Brookhaven sues DeKalb over plan to turn park into library

Brookhaven Park is located near Peachtree and Obsorne roads. Half of it is owned by the city, while the other half is owned by DeKalb County.

Credit: City of Brookhaven

Combined ShapeCaption
Brookhaven Park is located near Peachtree and Obsorne roads. Half of it is owned by the city, while the other half is owned by DeKalb County.

Credit: City of Brookhaven

Brookhaven filed a lawsuit Monday morning against DeKalb County in hopes of acquiring the entirety of a 21-acre park, which would end the county’s plans to construct a new library.

City and county leaders have butted heads over the future of Brookhaven Park for years. The park, located off Peachtree and Osborne roads, is split into two similar-sized parcels — the western portion is owned by Brookhaven, DeKalb owns the rest.

According to a news release, the lawsuit aims to compel the county to sell the remaining portion of the park to Brookhaven, which plans to preserve the entire park as renovated greenspace. Brookhaven has placed signage and drawn a literal chalk line through the park to show the split in ownership.

“DeKalb has demonstrated that they are unwilling and incapable of maintaining their side of the park,” Brookhaven Councilwoman Madeleine Simmons, whose district encompasses the park, said in the release. “Our neighborhoods deserve better. We have tried for years to work with DeKalb in good faith on these issues, and it goes nowhere.”

The county, which owns 12 acres of undeveloped greenspace in Brookhaven Park, previously said it plans to use roughly four acres of parkland to construct a new library. A Brookhaven-based library has been in the works since 2005, when funding was approved, but the county’s plans haven’t gotten off the ground. The library’s current site at 1242 North Druid Hills Road lacks adequate parking and space for renovation, Commissioner Jeff Rader previously said.

Rader, whose district includes Brookhaven, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that the DeKalb County Library System Board of Trustees has formally endorsed the Brookhaven Park site for the new library. He added that Brookhaven did not provide an alternative site until September.

After Brookhaven offered a 2.5-acre property near Lenox Park Boulevard and North Druid Hills Road as an alternative, Mayor John Ernst called the effort “futile” during a subsequent city council meeting.

“Our staff has worked for two years on this, and it’s come to light that (the county) was never willing to sell the park itself,” he said. “They gave us the rope-a-dope for two years.”

Brookhaven argues 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.

The city purchased the western half of the park in 2017 for $992, but a deal has never been struck on the remaining frontside of the park, which borders Peachtree Road. The closest the two came to making a sale was in 2018, when the county almost sold the remaining acres for $2.2 million, but the deal was never finalized. Brookhaven claims that county backed out to pursue its library development plan.

Rader said the county applied the park acquisition statute when it sold Brookhaven the western half of the park, but the remaining portion is exempt because it “is dedicated to a countywide function not covered by the statute and ... it was found to be ineligible for transfer.”

“DeKalb has transacted the transfer of all applicable parcels, and has gone farther and transferred other parcels not covered, including those acquired for flood control,” Rader said.

The city also said Rader has used the land as leverage against the city in “unrelated policy and political disputes,” including the library’s development.

“Brookhaven Park has been a park and was enjoyed as a park for decades before Brookhaven became a city,” Brookhaven City Manager Christian Sigman said in the release. “Now DeKalb County claims the park isn’t a park, which is laughable.”

DeKalb has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.

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