Brookhaven, GA, December 13, 2016 – by Trey Benton – Brookhaven City Councilmembers voted 3-1 Tuesday, to approve a Purchase and Sale Agreement contract prepared by City Attorney Chris Balch and outside counsel, an agreement that if the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners also vote to approve, would secure approximately 30-acres of land known as the PDK Greenspace, as greenspace. Brookhaven wants to buy the mostly forested former runway protection zone for $5.7 million.
“A good city is a city that can move concurrently on multiple projects at the same time,” Mayor John Ernst told The Post. “We’re raising the levels of service across the board and erasing our paving back log. Our Police Department is one of the best, well staffed agencies in the Metro area and we have made significant improvements in our parks. We are now living up to our promise of acquiring more greenspace.”
A number of residents spoke in favor of the acquisition and as many spoke in opposition. Chief among the opposition points were concerns the City is spending money that could be used elsewhere.
Ashford Park resident Jim Eyre asked the Council to put the brakes on the acquisition because, in his opinion, it is not fully vetted. “We do not need to take $6 million of my tax money and put it toward the purchase of greenspace,” Eyre said, “While it may be an admirable position to take, that’s money that’s supposed to be dedicated to Parks, Paving and Police.”
Eyre said if the City wants to go outside those areas, they should put together a list and put it on a referendum. “When we voted for a City, and when we voted all along, we did not vote for obscure funding of things that were pet projects of Councilmen,” Eyre added. Eyre also said that because the PDK greenspace borders Councilman John Park’s property, he stands to benefit from the greenspace purchase and called for Park to recuse himself from voting on the matter.
Speakers in support said the land should be left in its natural state, commenting that if the City misses this opportunity it will eventually be developed and the greenspace will be lost forever.
Eddie Ehlert, also an Ashford Park resident, told Councilmembers with the City’s stormwater problems that exist, the PDK greenspace not only provides a forested area, it also a stormwater sink. “Something it does without costing us a penny, without any additional paving being necessary, without any diversion, is suck up all the rain that falls on it and produce a perpetual stream that even in the drought three weeks ago was still flowing.”
Ehlert said it would be foolish to tamper with this natural system of drainage and produce flooding problems downstream on Tributary “A” of the North Fork of Peachtree Creek, and all of the citizens living there.
Parents from the Brookhaven Innovation Academy as well as their Board Chair lobbied the Council to pause and consider options that could include their school “coming home” to the City that was instrumental in creating it.
“Please don’t forget about us,” Brookhaven resident Adam Caskey whose children attend BIA said. “I think this City should forever be associated with all the good that this school will do. So please engage the parents, please engage the Board of BIA…and please do whatever you can to help us come home.”
But the City and the County have already agreed on a Letter of Intent (LOI) to preserve the land as greenspace. Tuesday’s Council decision to approve the contract language, formalizes the City’s intent. Should the County sign the contract, it binds both parties in the transaction and the contract terms and conditions, including the $5.7 million purchase price of the properties located at 3890 Clairmont Road and 2951 Skyland Drive.
According to the executed LOI, the County’s interest in selling the land to Brookhaven is for preservation of greenspace, quite literally, and it is to be used exclusively for park purposes. The County says that if Brookhaven proposes any uses other than parkland, it may very well be a “deal breaker”.
City Manager Christian Sigman told The Post, the City has received a flurry of emails from BIA parents and other interested parties who would like to utilize the PDK Greenspace as BIA’s home. As a result, he contacted DeKalb COO Zach Williams who confirmed the County’s position to preserve the land as greenspace, a deal with Brookhaven that has not changed.
There has also been some discussion if the City doesn’t purchase the land, there is interest from the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) to build a new High School there. Sources tell the The Post, DCSD has already prepared phased plans should the Brookhaven acquisition not come to fruition. DCSD was not immediately available to confirm those plans or any interest.
Should County Commissioners vote to accept the contract terms as stated currently, a number of conditions (Deed Restrictions) would apply. The County could also suggest different contractual terms, potentially causing the deal to bounce back and forth until both parties agree and finally sign off.
The conditions currently in the contract are:
- All easements that benefit or burden the Property and are recorded and indexed in the real estate records of DeKalb County as of the Contract Date (as said term is defined in Paragraph 10(t));
- The Avigation Easement contained in the Deed in favor of Seller and for use of the public in perpetuity
- The condition contained in the Deed that, if the Purchaser resells, leases or otherwise transfer the Property for a consideration in excess of the Purchase Price within 5 years after Closing (a “Subsequent Conveyance”), Purchaser shall remit such excess consideration to Seller at the time of the Subsequent Conveyance
- The restrictive covenant in favor of Seller contained in the Deed, on use of the Property in perpetuity for municipal purposes, which purposes include without limitation use as a public park and other recreational purposes available to all residents of unincorporated DeKalb County.
There is also language in the contract stating the sale is contingent on the City securing financing for the land purchase. The City has indicated if the County approves the sale, GEFA loans will be utilized as the financing mechanism. If the loans do not go through, the deal could die and there would be no harm to either party.
Being that Brookhaven intends to preserve the PDK Greenspace as greenspace, Sigman said that makes the City eligible for a GEFA Federal Loan for Conservation, that currently has a rate of .89%. With the GEFA loan, the City indicates further restrictions on land use will also be applied, further ensuring its preservation.
Sigman explained during the Work Session prior to the Council Meeting, the financing for this particular acquisition, which Sigman says in itself is unique because it will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to purchase a 30-acre tract in a City the size of Brookhaven, that will increase the total amount of City greenspace by 10%.
“The financing vehicle that is available for this purchase is extremely unique and the timing of it is extremely tight,” said Sigman. There is also a clause in the program the City is going after that will forgive $500,000 of the debt. “That particular clause is ending for cities this loan cycle. Getting in front of this now where you have an opportunity of 1, a unique purchase and 2, a financing vehicle that is geared exactly for this type of purchase is a unique opportunity for the City,” he added.
Councilman Bates Mattison said he was opposed to the City not taking time to pause and explore other uses for the land without restricting it forever as greenspace. He pointed to other uses such as a BIA home, a place for the DeKalb Services Center to relocate to and open up the entire Brookhaven Park area for recreation, and perhaps commercial uses. He said he was very disappointed other members of Council did not agree with him.
Councilman John Park reiterated it has been no secret the City is looking to acquire greenspace, a point he said the City has been very vocal about for more than two years – including the PDK Greenspace. He also noted the purchase tracks with the City’s Comprehensive Plan that was changed to include this area as greenspace. “There have been questions and there will always be questions,” Park said. “We have spent about two years publicly debating this and the last four months looking for funding sources and vetting various opportunities.”
The City plans on paying back the loan with $2.4 million in proceeds from the sale of land at Skyland Park, a transaction necessary to make way for the new John Lewis Elementary School on Skyland Drive. Sigman said he recommends the City make payments on the GEFA loan using that money only temporarily for the first 3 or 4 years, then pay for it through another mechanism of permanent financing.
The final say on whether the greenspace will become property the City owns, ultimately rests in the hands of the Board of Commissioners who will have to accept the contract terms or propose new terms that Brookhaven will then have to accept. Nonetheless, the process is not complete by virtue of Brookhaven Councilmembers voting to accept the language in the Purchase and Sale Agreement, but it is one step closer.
The City says the agreement will now be transmitted to the County for their consideration. Councilman Mattison was the lone “Nay” vote.