a hell of a lot more scared about that than I am about a footpath that allows my property value to go up because I am close to a greenway.” He said for his kids be able to walk to the park 350 yards away is very attractive to him.
But as the conversation progressed, continued angst was expressed over the belief the City has been carrying on negotiations in Executive Session – which is a normal course of action for real estate transactions.
William Pearce. Jr., another Dunwoody Forest resident, echoed the concerns of others that there is no need for the City to come in to their community. He fears with more people coming through the neighborhood, more crime will come with it. He even shouted out “murder” and “criminals” as a possibility.
Pearce exclaimed, “This property has been zoned residential by the Indians, they lived there…it’s residential property, it should stay residential property.”
Ken Fedor from Ashford Trail said opening up public access through his neighborhood to Murphey Candler Park would result in people parking their cars on the Remington Rd. cul-de-sac and walking over to the park if a trail was constructed.
Seemingly, the main issue at hand Wednesday, was the perceived lack of up-front communication from the City before the wheels begin to turn quickly, outpacing the residents, and the next opportunity they will have to give input is after the purchase has been made.
“We’re asking you to hear us now, and hear that we do not want this,” one man said. “And if this was next door your house Mr. Mayor, would you want this?” another said, “We don’t need this to be purchased in order for it to be greenspace. It already is,” he said.
Mayor Ernst told the crowd he understands that what he does as a Government Official comes within a general climate of Government distrust. He said the City is trying to be as up front and transparent as they can be. “Normally, this would never occur folks,” Ernst said. “This meeting would never occur.”
In his 30-years in Government, Sigman said it was highly unusual to be having conversations regarding a potential land purchase at this stage of the game, when nothing has been decided.
Attendees were told by Sigman he would personally send out an email to everyone who signed the sign-in sheet that provided their email address, in order to establish a communication link with them. He said moving forward, the City would be sure to keep them in the know of what is going on with the potential Remington Rd. acquisition.