Training center challenge appealed to Superior Court of DeKalb County

By Riley Bunch, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A challenge of the land disturbance permits issued for Atlanta’s planned public safety training center has been appealed to the Superior Court of DeKalb County.

DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry filed paperwork on Wednesday against the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision that the county acted appropriately during its lengthy permit review process for the construction site.

Terry wasn’t immediately available for comment Thursday morning.

DeKalb County gave the go ahead for construction to begin in January, nearly a year after Atlanta applied for land disturbance permits to build the facility.

In February, two DeKalb County residents, along with Terry, filed a formal appeal of the permits which accused the city and county of overlooking existing restrictions on sediment discharges.

But the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the challenge during a meeting in April after unanimously deciding that the county’s months-long process to issue the permits complied with all requirements, and denied a request to halt the project.

A Fulton County Judge also denied an injunction that would have pressed pause on construction prior to the zoning board’s decision.

The appeal to the Superior Court of DeKalb County argues again that the planning director for the county overlooked environmental concerns caused by additional sediment deposited into Intrenchment Creek due to construction.

“The (Zoning Board of Appeals) erred by upholding the land development permit because the proposed construction will add sediment into Intrenchment Creek in violation of state law,” the new filing reads and requests the Superior Court takes up the case for review.

DeKalb Zoning Board rejects police training center permit appeal

From GPB News

April 13, 2023 4:55 PM
By: Amanda Andrews

Wednesday, the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously rejected an appeal over the land disturbance permit allowing construction to begin on the police training center also known as “Cop City.”

The appeal was filed by Amy Taylor and Carolyn Tucker, residents living near the site, along with DeKalb District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry. They argued the project would violate the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s water quality laws for allowable sediment.

DeKalb Zoning board members found the Atlanta Police Foundation followed state and local guidance and said further appeals should go to the EPD. 

Attorney Simon Bloom representing the Atlanta Police Department said it’s “outlandish to suggest” the project is not following best management practices.

“This is the most-watched real estate development project in the region,” Bloom said. “It is being inspected every single day, which is outlandish to suggest, not only by independent and objectively hired inspectors, but also by the DeKalb inspectors.”

Vice Chair Dan Wright expressed discomfort with the decision before motioning to reject the appeal.

“I’m sorry to say so because I have reservations about this project as well, and the location that’s being selected, and of course all of the unfortunate things that have happened related to public activists,” Wright said. “We all know what those things are.”

Following the announcement of the decision, Mayor Andre Dickens released a statement thanking the Zoning Board for their decision to uphold the permit.

“A challenge to the project was also turned back by a Fulton County judge,” Dickens said. “Every part of this project has been scrutinized and has been found to be fully compliant with the law and all environmental protection requirements.”

Environmental Attorney Jon Schwartz, representing the people appealing the permit, recently requested an administrative hearing with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

DeKalb Commissioner Ted Terry said the Georgia EPD is not infallible.

“The Georgia EPD has a history of not following their own rules or procedures or federal law,” Terry said. “I mean, look no further to just a couple of years ago, Georgia EPD approved a landfill recycling permit for Metro Green Recycling in Stonecrest, which later a judge threw out as improper.”

Grassroots organizers in Atlanta said they will continue protesting the police training center until the project is canceled altogether.

Raid at proposed public safety facility site exposes barriers, booby traps and trespassers

By News Staff
March 27, 2023 at 5:34 pm EDT

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Just days after county officials issued an order for the public to stay away from the area around the site of the proposed Atlanta public safety training facility, authorities say they’ve found barriers, booby traps, and trespassers on the land.

On Monday, DeKalb County police and surrounding agencies executed a raid to clear the site at Intrenchment Creek Park of trespassers.

The DeKalb County police chief said Monday’s raid uncovered something that was cause for grave concern – fentanyl.

“We actually found something that we’ve never found before, several vials full of fentanyl,” said Chief Mirtha Ramos.

Dekalb County Commissioner Ted Terry, told Channel 2 investigative reporter Ashli Lincoln, the right to peacefully protest at the site of the new public safety training facility was taken away.

“The concern is, we’re pushing the free speech zone, too far away,” Terry said.

County leaders said the park that is home to several walking and biking trails is no longer safe to the public and has been the site of recent violent protests.

Terry said while he doesn’t agree with the violent protest, he thinks County leaders should work to provide a peaceful protesting zone.

“Will there still be the ability to still have peaceful protest,” he said.

A DeKalb County parcel map shows six parcels listed that are impacted by this order. However, Terry said the park’s entrance — which is the old South River Trialhead — is not a listed parcel on the order.

DeKalb County told Channel 2 Action News that since 2021, the former South River Trailhead has not been publicly owned and is not a DeKalb County park.

The county said the park is now owned by Blackhall Real Estate Phase II, LLC.

Because this is private property, DeKalb County said they are not aware of any judicial order that says the privately owned BlackHall Property must remain open to the public.

DeKalb County police said two people were arrested, three persons left voluntarily, and one vehicle was towed following Monday’s raid.

South River Watershed Alliance, DeKalb Commissioner seek order to stop ‘Cop City’ construction

Originally published in Decaturish

DeKalb County, GA — A DeKalb County Commissioner has joined with the South River Watershed Alliance and a member of an advisory committee overseeing the construction of a police training center to seek a restraining order to stop construction on the site.

The Atlanta Police Foundation is constructing an 85-acre police/fire training facility located in DeKalb County’s South River Forest, called “Cop City” by activists. The location has historically been the Old Atlanta Prison Farm site.

The project will cost approximately $90 million. The area will feature a burn tower; space for high-speed chases, a helicopter pad, a shooting range, and a mock village.  One-third of the bill will come directly from taxpayers, and the other two-thirds will come through the Atlanta Police Foundation, a collection of private non-profits who financially support APD in various ways. The land will be leased to the Atlanta Police Foundation for $10 per year. 

The debate over constructing the facility has become international news. Police officers shot and killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Paez Teran, 26, on Jan. 18 near the site, and a state Trooper was wounded during the incident, which has resulted in several protests.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a member of the advisory committee helping to oversee the project, Amy Taylor, is appealing the county’s issuance of a land disturbance permit that would allow construction to move forward.

The South River Watershed Alliance and DeKalb Commissioner Ted Terry joined Taylor in filing a complaint in Fulton County Superior Court on Feb. 13 seeking to halt construction activities related to the training center.

Despite Taylor’s appeal, “Atlanta Police Foundation, Inc. refused to stop clearing the site,” the complaint says.

“Atlanta Police Foundation, Inc. claimed the site ‘is exempt from county zoning requirements altogether’ because it is ‘being developed for a public facility,’” the complaint says.

DeKalb County issued a land disturbance permit on Feb. 2. Taylor filed an appeal with the county’s zoning board of appeals on Feb. 6. To see the appeal to the county’s zoning board of appeals, click here.

“Amy Taylor appealed the planning director’s issuance of the land development permit because sediment discharges caused by clearing, grading, and excavating will violate state law,” the complaint says.

The complaint asks a judge to grant a restraining order to stop land disturbance on the site and to prevent any future disturbances while Taylor’s appeal is pending.

To read the complaint, click here.

Commissioner Ted Terry on Cop City

Atlanta and DeKalb County officials announced plans to move forward with building a $90 million Atlanta Public Safety Training Center at the site of a former Georgia state prison farm. Super District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry, who represents constituents where the facility is expected to be built, is calling for more transparency. He talks with Rose about the path forward.

Environmental impact of police training facility questioned by DeKalb commissioner

Originally published in The Champion

A stakeholder committee has helped shape the proposed police training facility on City of Atlanta-owned property in southwest DeKalb, but DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry said he wants more research and information on the property’s history and the environmental implications of the proposed development.

Terry recently presented proposed legislation to the DeKalb Board of Commissioners requesting an environmental impact study of the proposed development. The resolution was referred to the Planning, Economic Development, and Community Services committee, which tabled the resolution for 30 days at its July 26 meeting.

Terry said his proposed legislation would examine environmental implications to Intrenchment Creek and South River, noise issues, and other issues that have been discussed by protestors and local environmental activists.

Studies such as a phase two environmental analysis could reveal if there are environmental problems that could slow the development or cost taxpayers and investors more money, according to Terry.

The resolution states that the phase two study “would provide a more diligent review of potential environmental hazards that might yet be unknown, such as possible site contaminants, buried debris, and significant data gaps.”

“If you look at the areas where the prison farm was abandoned, to me it’s clear that there are more underlying environmental issues that deserve a deeper review,” said Terry. “I’d also like a little more effort to acknowledge the long history of the area.”

Terry said it’s important to do the research now because the development is already expected to cost $90 million. He added that the project is one government jurisdiction working in another government jurisdiction, so the development hasn’t been subject to the same regulations as a private development. A private development, according to Terry, would have more impact studies done and a more thorough community input process.

“The goal all along from my point of view was to replicate that citizen and stakeholder process,” said Terry.

The environmental implications related to Intrenchment Creek or South River and its watersheds could be more important than additional costs, according to Terry. Protestors have also mentioned the implications of cutting one of the largest urban forests left in the country.

“On one side, what’s concerning is if there will be additional costs associated with this … but are we making sure that if the site gets developed, that there aren’t any long-term environmental consequences of this land disturbance, understanding that there are decades and decades of history of letting that site degrade,” said Terry.

DeKalb officials said if approved, their study would investigate “a community member’s independent environmental assessment … which highlighted several areas within the entire Prison Farm site that are environmentally sensitive areas and contain vital habitat ecosystems that deserve to be considered in the overall assessment and conservation areas in the [Atlanta public safety training center] development plan.”

“We should be focusing on any development along South River or Intrenchment Creek,” said Terry. “Everything that we do there could put [the waterways] more at risk.”

The resolution adds that in the 2019 master planning process, the City of Atlanta amended its city charter to create a “South River Forest Park”, designated in an area that includes the land proposed for the development of the Atlanta public safety training center.

Terry calls for studies on the area’s history

In the original resolution, Terry also called for “the idea of housing reparations,” for neighborhoods that have fallen victim to redlining or other actions that Terry said have impacted neighborhoods around the Old Atlanta Prison Farm.

Terry said the way the property has been used and cared for over the last several decades, including with what Terry called “redlining,” and potentially discriminatory separations of groups of people, should also require research and a “history and reconciliation and reparations committee.”

According to Terry, adding gun ranges and other loud activities to the site could further damage property values if the noise isn’t contained properly.

Terry said that since the Old Atlanta Prison Farm was abandoned from its original uses, the property has been ignored by local governments and police training on the property has gone somewhat unchecked.

“If the history and recognition reveal that there were actions taken by Atlanta’s government or DeKalb’s government that made these situations worse or turned the Starlight neighborhood into a place where land values were artificially depressed through de jure segregation, then there needs to be some accounting of that,” added Terry.

Depending on what is uncovered in the research, Terry said that there is a future where the public training facility moves locations.

“[A different site] is one future scenario. What if we get six months or a year down the land disturbance process, and it’s determined that the original site plan can’t be implemented due to issues that were discovered after the fact? Or that it’s going to cost more than expected? It’s always good—especially when taxpayer money is involved—that we do everything we can do to ensure the best quality project. Not just for the immediate future but for the long-term health of this ecosystem,” said Terry.