Judge hears arguments on request to pause Atlanta training center work

DeKalb County, meanwhile, says ‘no mass grading or land disturbance’ has taken place
DeKalb County planning officials inspected Wednesday the site of Atlanta's future public safety training center.



DeKalb County planning officials inspected Wednesday the site of Atlanta's future public safety training center.

A Fulton County judge did not issue a ruling Thursday after hearing arguments for and against an injunction that, if granted, would temporarily pause work on Atlanta’s controversial new police and fire training center.

An exact timeframe for a decision was not provided.

“I will act with all due diligence and this is one of my top priorities,” Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Cox Jr. said following the roughly 75-minute hearing.

The injunction is being sought by attorney Jon Schwartz, who represents DeKalb County resident Amy Taylor, DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry and the South River Watershed Alliance in a separate appeal challenging the land development permits recently issued for the training center — an 85-acre facility pitched for part of a forested, Atlanta-owned property that once hosted a city prison farm.

That challenge, which is based on environmental concerns, is currently scheduled to be heard by DeKalb’s zoning board of appeals in April. Schwartz and company are asking for an order preventing any further work on the site until that happens.

“The waterways of this beautiful forest are already at risk and putting a police training facility here would permanently destroy this critical wildlife habitat,” Taylor said in a Wednesday night press release, her first public comment on the matter.

“They can move their project, and they have the resources to do so. We cannot move the South River and its Forest to another location.”

In court on Thursday, Schwartz argued that the Atlanta Police Foundation — which is steering the training center project — and its contractors are violating a DeKalb zoning ordinance that calls for work to stop when an appeal is pending.

Simon Bloom, an attorney for the police foundation and the city, balked at the permit appeal, calling it “an attempt to stop the most important government real estate project in the state of Georgia since Hartsfield Jackson Airport.” And, he said, DeKalb zoning laws don’t apply to city-owned property, even if it’s located in the county.

“And if we are...exempt from zoning codes,” Bloom argued, “then we are exempt from the ordinance that says there’s a stay. It’s that simple.”

DeKalb County, meanwhile, issued its own press release late Wednesday night saying it had inspected the property that morning. “No mass grading or land disturbance” had occurred since the initial permits were approved on Jan. 31, it reported.

The county also clarified that it had thus far only issued “Phase 1″ permits, which allow for work related to the installation of things like erosion prevention measures. Inspectors found that “path clearing” and tree removal necessary for the installation of silt fencing around the perimeter of the property had taken place.

DeKalb has not directly addressed suggestions that work should halt while the permit appeal is pending. But Wednesday’s inspection did not result in a stop work order being issued.

During Thursday’s court hearing, Judge Cox asked if the police foundation would consent to “daily inspections” on the site if he declined to issue the injunction.

Bloom said yes, and that they’d pay for it too. He also made it clear, though, that any work allowed by the county would continue in lieu of a court order.

He cited activists that have occupied the training center site off and on for the last year-plus — and, to the audible disgust of Taylor and friends sitting in the gallery, the Jan. 18 death of Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran — in encouraging the judge to quickly deny the injunction.

“You’re talking about balancing that level of lawlessness, violence and certainty of harm against maybe, maybe, some silt running off-site into the creek,” Bloom said. “That’s the nexus.”