Training center maps suggest outside property used to meet green space requirements
By John Ruch
Planners of Atlanta’s controversial public safety training center appear to be counting properties outside its legal boundaries to meet a lease-required amount of green space.
And the City appears to be counting that land as part of a new park whose planning has been merged with the training center in the latest political move by Atlanta’s mayor.
The use of the outside properties appeared recently on two mysterious maps. One was filed in court documents opposing an appeal of the training center’s land-disturbance permit (LDP), which is based partly on questions about the site’s size. Another appeared briefly in a City press release that was later deleted without notice and replaced with a link to a redesigned training center website that does not include the map. The City and the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), the training center’s lead planner, did not respond to questions.
The maps show three additional properties to the north and east of the training center site, totaling about 85 acres. An earlier intent to include them in the plan may explain a fundamental error and controversy in the City Council legislation authorizing the training center’s lease, which gave the site’s size about 85 acres bigger than it actually is. As a result, the lease also includes a pledge to preserve more green space than is physically possible under the training center plan.
Other factors have added to confusion since then. The APF, without public notice, got three parcels on the site redrawn and partly combined, ultimately increasing the amount of acreage it controls. And differing numbers for the total and green-space acreage have been given by City officials, including in a recent “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) between Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond and related press releases.
Regardless, the three additional properties are not named in the APF’s lease for the training center and are not part of its site as legally described in the LDP application, nor were they discussed as part of it in the limited public input processes since the lease approval in late 2021. And the size error is one of two grounds cited in a pending appeal of the LDP.
Instead, those three properties and more have been discussed as part of the South River Forest, a concept of creating and connecting 3,500 acres of green space in Atlanta and DeKalb County, which is part of the City’s official “Atlanta City Design” urban planning vision document. The training center site was part of that vision, too, which has been one source of many controversies and protests.
A report of South River Forest recommendations issued last week contains a 445-acre park in that area, which includes the green space required to be preserved by the training center plan, as well as other City-owned properties. A crude, unofficial map in the report appears to include the entire training center site’s undeveloped parcel and adjacent City land. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), which produced the report, says it has no official map.
This week, Dickens announced he will form a new “task force” to combine input on the training center and undefined South River Forest parkland. At the same time, the City relaunched the training center website, which now merges that content with the South River Forest concept and the ARC’s report – and gives yet another, higher estimate of green space. The training center and South River Forest are separate concepts run by separate entities and in different stages. The South River Forest is merely a concept at this point for intergovernmental and private partnerships, while training center construction preparation is underway by the APF, a private organization working on the City’s behalf.
Size errors and confusion
The training center is planned for part of the former Atlanta Prison Farm, City-owned land along Key and Constitution roads in unincorporated DeKalb. City Council legislation and a lease agreement give APF the right to build on approximately 85 acres of three parcels: 15-082-01-001 (561 Key) and “all or a portion of” 15-081-08-001 (3054 Fayetteville Road) and 15-081-08-002 (3184 Fayetteville). The APF has since merged the Fayetteville parcels into one and is building on that, but the external property boundaries remain the same.
The legislation and lease describe this overall property as 381 acres. It says the APF will build on its approximate 85 acres “while preserving the remaining property of approximately 265 acres for greenspace — for a combination of reforestation and public access.” Within that 265 acres of green space, according to the lease agreement, “at least approximately 170 acres [are] to [be] preserved for public purposes.”
The problem is that the property is much smaller than 381 acres, according to County records and the APF’s own LDP application. Those records show the site as totaling 296.024 acres. The total “disturbed area” for the training center in the LDP application is 86.92 acres. So it is impossible for the APF to meet its green-space requirement of 265 acres. In addition, the newly drawn parcel controlled by APF is about 171 acres and it remains unclear how much of that would truly be open to the public amid the “Defend the Atlanta Forest” protests and other security concerns that already have the planners talking about erecting a perimeter fence they say they did not want.
Such critics as the South River Watershed Alliance have pointed out the acreage error from the start, with no response from the City or APF. The issue is important because the City Council forced the training center footprint to be reduced from 150 to 85 acres as a result of green space and environmental protests, especially with the South River Forest concept pending. The training center was never part of the South River Forest concept and has been controversial as a surprise intrusion on it.
Meanwhile, there have been signs of size-fudging. During more than a year of review by the City Council-appointed Community Stakeholders Advisory Committee (CSAC), APF planners presented site plans that showed forested green space extending beyond the legal boundaries into other land owned by the City and part of DeKalb’s Intrenchment Creek Park. Those site plans were conceptual illustrations, not legal documents. But the APF also said it would not show the actual site plans to the CSAC, which agreed with that, based on “security” concerns.
Mystery maps add land
The Jan. 31 announcement of the mayor and CEO’s MOU included even larger numbers that directly blurred the training center plan with other, undefined green space. Announcement materials described the training center as being built, not on its specific legal site, but rather amid larger City-owned land described in the MOU as “approximately 381 acres” and in press release materials as “total[ing] 385 acres.”
The MOU further claims that 30 of the training center’s approximately 85 acres will be “devoted to greenspace, parklands, and trails.” And there’s more: “The remaining 296-acre tract will include passive and active greenspace, parkland, and trails.”
In fact, the entire property described in the training center lease is 296 acres, making such green space claims impossible. The only additional detail for the mystery math was a map included in a press release of training center “facts.” The map depicted areas to the north and east of the property as green space, though the image was cropped too tightly to see the extent or details. The map and press release were later deleted from the City website.
In early February, resident Amy Taylor – who is also a CSAC member – filed an appeal against the LDP, in part claiming that the green space claim is in error. Another mystery map appeared in documents filed for a court hearing about an emergency temporary restraining order on training center work while that appeal is pending.
The map was an exhibit attached to an affidavit from Rob Baskin, APF’s vice president of public affairs and communications. He claimed in the affidavit that it was “a map of the site acreage for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center Campus.” The map includes not only the property subject to the lease but also three other parcels to the north and east.
The two to the north, just across Key Road, include part of a shuttered landfill. The parcel to the east is a wooded area between the training center lease property and the new Michelle Obama Park. The parcels include:
- 15-081-01-037, 1300 Key Road, approximately 33.49 acres
- 15-111-01-005, 1510 Key, a “partial” piece of the site given as approximately 36 acres
- 15-083-01-016, no street address, approximately 15.74 acres
Those total approximately 85.23 acres. Coincidentally, that is roughly the size of the training center footprint, and when added to the actual leased site, gets the total acreage to roughly 381 – the incorrect number given in the lease.
All of those properties also were, or have sometimes been considered as, parts of the former Prison Farm. The training center is well-known as planned for the Prison Farm site. So it is possible that confusion was an element of the 381-acre figure appearing in the original lease. But that still leaves questions unanswered about the current use and calculation.
There is no explanation for APF using properties not named in council legislation or the lease as “site acreage.” Nor is there an explanation for why the new map includes only a small part of the 1510 Key property, which totals 156.79 acres and includes an adjacent water reclamation plant. That much larger property has always been part of the South River Forest green space discussion.
Another mystery is what the City’s current, official training center map for purposes of the lease looks like. The initial lease agreement approved by the City Council included a map approximating the expected area that the training center would occupy. But a little-noticed provision authorized the mayor or the mayor’s designee to amend the lease following the completion of planning and design “to reflect the final acreage as shown on as-built plans.”
The site plan has been in place since early last year, which may or may not qualify as triggering the lease amendment. In December, the City’s Department of Enterprise Asset Management (DEAM) provided SaportaReport with the current lease agreement, which was the same as the original. But DEAM did not include the attached map and has failed to do so for months despite Open Records requests and a pending complaint with the Georgia Attorney General’s office.
Another clause of the City Council legislation that authorized the training center lease is about the South River Forest vision. The legislation notes that the council previously bought Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve for the vision. It adds that “the City will continue to pursue the acquisition and preservation of at least 85 additional acres of forested property” – apparently intended to offset the loss of forest to the training center. There is no sign of such acquisition being discussed in current training center planning, with the roughly 85 existing acres of City-owned land being added to the math instead.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the ARC South River Forest park map as containing the entire training center site rather than the parcel known to be left undeveloped.
This makes total sense if you stop to listen and don’t appfoach it with a bias. Why are you so negative?Report