Dunwoody stops effort to take church property for possible softball field

First Baptist Church Atlanta in Dunwoody

Credit: Google Maps

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First Baptist Church Atlanta in Dunwoody

Credit: Google Maps

City leaders faced backlash after considering eminent domain to acquire the church’s overflow parking lot for recreational use

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote from Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch to Patti Garrett, the mayor of Decatur.

Dunwoody will not move forward with an effort to force a large church to sell part of its property for the potential development of a public softball facility.

The city sparked an uproar of community backlash this week when it announced it could begin the eminent domain process to acquire four acres of First Baptist Church Atlanta’s property. The city reversed course partly due to the backlash but also due to the church’s future plans for the land, which possibly include foster care housing.

At a special called meeting Wednesday morning, the City Council unanimously voted to forgo the eminent domain process. Mayor Lynn Deutsch said she and the other city leaders heard the resident outcry loud and clear.

“There were communication challenges (with the church). The purpose of the eminent domain process, for example the signage and an ad in the paper, is to solicit public input and comment,” she said during the meeting. “Clearly, the process worked as designed. We heard from lots of people.”

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Church members and residents learned of the city’s plans earlier this week when First Baptist was notified that eminent domain — when a government forcibly purchases private property at its appraised value — was on the table. City Attorney Ken Bernard said the city began the appraisal process, which involves notifying the property owner.

The city has been searching for property to build a softball facility, which Deutsch described as a recreational need in Dunwoody. According to Bernard, church leadership told the city they would not sell the property for any price, adding that they had future plans for the usually vacant parking area.

An early city agenda had the council slated to consider eminent domain at a Monday meeting, but Wednesday’s vote negated that item. Anthony George, the church’s lead pastor, went onto the church’s Facebook page after the meeting to thank the city leaders for working through the situation.

“We all pledged to work together in the future, so this couldn’t have ended better,” he said. “We did everything except sing kumbaya when the meeting was over.”

Located off Peachford Road, the church, which has a congregation of roughly 15,000, used the four acres for overflow parking. But church officials said it hasn’t been necessary since online attendance has become more prevalent post-pandemic.

Kelly Stewart, director of business operations for First Baptist, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the city was supportive of using the land for a foster care initiative since the church has recently partnered with the nonprofit Families 4 Families.

“Dr. George has looked at that property for the possibility of a daycare center, a respite home for special needs or a facility for foster children where there are multiple siblings,” she said. “Nothing is firm for sure, but we are in an exploratory stage of trying to decide what is the highest and best use for that property.”

Bob Fiscella, president of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, said on Facebook that he’s glad the situation was resolved without resorting to eminent domain and court proceedings. However, he said he felt the city owed the church and community an apology.

“If the city was first told by the church that it was not interested in selling, the process should have stopped right then and there. PERIOD,” he wrote in a comment on the city’s Facebook page. “I really like the city council and staff, but this was a major blunder. Not only is First Baptist Atlanta owed an apology, but the citizens of Dunwoody. This is not the way our city should be doing business.”

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