The Trust for Public Land met with DeKalb County representatives Feb. 24 to discuss the swap. The proposal is being vetted by county staff including the chief operating officer, said county spokesman Andrew Cauthen in an emailed statement. After that process is complete, they will make a recommendation to county CEO Michael Thurmond.
The film studio has described the swap as an even trade that would benefit the county by giving it land along Bouldercrest Road adjacent to the Gresham Park Recreation Center. But opponents say that property is nearly worthless.
“We would be getting land that’s been bulldozed and is unusable for hiking trails,” said Joe Peery, an East Atlanta resident who has led opposition efforts.
Blackhall did not respond to a request for comment. In December, Blackhall CEO Ryan Millsap said community concerns are "negative spin from people that are just fundamentally, physically opposed to land exchanges."
An expanded Blackhall film studio would not prevent the creation of the proposed South River Forest Park. However, opponents say it would set a bad precedent. Numerous commercial and government operations are located in the area of the proposed park, including trucking terminals, an active landfill and state prisons. Park supporters said those operations might be persuaded to relocate. But if the film studio expands, the commercial and government operations would likely remain.
Kasey Sturm, an attorney with the Atlanta firm Weissman who’s advising land-swap opponents, said the county probably does not have legal authority to transfer control of Intrenchment Creek Park land to a private developer. The county is bound by a deed restriction to hold the property in perpetuity for the benefit of county residents, she said.
Park supporters also hired designer Ryan Gravel, who created the original proposal for the Beltline, and the Decatur consulting firm Clarification & Mediation to study how to create the 3,500-acre park. The plan, which would take years to complete, would center on the South River and combine acreage from the abandoned Atlanta Prison Farm, existing DeKalb County and City of Atlanta parks, privately owned wetlands and closed landfills.
“This is a long-term project with a big price tag,” said Ayanna Williams, the Healthy Cities program director at the Nature Conservancy, which is paying for the studies.
Some community residents support the land swap because it could lead to job creation. But they also want a new park.
“We want to have a balance between economic development and protecting some of the land,” Patricia Culp, president of the Cedar Grove Neighborhood Association, said Thursday. “We don’t want to see the parkland just destroyed.”
Park advocates should start the conversation now about who gets to decide what happens to the largest remaining undeveloped acreage inside the Perimeter, Gravel said.
“It’s the city’s last chance to do a regional park at this scale that’s this close to downtown,” he said.