Brookhaven, GA, June 11, 2017 – by Trey Benton – According to the City of Brookhaven, negotiations to purchase a 19-acre tract just off of Briarwood Rd. behind Northeast Plaza, have gotten to a point where no progress is being made. The City says they have been trying to work with the owner to settle on a fair price for the land which they intend to use as a trail head for the Peachtree Creek Greenway (PCG), a 2.98-mile multi-purpose linear park planned along the North Fork of Peachtree Creek.
With their mind set on owning this property, Brookhaven is forging ahead with using eminent domain – asking a Judge to decide the fair market price the City will pay the owner when they take ownership. By law, the City of Brookhaven will be required to compensate the current owners for a fair market value for the property. The City says more than 83% of this tract is located in a floodplain and unbuildable.
A little history on the property – back in 2010, The Post found where a company called Southeast Renewable Energy (SRE) out of Roswell, GA, applied for a DeKalb County Special Land Use Permit (SLUP 10-16135) to construct a BioMass Renewable Energy facility on about 3.5 acres of the 19-acre site. The proposal was met with a considerable amount of public opposition and was later withdrawn without prejudice, according to documents obtained by The Post.
SRE wanted to construct a $22.2 million plant that would convert Green Woody Biomass (Virgin Mulch) to create green energy. The plant would have received about 250 tons of mulch per day and operate 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
The DeKalb County Planning Department recommended denial of the SLUP noting that the anticipated adverse impacts could potentially extend far beyond adjacent and nearby properties to areas such as the multi-family properties to the east and west and the various water bodies within the region due to potential water quality contamination. They said after they researched the type of operation proposed, the felt impacts of the biomass facility may have included:
- Air pollution from carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and nitric oxide;
- Water quality contamination of the adjacent state waters (Peachtree Creek);
- Dust impacts during the loading/unloading of mulch;
- Ash spill impacts during transport of ash from the project site;
- Traffic impacts resulting from the hauling of 250 tons of mulch per day, 24 hours a day/7 days a week; and
- Noise impacts on the adjacent multi-family apartments to the east (across Briarwood Road) and west as the use proposes to operate 24 hours a day.
The effort to secure this land was explained to The Post by Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst on Saturday, after we called him for comment. He said the City has been eyeing this property and making offers since before he was Mayor, when the City Administration was under direction of former City Manager Marie Garrett.
Ernst said the 19-acre tract was previously marketed for sale at a price around $495,000. The City did their own appraisal which came in somewhat lower, and according to the Mayor, the City offered that amount but it was rejected by the owner. After that offer, Ernst says the price was increased to over $1 million. Attempts to arrive at a mutually agreeable price have been unsuccessful since then.
Ernst also mentioned Brookhaven found out the owner appealed their property tax assessment with the DeKalb County Tax Assessors Office to lower the total property value to $50,000.
City Communications Director Burke Brennan said in a Saturday release, the Peachtree Creek Greenway Master Plan outlines a “series of nature trails, paved multi-purpose paved trails, and paved promenade trails which will connect Brookhaven’s portion into the 12.3-mile Peachtree Creek Trail project from Mercer University in unincorporated DeKalb to the PATH400 trail, the South Fork Conservancy Trails and the Atlanta Beltline.”
Brennan added the Greenway will also provide connectivity to areas beyond as part of a larger network of multi-use trails to residences, offices, restaurants, bike rental stands, coffee shops and picnic areas. Easement acquisition has been taking place for several months, says Brennan, and the City is proceeding on this first major land acquisition in support of the Greenway initiative by beginning this condemnation/eminent domain process.
“We’ve been trying to negotiate a fair and equitable transfer of this property for over a year to avoid using eminent domain but we are at an impasse,” said Brookhaven City Manager Christian Sigman in the release. “With the funding for the PCG now in place, we are left with no other option in order to proceed.”
Brookhaven’s City Council unanimously approved in March, a not to exceed $325,276 contract with the PATH Foundation to provide design work for the Peachtree Creek Greenway. According to the City, the contract total “represents a steep discount compared to for-profit firms, as the PATH Foundation leverages personal and corporate donations of professional services and overhead to achieve their mission to build a system of interlinking greenway trails through metro Atlanta region.”
Georgia Legislators also voted to approve, later signed into Law by Governor Nathan Deal, a request by Brookhaven to increase the City’s Hotel/Motel tax from 5% to 8%, setting the tax on an equal plane to what DeKalb County already assesses. A portion of the increased tax proceeds will be dedicated to the plus or minus, $38 million Peachtree Creek Greenway project.
The first phase is expected to cost $9 million, which the hotel/motel tax is expected to be used to service a 20-year revenue bond. City estimates indicate the annual amount available for construction of the Peachtree Creek Greenway from an increase in the hotel/motel tax rate to 8 percent, will be about $650,000 annually.
There will be a hearing on this topic at Brookhaven City Hall, located at 4362 Peachtree Rd, on June 29th at 7:00 PM.