Brookhaven pays $1 for park in DeKalb lawsuit deal

Credit: City of Brookhaven

Credit: City of Brookhaven

A lawsuit over a park in Brookhaven is over.

The city will get full ownership of Brookhaven Park for the cost of $1. DeKalb County agreed to the sale as long as the city pledged to pay $1.6 million for a future library to serve the area.

Described as a “win-win” by the city’s mayor, the agreement ends a dispute that’s boiled in the background since Brookhaven incorporated in 2012.

“We have tried so many times to get this resolved,” Councilwoman Madeleine Simmons, whose district encompasses the park, said in a news release. “It is unfortunate that we had to sue the County to get any movement, but I truly enjoyed working with our DeKalb County Commissioners to reach a beneficial resolution for all residents.”

»Read the settlement agreement at the bottom of this story.

The park’s ownership has been a sticking point between the city and the county for years. Located off Peachtree and Osborne roads, the 21-acre park is split into two similar-sized parcels — the western portion is owned by Brookhaven, while DeKalb owns the rest.

The city purchased the western half of the park in 2017 for $992, but a deal has never been struck on the side of the park that borders Peachtree Road. Brookhaven’s leaders wanted to own the entire park to preserve it as renovated greenspace.

The county had other ideas, saying it did not have to sell its parcel due to a county-owned community service board building that’s located in the eastern portion of the park. In addition, the DeKalb County Library System Board of Trustees endorsed a plan to build a new library on the same parcel. DeKalb has been trying to find a spot to build a new library in the area since 2005, since the existing Brookhaven library on North Druid Hills Road is “substandard,” according to Commissioner Jeff Rader.

The disagreement prompted the city to file its lawsuit in January 2021 in hopes of acquiring the full park. Brookhaven argued that DeKalb should have sold the park to the city for $100 an acre after Brookhaven’s founding in 2012. Citing Georgia law, the lawsuit said the county must transfer “all of the county’s right, title and interest” in parkland located within a newly incorporated city’s limits.

When the lawsuit the filed, city staff also placed signs and drew a literal chalk line through the park to show the split in ownership. Those signs would come down Wednesday, city leaders said during a Tuesday meeting where they signed the agreement with DeKalb.

“This is an area that deserves to be improved. It deserves to be beautified,” Simmons said. “... it’s really the center of our city, so to have it wrapped up in this disagreement with the county where it just sat there in disarray has been really heartbreaking for people who live around there and love that area.”

DeKalb commissioners approved the deal earlier Tuesday following an executive session.

Rader said the settlement would allow the community service board building to continue serving developmentally disabled adults, and the extra $1.6 million in financing would be crucial to building a new library. The county is contributing $4 million to that project.

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Brookhaven won’t have to contribute the funds until the county picks a location and begins building the new library, which has to be within Brookhaven’s city limits.

Rader agreed with Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst and called the agreement a win for both sides. Colleague Ted Terry, who also serves on the community service board, said he was “doubly gratified” by the settlement.

“I’m excited about the Brookhaven Park master plan,” Terry said in a written statement, “and today we voted to ensure that this community-led vision of a vibrant and accessible park for Brookhaven residents (and four-legged family members) will be preserved and unimpeded moving forward.”