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Battle over Brookhaven Park could end in greenspace or library

By Zachary Hansen, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

A battle over the future of Brookhaven Park has been brewing for years, and it leaves nearby residents uncertain about whether green space or a library will be in their backyard.

Recent talks over the location of a new library in Brookhaven, which has been in the works since 2005, ended with the city and county still at odds. The county plans to put it in Brookhaven Park, but the city wants that space preserved so the entire park can be renovated.

Brookhaven Park is 20 acres total and lies inside Brookhaven city limits, but the county owns nearly 12 of those acres, which is currently undeveloped greenspace. If a library were to be built, roughly a third of that greenspace would not be available for the city to expand its park.

In an effort to change the county’s mind, the Brookhaven City Commission is offering a different site for consideration. However, city leaders don’t seem confident that the county’s plans will change, with talks up to now being called futile.

“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,” Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said during a Tuesday night meeting. “They gave use the rope-a-dope for two years.”

Brookhaven Park, located off Peachtree and Osborne roads, is split into two parcels. The city currently owns the smaller back half, while the county owns the frontside, which borders Peachtree Road.

Brookhaven leadership has wanted to purchase the full park since the city’s founding in 2012. The closest the two came to making a sale was in 2018, when the county almost sold it for $2.2 million, but the deal was never finalized. It’s not clear why the deal failed.

DeKalb Commission Jeff Rader, who has butted heads with Brookhaven leadership for years, said the county has struggled to find a location for a new library in Brookhaven after funds were approved in 2005. The library’s current site at 1242 North Druid Hills Road lacks adequate parking and space for renovation, he said.

The county considered Brookhaven Park as a potential location, because it has easy road access and is already owned by DeKalb.

However, that vision clashes with the vision Brookhaven residents have for the park, according to Brookhaven Commissioner Madeleine Simmons.

“There were some neighbors who were in favor of that, but quite a few who said that they don’t want to have a reduction of the green space, don’t want to lose the trees (and) would rather not have the library in Brookhaven Park,” Simmons said during a town hall Monday.

Simmons proposed a new site for the library: A 2.5-acre property owned by Brookhaven near Lenox Park Boulevard and North Druid Hills Road, which Simmons said she discussed with Rader before the meeting.

“Available land in Brookhaven is hard to come by and certainly is not cheap,” Rader said at the town hall Monday. He added that the county’s library board approved the Brookhaven Park location, but that the city never offered an alternative when the city commission rejected the plan last year.

The county has more than $4.5 million allocated for the library renovation, which is estimated to cost between $6 and $7 million, according to Rader. He said he plans to fill the funding gap by selling surplus property, which would include the portion of Brookhaven Park that won’t house the new library.

During Tuesday night’s city meeting, the commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to ask the county to move the library’s site to Lenox Park Boulevard and North Druid Hills Road. If the county sold the entirety of its half of Brookhaven Park, which is estimated to be worth about $3.5 million, it would be enough to fully fund the library’s construction, Simmons argued.

“I was a little disappointed in the turn of that conversation based on our phone call that morning, which sound liked we had a plan to move forward in 2020 with a plan for a library, and that was kind of backtracked during the town hall,” she said.

Rader said he’s open to hearing alternatives to the current plan but worries that the city’s desired plot is too small and won’t offer adequate parking or road access. Simmons said the city is working on plans to address those concerns, which will include inviting members of the county library board to the city’s next work session.

“I consider it to be progress that Brookhaven is now actively considering the provision of a site,” Rader said in a written statement. “This will insure alignment between the City and County in the library location and brings us closer to a well resourced library to meet the needs and expectations of Brookhaven patrons.”

City Manager Christian Sigman said the city’s primary concern is obtaining the full park so work can begin on $6 million of renovations that were funded years ago. Sigman said the city hopes to begin working on its side of the park in November as soon as some final permits are obtained.

“Brookhaven is not in the library business,” he said. “So it’s incumbent on the county and the library board to get it funded and built.”