Brookhaven, GA, December 12, 2016 – Opinion by Jim Eyre – The City of Brookhaven is currently considering the purchase the property known as the “PDK Green Space” on Clairmont Road. It has been a topic of frequent discussion, lately, but I do not believe the City has explored all of our options in order to create a “win-win” for the City, County, and our taxpayers. As referenced in previous articles on the Brookhaven Post, the City is currently negotiating for the purchase of the property from DeKalb County at an appraised value of $5.7 Million.
Negotiations for this property’s purchase have been ongoing and could be voted on as early as the December 13th City Council meeting. While very few will argue with the City’s mission to add to the city’s green space, the question of how to pay for it has not yet been fully vetted.
If the City buys the property and finances it at 4% over 20 years, this will be approximately $422,000 per year for a total cost of $8.44m which will most likely be budgeted out of our city’s HOST fund (Capital Projects Fund). In the 2016 budget, the City budgeted $2.6 Million for Park Capital Projects from a HOST revenue of $6.2 Million. In our newly created 2016 Parks Master Plans, the projected capital improvement costs to fund the improvements to our existing parks (excluding Brookhaven Park & the proposed PDK greenspace) is $27.8 Million.
If the city is continues to fund our Parks Capital Projects at the 2016 level, it will take the City more than ten years to complete the projects as described. If the PDK green space purchase is financed out of the HOST fund, it will further reduce the city’s ability to achieve these improvements due to the debt service payments over the next 20 years.
In addition, with the formation of the City of Stonecrest in southeast DeKalb, the HOST payments to Brookhaven will be cut dramatically in the next few years by Stonecrest HOST allocations. Also, the current HOST allocations are dramatically skewed toward the new cities with Chamblee and Decatur receiving less than $1m in HOST funding while Brookhaven received $6.2m from the same fund. It is only a matter of time before the HOST funding model is adjusted by the State Legislature to provide a more equitable distribution countywide. At that time, Brookhaven will see another drop in its HOST revenue, further reducing available funds to improve parks and pave roads.
We must consider the city’s funding priorities when determining resource allocation. If the city encumbers our HOST budget with debt service on the PDK land, will this be at the expense of road paving or other plans, such as the Peachtree Creek Greenway ($30 Million cost), or our Bike/Ped/Trail Plan ($66 Million)? The Buford Highway Economic Development Plan has shown that there is a $4 economic return for every $1 invested in the Peachtree Creek Greenway. Shouldn’t we invest in areas which produce an economic return, which will in turn grow the city’s the ability to fund future projects?
There are alternatives, however, which should be considered:
- Brookhaven Citizens are still DeKalb County Citizens. The land is currently owned by DeKalb County, paid for by DeKalb County taxpayers. Does it make sense that we would have Brookhaven taxpayers pay for this property a second time? I believe that we have not exhausted all options with our DeKalb County Commissioners to request that DeKalb preserve the property as green space to address the concerns of our community.
- DeKalb County has remaining Park Bond funds, which our taxpayers are currently repaying under our DeKalb County taxes. In 2001, the County issued $125 Million in GO bonds for greenspace acquisition. Recently, the County refinanced this debt, creating $25 Million of additional funds. Dunwoody sued the County for their portion of these funds, ultimately receiving $4 Million which they used to acquire a new park. There is a similar precedent for Brookhaven to receive a portion of the Park Bond funds for park acquisition.
- Converting the property to a conservation easement and using conservation easement tax credits to provide a mechanism for permanent green space conservation. In this scenario, “tax credits” are purchased in exchange for an investment in property which must remain permanently preserved as undeveloped land. The transaction would allow DeKalb County to receive the $5.7M purchase price for land which would be permanently preserved as greenspace.
- Create a Public-Private Partnership – There is tremendous commercial viability on the front portion of this property (adjacent to Clairmont Rd). Multiple developers have been interested in developing 25-30% of the property along Clairmont, pay DeKalb County their asking price, and preserve 70-75% of the property as greenspace. Additionally, utilizing a combination of conservation easements, with a public-private partnership could reduce the land acquisition costs allowing for a development with greater public benefit, such as a soccer facility for a local club team that could bring tournament participants to Brookhaven hotels, a charter school facility or a Swim-Tennis Club for the community.
While adding to the City’s green space is an admirable pursuit, the question of how to pay for such acquisitions needs to be further explored. Particularly when the current funding proposal for the green space acquisition is at the expense of much-needed road paving and park improvements. The City Council must protect HOST funding for citywide infrastructure improvements and fully explore other available options for the acquisition of greenspace.