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Environmentalists and DeKalb commissioner ask court to halt training center work pending permit appeal

A conceptual illustration of tree plantings at the main buildings of the proposed public safety training center. (Image by Atlanta Police Foundation.)

By John Ruch

The resident appealing the land-disturbance permit (LDP) for Atlanta’s public safety training center is asking a court to halt all site clearing until that appeal is heard. Joining the appeal is a DeKalb County Board of Commissioners member and a local environmental organization.

Amy Taylor – a member of the training center’s own Atlanta City Council-appointed review committee – filed the appeal on Feb. 6 with the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA). The appeal claims the County improperly issued the LDP because the project would violate a state limit on sediment runoff and because its lease gives an inaccurately large number for the amount of green space set aside.

But land clearing has continued at the site under its lead developer, the private Atlanta Police Foundation (APF).

On Feb. 13, Taylor filed a complaint in Fulton County Superior Court seeking an injunction halting the work. She was joined in the complaint by DeKalb District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry and the South River Watershed Alliance (SRWA), a local environmental organization. The complaint was filed in Fulton because that is where APF is headquartered, while the training center site is on Key and Constitution roads in unincorporated DeKalb County.

Terry told SaportaReport that he is joining the appeal as well. “The appeal should be heard, and any land clearance should stop until it’s resolved,” he said.

Simon Bloom, an attorney representing APF in the matter, did not immediately respond to a comment request.

The court complaint says County officials acknowledged Taylor’s appeal application was complete as of Feb. 9 and that a ZBA hearing is scheduled for April. The complaint argues that the law says work must halt pending the appeal.

Jon Schwartz, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the complaint and the appeal, shared a recent email thread that was forwarded to him by Bloom. The thread began when Schwartz contacted an APF planning official to say that work should stop pending the appeal.

“Pls [please] let me know if there is any truth to his claims that the project must come to a halt,” wrote APF President and CEO Dave Wilkinson to Bloom on Feb. 9.

Part of Bloom’s reply expressed surprise about the zoning of the training center site. “Is the property zoned residential???? How could it be and allow the training center?” wrote Bloom.

“I will be all over this like white on rice. Don’t worry,” added Bloom.

“We do not plan to respond to this attorney and we plan to continue full speed ahead unless the county issues a stop work order,” Wilkinson said in another email. “It defies common sense that a stop work could be issued with every appeal. I assume the county attorney can provide clarification. [County CEO] Michael Thurmond did not call me back tonight.”

Typical zoning restrictions and reviews do not apply to the training center because it is a government function. However, APF must still secure permits for clearing and construction. The LDP is crucial for allowing early site preparation prior to construction.

The SRWA is a longtime critic of the training center and is one of the plaintiffs suing a developer for a land swap of the former Intrenchment Creek Park on a neighboring site. Both situations have generated controversy and are focuses of the Defend the Atlanta Forest protest movement. Taylor is affiliated with the SRWA as well as a member of the training center’s Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee (CSAC), a controversial review group that reports to the City Council while being led by the APF itself.

Terry has been a critic of the training center project’s secrecy and environmental concerns. On paper, Taylor holds a CSAC seat nominated by Terry, but in fact, another citizen held that seat before being removed for publicly criticizing the project. Terry has since nominated Taylor to actually fill that vacancy, but it has gone unfilled for months.


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