Brookhaven Heights residents are asking city and county officials to buy a residential property and turn it into a community park – an idea backed by the current owners as well. Officials are considering the idea, but a hefty $1.62 million price tag could be a major obstacle.
Karen Cariello, president of the Brookhaven Heights Community Association representing 430 homeowners, said several members have talked with Mayor John Ernst and City Council members about purchasing the property at 1174 Pine Grove Ave. at the corner of Matthews Street.
The property, which includes four lots, was recently put on the market. The 1,500-square-foot house at the address was built in 1930 and sits on nearly 1 acre of flat land, the last sizable lot in the neighborhood.
Clint Fields, listing agent for the property, said it includes four lots and is priced at $405,000 per lot, totalling $1.62 million. Another lot in Brookhaven Heights has sold for $400,000, Fields said.
He said the property has been in the Langford family since 1930 and the current owners, two brothers, would like to see it sold to the city and preserved as a park and memorial to their uncle, Bob Langford, who was killed while fighting in the Vietnam war.
Fields said his father grew up with Bob Langford and the Langford family in the 1950s and ’60s, when they all attended Cross Keys High School.
“This is the largest remaining privately owned [property] in Brookhaven, to my knowledge,” Fields said. “We would like to leave it as a legacy to Bob if we can.”
Six offers have so far been made on the property, but Fields said the owners are hoping the city finds a way to purchase the property.
City Councilmember Bates Mattison, who represents Brookhaven Heights, said he is not able to discuss the property because real estate is discussed by the council in closed executive sessions.
Mattison said he recently met at the property with DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, whose District 2 represents part of Brookhaven, and discussed the county helping to purchase it.
“I’m encouraged and optimistic, but nothing is definitive,” he said.
Rader said there is about $1 million remaining in county parks bond money from 2001 for all of District 2. Besides Brookhaven, District 2 includes the city of Decatur, much of Chamblee and part of Atlanta and areas of unincorporated DeKalb County.
The county looks for strong community support such as a park “friends” group before showing interest in earmarking money, Rader said. The county also wants matching funding, and in this case that money would come from the city of Brookhaven, he said. “We’re never the 100% player,” he said.
Rader added he was surprised the city’s $40 million parks bond, approved by voters in 2018 to make capital improvements at six city parks, did not set aside funding to purchase additional green space.
Government purchases of property are constrained by a price determined by a third-party appraiser to ensure tax dollars are spent wisely, Rader added. That restriction can deter property owners from talking to municipalities if they believe they can get more money from a private buyer.
“Even if this is a great idea and this is what everybody wants … these transactions are [restricted],” Rader said.
The Brookhaven Heights neighborhood was built in the early 1900s as a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta city life, Cariello said.
“The nice thing about this neighborhood is it’s just tucked in here, it’s centrally located, and you can get almost anywhere in 15 minutes. That’s part of what keeps people here for many years,” Cariello said.
But the one thing they say is missing is a neighborhood park.
“This is not really a kid-friendly neighborhood,” said Bill Roberts, a Brookhaven Heights resident for 20 years.
Some residents use orange cones to block off a section of their street to make it safe for children to play. Cut-through traffic regularly clogs the neighborhood’s narrow streets, they say, making it difficult for families to take a simple walk around the neighborhood.
When the community wants to hold its annual Halloween party or any other events, Cariello said, they are forced to gather on streets.
“We kind of just knock on neighbors’ doors in a cul-de-sac and ask if we can use their street for a couple hours,” she said. “We really have no place to gather.”
The commitment from Brookhaven Heights residents is firm, Cariello said. Shortly after the Pine Grove Avenue property went on the market in June, 23 neighbors pledged nearly $17,000 to show city and county officials their desire for a neighborhood park.
A homeowner who lives across the street from 1174 Pine Grove Ave. is spearheading the formation of a Brookhaven Heights park group with the help of Park Pride, a nonprofit organization that works with communities to advocate for and improve parks. The new nonprofit will be in charge of fundraising.
“It’s time for us to get a park we really need,” Cariello said.
Added Roberts, “It’s kind of a now-or-never moment to do this.”