Hold-outs in Peoplestown flooding plan to meet with Reed

A handful of Peoplestown residents are vowing to keep up their year-long fight against Atlanta City Hall over plans to raze their homes for a block-wide flood mitigation project.

City officials say the proposed park and retention pond are critical to addressing decades of flooding in the neighborhood. Unveiled in 2013, the retention pond is part of the Southeast Atlanta Green Infrastructure Initiative, a $66 million dollar plan that also includes stormwater storage vaults and other flood control measures.

The vast majority of property owners, about 20, already have sold their homes to the city to make way for the park, according to the Department of Watershed Management. But four or five property owners have yet to reach a deal with the city. Some of the hold-outs say Atlanta hasn’t offered enough money for their property, or convinced them that there’s no other way forward.

“We understand the city needs to address this problem; we disagree the city needs to address the problem by displacing the residents,” said Tanya Washington, a Georgia State University law professor and Peoplestown resident who has been speaking against the plan for more than a year. Her house doesn’t flood, but city officials say it’s needed for the plan to work.

Officials at the Department of Watershed Management say they’ve already tried other flood mitigation measures and that the park is the best option to control stormwaters that converge on the block of Atlanta Avenue and Ormond Streets at Connally and Greenfield Streets.

In recent months, much of the focus has turned to 93-year-old Mattie Jackson, a Summerhill resident who has lived in the neighborhood for decades. City officials have been in back-and-forth talks with Jackson’s family and a representative, but the elderly woman has made it clear that she doesn’t want to move.

Monday, she was among about a dozen residents who descended on Mayor Kasim Reed’s office, following weeks of rallies and appearances at Atlanta council meetings to speak out on the issue. The group delivered a petition that organizers said was signed by more than 5,000 supporters. Reed has agreed to meet with the group on Thursday.

“I’ve lived in Summerhill all my life. I’m not going now,” said Jackson, whose home is on the border of Peoplestown and Summerhill. “I’ll be here raising ‘h’ until he leaves my house where it is.”

Joyce Dorsey, who is representing Jackson in talks with the city and is head of the Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority, said Jackson might be willing to go if that’s absolutely essential. However, she believes Atlanta’s offer is too low and questions the home’s appraisal.

Atlanta is bound by law to offer no more than 20 percent above fair market value, according to a Watershed spokeswoman.

Dorsey said the family prefers something that city officials say isn’t possible: Letting Jackson stay.

“Why not let this woman stay in her house? We don’t know if she will live to tomorrow or the year after. … But why not let her stay there?” she said. “I am simply trying to push the point for fairness and openness and making sure what she gets is the best for her, not the best for them.”

Watershed spokeswoman Lillian Govus said Atlanta has requested a new appraisal of Jackson’s home because the city’s recent purchases have driven up home values. Watershed has also proposed options including paying to relocate her home to a new lot.

“We will take care of Miss Mattie. The mayor has instructed us to make certain that everything we can do for Miss Mattie, we will do,” Govus said.

The city will not exercise an eminent domain option to acquire her property, Govus said.

Atlanta has not initiated eminent domain proceedings for other hold-outs, though the city could exercise that option.

Legislation authorizing the city to negotiate with homeowners for the project was approved by the city council in October 2014 after Watershed officials held a number of community meetings.

Once the engineering is complete, Watershed will present the final plan for the park and pond to the community to select design features, such as plantings. The city hopes to complete the project by the end of 2017.