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City Commission votes to condemn property, but holds out hope for better solution

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City Commission votes to condemn property, but holds out hope for better solution

Decatur City Hall.
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Decatur City Hall.

One way or another, the city of Decatur intends to buy 4.19 acres near Dearborn Park.

During its regular meeting on Nov. 6, City Commissioners voted unanimously to exercise the city’s power of eminent domain to take the property. The vote followed a number of public comments in support of the move by the city.

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At issue is a 4-acre proposed development site at West Dearborn Circle and Chevelle Lane. Kudzu Capital LLC purchased the land in June 2016. The property is divided into 16 lots, but does not have a road that provides easy access to the lots. The property has been a point of contention for nearly two years. In December 2015, Decatur City Commissioners voted to pay $500,000 to buy the land with plans to expand the park. The city discovered later that the property was already under contract with Redwater LLC, another company affiliated with the same developer, Neal Hightower. Redwater filed a lawsuit against the previous owner to resolve the issue, and the purchase was completed in June 2016, according to documents filed with the city.

City Attorney Bryan Downs said the city intends to continue negotiating with the developer to avoid having to use eminent domain to buy the site.

“Under Georgia law the city will continue to try to negotiate with the property owner to acquire the property without using eminent domain,” Downs said.

He said eminent domain becomes necessary when the two sides can’t agree on a price.

“If you need property for a public purpose and you’re not able to acquire it through negotiation, you have the opportunity to acquire it under the Georgia constitution for that public purpose,” Downs said. “The key is the property owner is entitled to receive the fair market value. … In my experience [with the city of Decatur], we’ve never had to use it.”

Now that the city has decided to move forward with using eminent domain, it has to wait 30 days before filing a petition in Superior Court. The court will appoint an attorney to serve as a “special master” to oversee the process, Downs said.

“At that point it’s a question of value,” Downs said. “Each side would most likely have an appraiser. Once a special master makes an award, a judge would review the award and make a determination of whether to approve the award.”

People who spoke at the meeting prior to the vote praised the commission for taking action.

“It’s really unrealistic land to build on,” one speaker said. “There’s a clear sense to build on that, you would have to destroy and do a lot of damage.”

Editor’s note: This story was compiled by viewing a live video stream of Monday’s meeting. Also, writer Mariann Martin contributed to this story. 

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