The city of Brookhaven is spending nearly a million dollars for an old residential property, with plans to turn it into a park for the neighborhood. Residents are eager for the new green space, but the city has to spend almost a tenth of its reserve fund to finance the purchase.
The land at 1174 Pine Grove Avenue, almost one acre, has been owned by the Langford family for decades. A one-story home built in 1930 sits on the property, surrounded by a large yard at the corner of Pine Grove and Matthews Street. A man named Bob Langford who used to live in the home died fighting in the Vietnam War in 1968.
The Brookhaven City Council last week unanimously approved buying the land for $1.35 million. DeKalb County is set to contribute $400,000, with the city paying the remaining $950,000.
According to DeKalb County property tax records, the market value of the land and house were appraised in 2019 at $340,100, about $1 million less than what Brookhaven and DeKalb are paying for it. The city said it negotiated a price that was fair for this neighborhood.
The city plans to demolish the structure but keep the “footprint” of the house as a pavilion that will feature a memorial sign and commemorative plaque, according to Bates Mattison, the city councilman who represents the district where the Brookhaven Heights neighborhood sits.
“It really is transformational to that neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods,” Mattison said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity that we’ve had to increase our green space and make a community gathering area.”
Brookhaven Heights is a densely populated area located south of the Brookhaven MARTA station near North Druid Hills Road. Many homes were built in the late 1990s or early 200os and sit on narrow lots. But there isn’t much green space, forcing neighbors to host outdoor events and gatherings on the street or in cul-de-sacs, Mattison said. The Langford’s land is believed to be one of the largest residential properties in the area; the community suggested the city buy it several years ago, he said.
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The county is able to fund its contribution with unappropriated funds from a 2001 parks bond, according to Jeff Rader, the DeKalb County commissioner who helped Brookhaven acquire the property.
“It’s a good place for a park in an area that doesn’t have local green space,” Rader said. The county commission is expected to vote whether to allocate the funds before the deal is closed, which could be before the end of the year. “It’s appropriate for the county to make this contribution.”
The city, however, did not have unallocated funds that it could put toward buying the land, Mattison said. That is causing Brookhaven to use money from its general fund reserve, according to City Manager Christian Sigman. The general fund reserve, totaled at $9.8 million dollars, ensures that the city could continue to operate in the case of a major disaster or during times of economic uncertainty.
Sigman explained that the property is large enough to be divided into three smaller lots, in a part of the city where lots can go for higher than $400,000. The large plot was originally on the market for $2 million several months ago, and the city negotiated down to pay $1.35 million.
The purchase also does not cover any renovations, improvements or additions that could be made before the land becomes a functional city park, Mattison said.
“It’s just a reality that the city doesn’t have any funds currently allocated for it,” the councilman said, adding that the neighbors may raise money for improvements themselves. “They are very anxious to get some playground equipment.”
Mattison, who did not run for reelection on the council this fall, emphasized that the city’s finance department signed off on the purchase. He said the future park will be a “great legacy for the family, the sellers, and it provides an incredible amenity to the community. … I’m just glad that were able to make it happen.”
Clarification: A previous version of this story stated that the city planned to install a Vietnam War memorial at the future park. The city clarified that the only plans in place so far are to add a personal plaque to the park monument sign.
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