Nearly a year after Atlanta applied for permits that would allow construction of its new public safety training center — and less than two weeks after an activist was killed by police at the site — DeKalb County is clearing the way for ground to be broken on the controversial facility.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond have also signed a new, five-page agreement that solidifies recommendations made by a citizen advisory committee about how the facility will operate; reiterates environmental protections; and promotes potential job opportunities for local residents.
“We believe that the protections and enhancements are really above and beyond the development policies and procedures of our county,” Thurmond said.
The new developments were announced in a Tuesday afternoon press conference at Atlanta City Hall, as a few dozen activists stood outside chanting and holding signs.
One of them held up a picture of Manuel Teran, who was shot and killed by a Georgia State Patrol trooper on Jan. 18. Teran is accused of firing first and wounding a trooper, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
“We don’t want ‘cop city’ anywhere,” another protester, Timothy Corey, said. “We don’t want one tree cut down, we don’t want one blade of grass stepped over, we don’t want one drop of pollution in that river.”
Corey said protesters plan to be in the streets and in the forest until all plans to continue with the facility are shut down.
The training center property — a now-forested site that was once home to a city prison farm — is owned by Atlanta and leased to the Atlanta Police Foundation for the construction of the planned $90-million facility. It sits, however, off Key Road in southwestern DeKalb County.
The county has no say on whether the project moves forward beyond the permitting process, which is an administrative function. The police foundation initially filed for land disturbance permits last March and, after an “objective, professional assessment,” they approved on Tuesday, Thurmond said.
The new permits allow for things like clearing, grading and other “horizontal” infrastructure improvements to move forward. Additional building permits will be required for construction of buildings.
The police foundation has already submitted applications for what would be the facility’s “leadership institute,” a building consisting of a lecture hall, community and meeting rooms and other support spaces. Permits for a separate “training fire station” have been requested as well.
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
The 85-acre facility — which also is slated to include a burn tower, firing range, driving course and a “mock city” — is aimed at training both police and fire recruits.
Dickens called the city’s current facilities “woefully insufficient.”
”This is Atlanta. And we know forests. This facility will not be built over a forest,” the mayor said. “The training center will sit on land that has long been cleared of hardwood trees through previous uses of this site decades ago.”
The new ‘understanding’
The memorandum of understanding presented Tuesday covered a number of aspects related to the training center’s development.
After the Atlanta City Council approved the land lease with the police foundation — despite 17 hours of mostly negative public comment — it created a “citizens stakeholder advisory committee.” Made up of DeKalb County and Atlanta residents who live near the site, the committee’s duties do not include determining whether the training center is a good idea or not.
But the group has, over many months, made recommendations regarding the training center’s site plan.
They include relocating the firing range to an area further away from neighborhoods; removing an explosives range altogether; creating a 100-foot tree buffer; and the addition of public infrastructure improvements like sidewalks, street lights and security cameras in surrounding neighborhoods.
The police foundation has previously agreed to most, if not all, of the committee’s suggestions.
The memorandum announced Tuesday makes a total of 10 such recommendations binding, officials said.
Environmentally, the memo says that the training center development will include “double erosion control,” in order to “ensure viability of Intrenchment Creek, the main waterway in the South River Forest Basin.”
It also reiterates Atlanta’s previous commitment to planting 100 hardwood trees “for every specimen tree impacted by construction.” They’d plant a “specimen tree” for any invasive species tree that’s removed.
Credit: Jason Getz/AJC
Credit: Jason Getz/AJC
Additionally, Dickens and Thurmond committed to “carefully and fully assess” recommendations of a yet-to-be-issued report from another committee exploring how to best develop and protect the larger South River Forest, which covers some 3,500 acres across Atlanta and DeKalb.
That committee was spearheaded by the Atlanta Regional Commission and The Nature Conservancy.
On the business side, the memorandum says Atlanta will “partner with educational organizations to engage youth in public safety and other career development opportunities.”
It also says minority- and female-led businesses — and workers from both WorkSource Atlanta and WorkSource DeKalb — will be used for the project “whenever possible and feasible.”
Contractors and subcontractors will be encouraged to use sustainable materials.
“Know this,” Thurmond said. “DeKalb County will continue to be an aggressive and engaged steward of the South River Forest. This is the beginning of the process, and not the end.”
The current plan is, of course, unlikely to appease the environmentalists, anarchists, police abolitionists and other left-wing activists that have long targeted the training center, sometimes with violence.
”More training is not going to stop the police, it’s not going to make the community safer, it’s not going to stop the police from killing people,” Jesse Pratt Lopez said outside City Hall on Tuesday. “Training is just going to cause more militarized police in Black and Brown neighborhoods.”
A note of disclosure
The James M. Cox Foundation, the charitable arm of Cox Enterprises which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has contributed to the training center fundraising campaign. It is among several Atlanta-based foundations that have contributed.