DeKalb commissioner again retreats from resolution on deeper training center review
By John Ruch
Just days after renewing a call for deeper review of Atlanta’s controversial public safety training center plan, a DeKalb County commissioner says he will withdraw the resolution due to a lack of “consensus.”
District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry says he’s giving up on one of his main requests, a deeper environmental review of the site. He said the “issue just isn’t budging and I’ve got no power to force the issue.”
Another major request – reducing some uses of the site in line with the County’s long-term land use plan — might return, depending on the results of noise studies.
Terry’s nonbinding resolution, drafted last week, also asked for a new DeKalb Bicentennial Historic Commission to consider how to memorialize the site’s history as the infamous Atlanta Prison Farm. That idea will continue through other means, he said.
“… I spoke with commissioners, community leaders and neighbors over the last several day[s],” Terry said in an Oct. 4 text message. “There isn’t complete consensus on this particular resolution, so I’m recommending withdrawal next BOC [Board of Commissioners meeting.]”
Terry said he’ll “continue to push” on several other issues:
- A “follow-up” on noise studies for a firing range and driving course at the training center. Both of those are underway, though the planning team, led by the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), has said that on-site protesters have delayed the work.
- “A full site environmental assessment and remediation plan” for the remainder of the former Prison Farm site, which totals over 200 acres and is assumed to become some type of public park, though no agency has taken explicit responsibility for that.
- Trail easement access to connect the South River Trail with the Oldcastle Nature Trail, where it could connect with the Atlanta BeltLine in the Custer Avenue area.
Asked how he will “push” for those items and why he didn’t let the resolution go through the BOC voting process, Terry said “…there are other conversations on all these fronts that are moving forward on an agenda.”
Terry’s withdrawal is just one example of political efforts to scrutinize the plan failing to gain traction despite widespread local, regional and even national controversy about the facility’s secretive planning and impacts.
In July, Terry introduced another resolution that would have been binding and also faltered. In June, 64 local and national organizations signed onto a “resolution of nonsupport” that was to be introduced by an unnamed Atlanta City Council member that has yet to materialize more than three months later.
With the City of Atlanta and APF — which is financially backed by many major corporations — already wielding enormous political power, positions have hardened further amid a protest movement called “Defend the Atlanta Forest” that is focused on environmental and police reform issues. The movement has involved many peaceful protests, but also trespassing, vandalism and harassment of contractors, both on the site and at corporate offices. Members of the Atlanta Police Department and the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee (CSAC), a City-created body reviewing the plan but operated by APF itself, have used such terms as “agitators” and “ecoterrorists” to describe all protesters, and APD and APF officials in CSAC meetings have sometimes blurred criticism of legal and illegal protests as if all were violent.
The APF is a private nonprofit, but because its project is on behalf of a government, it is exempt from typical zoning restrictions — the property is zoned residential — and review processes, though it still needs building permits. The current reviews are by the CSAC, which the APF operates, and by the County for an application for a land disturbance permit to begin site preparations.
The $90 million training center facility, which would train police officers and firefighters from Atlanta and outside departments, is planned for 85 acres of the former Prison Farm, a piece of property that is owned by the City of Atlanta but sits outside city limits on Key Road in unincorporated DeKalb.