Brookhaven able to start COVID-19 testing sites on private property

Credit: City of Brookhaven

Credit: City of Brookhaven

There’s currently one COVID-19 testing site in Brookhaven, but city leaders said that isn’t enough.

Due to the rush of residents trying to get a nose swab amid metro Atlanta’s explosion of omicron cases, the city’s testing site off Buford Highway has been overwhelmed. City staff said they need to take action to provide options to residents, who currently have to wait hours in lines or search far-and-wide for appointments with private testing providers.

The City Council gave itself the power to establish testing sites on private property via eminent domain Thursday during a special-called meeting. City attorney Chris Balch said property owner would be compensated for the use of their land.

“The authority to compel a private property owner to allow the public use of their property would be a short-term fix,” he said during the meeting, which was held virtually. “It would not be a long-term or permanent taking of property.”

No details were given on which properties are being considered for testing. City Manager Christian Sigman said the city lacks large enough public parking lots to work for conversion into drive-thru testing sites.

“Being a fully developed city, we do not have a lot of options for drive-thru or mobility-based health services,” Sigman said. “So the city needs the flexibility to identify those locations, both public and private, and utilize them based on emergency basis.”

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City staff will begin negotiations with private property owners, but the city has the options to issue a temporary easement if necessary.

“Any and all areas in Brookhaven are under consideration,” a city spokeswoman said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We of course want to use spaces that the owner is agreeable to allow. But in the event we have exhausted all other opportunities we wanted to have another mechanism to protect residents and citizens.

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The city’s current site, which is run through a contract with CovidCareGA, is at Northeast Plaza, 3371 Buford Highway. The DeKalb County-run mass testing sites are all located outside of Brookhaven’s city limits.

The additional power is tied to the city’s declaration of emergency, which is set to expire Jan. 30. Establishing a testing site doesn’t require a vote and can take place before the council’s next regular meeting Jan. 11. However, Balch said it would require ratification from council if a site is established.