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

A judge has denied a request to halt work on Atlanta’s controversial public safety training center pending a permit appeal. But he also ordered its planners to conduct daily inspections to ensure minimal land disturbance.

The Feb. 17 order from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Cox does not kill the appeal itself but does cast doubts on its merits. 

“We’re disappointed but will continue our efforts to protect the forest and enforce the state’s pollution laws,” said Jon Schwartz, an attorney for the plaintiffs who filed the halt-work complaint. A copy of the judge’s order was provided by Bryan Thomas, the director of communications for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who declined comment on its content.

Amy Taylor – a member of the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee (CSAC) reviewing the plan – filed the appeal of the land-disturbance permit (LDP) 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.

Taylor, joined by District 6 DeKalb Commissioner Ted Terry and the South River Watershed Alliance, then filed a Feb. 13 complaint in the Fulton court in an attempt to halt the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) from conducting site-clearing work while the appeal is pending. APF is headquartered in Fulton.

Cox’s order said the plaintiffs’ complaint failed in part on procedure because they failed to file a certified copy of relevant County code. But he said it also failed in part on the merits because the training center is on City of Atlanta-owned property and, as government property, is not subject to zoning codes. Approvals by County and Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) officials also make it unlikely that the case would succeed, Cox wrote.

Cox said there is also no threat of irreparable injury to the plaintiffs that would warrant a restraining order, and no injury at all because of the official approvals of the project. On the other hand, he said, there would be “clear harm” to APF because of the threat of destructive protest activity at the site. 

“Defendant does not appear to be violating any laws, rules, or regulations in its development, and there is no injury to Plaintiffs,” Cox wrote.

However, Cox ordered APF to “coordinate daily inspections of the property and to pay for the same” to ensure “the LDP is being followed and that the project is causing as little disturbance to the land as possible.”

Cox further noted that the plaintiffs still have legal recourse in the form of the pending ZBA appeal, and he dismissed their complaint without prejudice, meaning that they remain free to pursue further legal challenges.

In court filings, APF claimed that a 60-day restraining order would cost it and the City more than $4.1 million in security and contractor changes. A top EPD official and the chair of the CSAC also filed affidavits in opposition.


Update: This story has been updated with comment from attorney Jon Schwartz.

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