Council amends police training center proposal, scaling back available land

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

An Atlanta City Council committee on Tuesday made changes to the controversial proposal to build a police and fire training center on forested land in DeKalb County, shrinking the amount of space that could be leased to the Atlanta Police Foundation.

The initial agreement would have leased up to 150 acres of the 380-acre site from the city to the police foundation to build the training center for police and fire, including a shooting range and mock city. Preliminary plans showed the foundation planned to build on 85 acres just outside city limits on Key Road and preserve the rest as park or forest land.

The amended ordinance, which passed the council’s finance committee by a 6-0 vote Wednesday, is still largely consistent with the police foundation’s aims, leasing 85 acres to the organization. But it would mandate that most of the land at the site of the old Atlanta prison farm, 265 acres, is preserved as greenspace.

The council’s public safety committee voted to advance the original plan Monday. The lease agreement is now set for a vote by the full City Council next Monday.

After the plans for the new facility were announced earlier this year, the idea generated controversy and pushback from environmental groups, local residents and activists who were concerned about the city cutting down trees at a historic site to build a $90 million campus for police.

Supporters of the plan, including the police foundation and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, said a new, state-of-the-art training center is essential to improve morale and recruitment among first responders, and will replace outdated facilities the police and fire departments currently train in.

Over the last several weeks, residents on both sides of the issue have sent in hours of public comment about the proposed center.

Deputy Chief Operating Officer Jestin Johnson said the changes made Wednesday are “reflective of the feedback we’ve heard from the community.” Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong said more tweaks could be made to the lease before Monday’s vote.

Other changes include a provision mandating the police foundation convene a group of neighborhood and community leaders to provide input on the final training campus and greenspace design. Police foundation officials previously said they plan to put together a stakeholder group to work out specifics for the project.

It also codifies a promise the police foundation previously made: Every tree removed during construction will be replaced, and for every hardwood tree cut down, the foundation will plant 100 hardwood trees.