The Brookhaven City Council is moving forward with eminent domain to acquire 19 acres of land on Briarwood Road, where a trailhead for the Peachtree Creek Greenway is to be built.
The council voted unanimously June 29 to file for an eminent domain taking in DeKalb Superior Court for the undeveloped land after more than a year of negotiations with the property owner proved fruitless, according to city officials.
Both sides say said that the key is agreeing to a price.
“We’ve exhausted all efforts to reach an arms length agreement,” City Attorney Chris Balch said at the council meeting. Warren Power from McDonough, who specializes in eminent domain, will be lead counsel on the case, Balch said.
“We’re fine with what the city council voted to do,” said Angela Robinson, an attorney for the property owners. “We think the park project should move forward and now it’s just up to both sides to continue to negotiate the price and the fair market value they’re going to pay for it.”
The city says it has appraised the 19 acres for $340,000 and is offering to purchase it for that amount. The property owners, attorney Mark Morgan and Lifestyle Family L.P., countered with a $2.3 million price tag.
DeKalb County tax records show the property is valued at approximately $414,000 for tax assessment purposes.
Morgan attended the council meeting with Robinson. After the council vote, Robinson said the owners are planning a townhome development on the property.
She said the city’s appraisal and the property owner’s appraisals are “pretty far apart” and that right now the two sides are not able to work out a negotiated agreement.
In 2015, the property owners appealed its tax value to DeKalb County because, Robinson said, the market wasn’t ripe at that time for a townhome development.
“That’s typical for developers to do when they are not receiving any income for their property,” she said. “In 2016, the market became ripe for a townhome development and [the developers] started pulling together costs and plans to do so and didn’t appeal in 2016 and will not do so this year.”
The City Council earlier this year approved the $35 million master plan for the Greenway that includes approximately three miles in Brookhaven. The 19 acres on Briarwood Road is included in phase one of the Greenway project, about a 1.25 mile section between North Druid Hills Road and Briarwood Road.
Councilmembers said they were not fans of eminent domain, but that this was the only course of action they could take to fulfill the plans for the long-talked-about linear park and trail system designed to connect to Buckhead’s PATH400 and eventually to the Atlanta BeltLine.
“I do not like the idea of taking someone’s land … but we are running a city,” said Councilmember John Park. “We cannot let one individual stop our progress. I do this with hesitation and serious reflection. At the end of the day, it is the right thing to do.”
Councilmember Linley Jones said she also is “loathe” to use eminent domain, “but this is a very unique situation and unfortunately requires it.”
The city has handled itself professionally during the lengthy negotiations with the property owner, said Councilmember Joe Gebbia, and the use of eminent domain is now the only course of action.
“This is not our first option, it’s our last option,” Mayor John Ernst said. “When forced we will take action to complete plans we agreed to.”
Peachtree Creek Greenway Chairperson Betsy Eggers said her nonprofit group supports the city’s use of eminent domain for the Briarwood Road property.
“[G]overnments cannot pay more than a property is worth. It would be illegal and unethical for Brookhaven to pay more than the appraised value for the property,” she said in a statement.