The city of Dunwoody intends to use parks bond money to purchase two apartment complexes on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard that would be demolished to make way for a sports complex – a move that would displace hundreds of residents.
The City Council voted Oct. 24 to allow the city manager to write a letter of intent to buy the land for $19 million from Cortland Partners, LLC if the parks bond referendum is approved by voters on Nov. 8. If the referendum fails, the city will be able to walk away without financial penalty, City Manager Warren Hutmacher said.
The sports complex would be built on the site of the Dunwoody Glen apartment complex. As part of the arrangement, Cortland Partners, LLC would also raze the neighboring Lacota Apartments and redevelop the property into owner-occupied housing.
One of the recurring complaints about the $33 million parks acquisition bond at candidate forums, city council meetings and in other public venues has been that the referendum asks voters to allow the city go into debt without knowing what kind of parks they would be getting.
“This purchase identifies how over 75 percent of the bond funds will be spent in advance of the vote,” Hutmacher said. “That’s going to inform the voters of what they’re voting on.”
But the move would displace residents in 785 apartment units. Included among those residents are 560 children attending Dunwoody’s schools, according to Dunwoody officials.
Advocates of the parks bonds have openly touted the removal of aging apartment complexes within the city’s borders as a secondary benefit.
Dunwoody resident Bob Lundsten called the city’s willingness to displace such a large number of its residents “a morally bankrupt decision.”
“I honestly believe that from minute this city was founded, the goal was buying out these complexes. Period,” Lundsten said. “I think the sports complex, in my opinion, is a convenient excuse.”
Hutmacher said demolishing apartments was not considered when looking for property for the sports fields.
“The decision to purchase it was based solely on the fact that the size of this land and its property would work for our price point,” Hutmacher said. Michael Elliott, associate director of the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development at Georgia Tech, said what is important is that a city looks at the balance of housing and considers the impact on the community as a whole.
“What’s underlying those decisions and are there patterns to it?” Elliott said. “A city that is concerned about affordable housing will take steps that even if there are net losses in [affordable housing] in one part of the city, there are opportunities in other parts of the city to compensate for that.”
All current leases will be honored, city officials said. The city plans to work with Cortland Partners, LLC to help those who will need to relocate.
Janice and Darryl Dillard have lived in Dunwoody Glen for five years. They are hoping that if the city purchases the apartment complex, residents would be compensated for the cost of moving.
“Things are slow with my husband’s work and mine too. We don’t have $2,000- $3,000 sitting around,” Janice Dillard said. “You got to rent a U-haul, find an apartment, and if your credit’s not good, you got to pay the first and last month’s rent.”
They said they would try to find another place to live in Dunwoody because it’s a nice area.
Darryl Dillard said they would miss their apartment in Dunwoody Glen.
“It’s really convenient for us, getting around the city, for our jobs. The bus comes right here,” he said.
Hutmacher said a specific plan has not been developed, but those who wish to stay in the city should not have a problem finding comparable housing that is still within the Dunwoody city limits and school district.
The council’s vote on the letter of intent to purchase the property was added to the end of the Oct. 24 agenda at the council’s work session an hour before the 7 p.m. meeting was set to begin.
“There was no advertisement, no printed agenda, no public notice whatsoever,” Lundsten said. “I think that’s unconscionable.”
Hutmacher said though it looks very sudden, negotiations on the property began about a year ago. Because it is a built-out environment, he said, the city has few options when it comes to large tracts of land.
“We took an overall look as a staff at a map of the city. We knew we needed 35-plus acres for a sports complex. That’s what was envisioned, to find a piece of land that could handle the amount of sports fields that would be necessary,” Hutmacher said.
At the City Council meeting, Hutmacher presented a drawing of what a sports complex could look like. It included football fields, soccer fields, baseball fields and a volleyball court.
“This is just one concept of many that are possible,” Hutmacher said. “There could be a wide variety of options on the 42 acres.”
Following the purchase of the undeveloped property referred to as the “PVC farm” and a proposal to buy the 19-acre site of a former hospital, City Councilman Denis Shortal said the move to purchase the apartment complexes might appear like the city is going on a spending spree.
“I don’t know if this puts us in a good light with the citizens,” Shortal said.
But City Councilman Doug Thompson said people have been asking for athletic facilities in Dunwoody since the parks discussions began.
“This is the missing piece of the parks plan — the sports complex that hasn’t been mentioned in there,” Thompson said. “A tract of land this size is what’s needed to complete a great parks plan for the city.”