Chamblee begins eminent domain process to purchase property for rail trail

Credit: Jessica Knowles

Credit: Jessica Knowles

Chamblee might have to resort to legal action to plug the final gap in its plan for a multi-use trail that spans the length of the city.

The City Council recently authorized its attorneys to acquire a small portion of a condominium complex’s property via eminent domain. At a meeting last Tuesday, the vote sparked backlash from condo residents who felt the city was overstepping and not giving them a fair chance to work out a deal.

Mayor Pro Tem John Mesa recused himself from the vote.

In response, Mayor Brian Mock said he and other city leaders feel the condo’s residents keep delaying negotiations about the path, which is called the rail trail. He said eminent domain — when a government forcibly purchases private property at its appraised value — might be the most likely option.

“We’re moving forward in this process because we feel like we don’t have a choice, because this is the only section missing,” Mock said. “There’s plenty of opportunity to keep this dialogue going. We’re not shutting down the conversation.”

The rail trail has been discussed in Chamblee since 2000. The bicycle and pedestrian path is envisioned to run along the Roswell Railroad corridor, connecting Brookhaven to Doraville. The first section of the trail was completed in 2007.

The city has built or begun engineering on every segment of the path except for one — segment four, which runs through the backyard of the Peachtree Malone Lofts at 5200 Peachtree Road.

During Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Jon Walker said third-party studies included an option where the trail went through Peachtree Malone Lofts property, which would alter visitor parking, a dog park and some fencing. The city adopted the trail plan in 2016, and Walker said they’ve met with the condo’s association multiple times since then to try to work out logistics.

Walker said the condo association has continually requested modifications to the city’s offers, which included partnering with a nearby private parking deck to provide visitor parking and relocating the dog park. By last year, the city contracted with an attorney to try to speed up the process — or begin exploring eminent domain.

John Barnes, who represented the condo association, vented his frustrations during Tuesday’s meeting, claiming the council cut off negotiations.

“The council has acted to approve an authorization which has not been subject to any public input and particularly on behalf of owners at Peachtree Malone Lofts,” Barnes said. “I’m a little bit astounded by that action.”

He went on to accuse Walker of misrepresenting the dialogue between the condo association and the city, adding that the city had other options that would go around the private property and avoid this legal dispute.

“(Visitor parking) is an important amenity to us,” Barnes said on behalf of the 132 condo owners. “Our contractors park there, landscapers park there, delivery drivers park there, moving companies park there. It’s part of the day-to-day operational essence of Peachtree Malone Lofts.”

Mock argued the city has made several efforts to get the condo association to vote on the city’s offers, but he said they keep getting inundated with questions instead of suggestions.

“There’s so many things that I could talk about that we have discussed that we put out there,” the mayor said. “But we can’t get folks to come together to even bring it to a vote because every time we put something out there, we get 50 more questions back.”

Other condo residents, including Keisha Jackson, has safety concerns about a public path abutting their property. She asked whether the council would direct additional police patrols to the area or if they’d install extra lighting and cameras.

“What is that going to do to my safety?” she said. “As a single concerned citizen, I righteously would like to know… what are you going to do about those of us that travel or come home alone and all of that is open space?”

Mock said the trail will also run through along his backyard, and that the city’s vision for the rail trail is a straight-shot path for both travel and exercise.

He capped off the meeting by pleading for the condo association to try to meet the city halfway and reach an agreement before the eminent domain process is underway.

“Let’s work on it. And let’s get this done before it even goes to court,” said Mock, who was met with a round of claps from the meeting’s attendees.