State warns DeKalb against development of park land

DeKalb County shouldn’t have built a YMCA at Wade Walker Park near Stone Mountain because the land was partly purchased with federal funds dedicated for outdoor recreation, a state agency concluded last year.

But that finding by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources was only recently brought to the attention of the county commission, which approved the plans. Now, questions are being raised about a new library also planned at the same site.

Interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May said the concerns can be resolved without disrupting the YMCA or future construction.

The Department of Natural Resources pointed out the issue with the Wade Walker YMCA in a letter sent last year to the county from Antoinette Norfleet, director of grants for the state agency. But it came to light after the commission voted on the library's funding last month. May said he's investigating why the letter wasn't brought to his attention sooner.

Parts of Wade Walker Park were bought and developed using $715,000 in federal grants through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The county contributed an equal amount in matching funds.

“Properties acquired or developed with LWCF funds are to remain usable park land in perpetuity. … Facilities that require memberships are not allowed within the boundary of an LWCF assisted site and constitute a conversion,” Norfleet wrote in an April 8 letter.

The county government may be able to resolve the issue by dedicating other land for park use, among other options, said county spokesman Burke Brennan.

“There is a process in order to rectify any areas that were not in compliance,” May said. “That’s what we’re looking to do, to get in compliance.”

DeKalb spent $15 million to build the Wade Walker YMCA, which opened in 2012. The YMCA is leasing the facility from the county for $1 a year, and the YMCA is responsible for its operations and maintenance.

The DeKalb Commission voted 4-3 last month to approve a county budget that includes funding to build the Wade Walker Library at the park. The county has appropriated $4 million for the library.

If the library at built in Wade Walker Park, “the county must acquire additional land of equal or greater market value that will be used for recreational purposes if a library is placed on Wade Walker Park,” said Georgia Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Mary Kathryn Yearta.

Commissioner Nancy Jester called for a revote on the library.

“This is a critical concern, and I think that because we have this new information, we need to reconsider that,” Jester said at a county commission meeting this month.

May's administration believes the library can still be built at Wade Walker Park on land that wasn't purchased with grant funding, Brennan said.

Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, whose district includes the park, said residents need another library in addition to the Stone Mountain Library, which serves a large area.

“Every time I talk about it, they cheer and clap their hands,” Sutton said. “The county will go through all the proper processes as we move forward with this wonderful addition to the facilities.”

But Commissioner Jeff Rader, who voted against the Wade Walker Library, said the county needs to follow the rules it agreed to when it accepted the federal grants.

“We can’t just unilaterally put new buildings for non-active recreation purposes at that site,” he said.

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