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Decatur City Commission buys Boys and Girls Club, continues Legacy Park discussion

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Decatur City Commission buys Boys and Girls Club, continues Legacy Park discussion

Decatur City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Decatur, GA  — Decatur City Commissioners at their Sept. 21 meeting agreed to buy property owned by the Samuel L. Jones Boys and Girls Club.

They also approved an agreement on how the city will spend CARES Act funding, extended the Decatur face covering ordinance and heard more public comments on the Legacy Park master plan. 

The City Commission approved the purchase of the 5.4-acre property at 450 East Lake Drive for $4.94 million. The property includes the Oakhurst Dog Park, an athletic field, a gymnasium and an indoor swimming pool.

“All of these amenities are consistent with the city’s commitment to providing recreational facilities and greenspace for the community to use,” said city manager Andrea Arnold. The Commission plans to embark on a master plan in 2021 for the long-term use of the property. 

In other business:

– On April 24, DeKalb County received $125.3 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The County qualified for the funds directly from the federal government based on its population, including the populations from the cities within DeKalb, except Atlanta. Over the past few months, DeKalb cities successfully negotiated an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with DeKalb County to disburse $32.6 million among the cities on a per capita basis. On September 17, 2020, the County executed the IGA.

The City of Decatur will receive $2,914,440 and plans to use the funds to address the “severe and urgent needs within the community due to the ongoing public health emergency.”

The funds have been divided into employee-related expenses, operations/facilities/IT expenses, and community-related expenses. Employee-related expenses ($905,000) include pandemic pay, emergency family and medical leave, emergency paid sick leave, unemployment, and the COVID vaccine response.

Operations/facilities/IT expenses ($700,000) include PPE, cleaning supplies, virtual court, remote IT tools, communications materials, and a staff quarantine facility. Community expenses ($975,000) include small business relief, outdoor dining/retail efforts, and grants to non-profits, and $334,440 has been allocated for contingency.

– The existing face covering ordinance for Decatur has been extended through October 19. The city plans to re-evaluate the ordinance on a monthly basis.

“We have received concerns about a handful of our restaurants [and face covering wearing]. We have immediately reached out to those restaurants and they have been very apologetic and assured [they would] ensure compliance with the ordinance,” Arnold said. She says she believes we are seeing “voluntary compliance” within the community.

Commissioner George Dusenbury asked the commission to consider extending this ordinance to apply to houses of worship.

– In the Requests and Petitions section of the meeting, the City Commission heard many public comments about the Legacy Park master plan. Local advocacy group Legacy Park Voice is asking the city to revisit the plan. The group also showed up and spoke at the last City Commission meeting. As it did at the the last meeting, the City Commission did not agree to reopen the planning process. 

In December, the Decatur City Commission publicly and unanimously approved an addition to the Legacy Park master plan.

That addition — which further guides the development of affordable housing on the property and proposes up to 175 units with the goal of making as many of those units affordable as possible — has received renewed scrutiny in recent weeks. Mayor Patti Garrett said the actual number of affordable units hasn’t been decided yet.

Lynn Gathercole, a leader of Legacy Park Voice, requested the master plan be reopened to discuss the development of housing at the property. The group said they are not against affordable housing but they believe the city hasn’t considered all the impacts creating housing would have on the larger community. 

Gathercole spoke first and gave a presentation outlining her concerns.

“We’re asking for the planning … to be reopened so that we can have a conversation regarding the changes to the master plan that were done on December 16, 2019,” she said. “We’re requesting we open the plan to specifically address the north and south housing neighborhoods, for conducting well-published community planning sessions. The change increased by 286 percent the number of housing units at the park, and this change significantly impacts the quality of life for people living in and around the park, and the people of our community.”

One of the groups central critiques is that there wasn’t a sufficient notice and planning process surrounding the addition to the Legacy Park plan. The public record shows the plan was discussed and contracts were awarded for it in public meetings and there were input sessions as well.

Gathercole said the city and the group would have to “agree to disagree” on whether there was enough public discussion about the plan.

“There are signficant issues with the plan,” she said.

 

Another commenter speaking in support of Legacy Park Voice, David Spencer, said the argument that Legacy Park is the city’s last and best chance to develop affordable housing is a “fallacy.”

“Anyone can see that there’s locations all over the city of Decatur, particularly on the periphery, for affordable housing,” he said. “Many of these locations have much better access to both amenities and transit, as well as infrastructure.”

However, there were also many comments in favor of the current plan to develop housing at Legacy Park.

Cinque Axam, who supports the current master plan, said, “I do not think we are able to retain these core values of diversity if we become a city that is not affordable.”

Clare Schexnyder stated that she was in support of a plan that would make all housing in Legacy Park affordable, with no housing at market price.

“Legacy Park Voice is showing their privilege,” said Schexnyder. She said she supported the plan of 175 “or more” units and that “people who say [the property] is not accessible by MARTA have obviously never ridden a bus before.” 

Andrea Arnold also mentioned receiving many emails on the topic, both for and against the plan. Editor’s note: The publisher of Decaturish requested that a recent editorial on this topic in support of the affordable housing plan be added to the public record of Monday’s meeting. 

On the topic of the Legacy Park discussion, Commissioner Lesa Mayer said, “All of the points provided by individuals speaking today are valid in their own ways. I understand the feeling of not being fully included in the entire process and I understand the challenges around trusting us … the community will absolutely be involved when it comes time for a plan by a developer or a nonprofit to be submitted.

“I would not support a plan that was not majority affordable housing. We have plenty of market price housing and that is not what this is intended to do,” said Mayer.

Commissioner Kelly Walsh said that “housing is personal,” and to be accused of adopting a plan that’s a product of a cryptic or hidden or “bait-and-switch” tactics, as some members of the Legacy Park Voice have alleged, is personal. She asked community members to be more mindful of their language. 

“I’ve heard comments that led me to believe that the author of much of this does not have any desire for affordable housing,” Walsh said. “When it’s referenced that [the affordable housing] supposed to be at the periphery of our city I get particularly annoyed, because, what are you saying? You want [the housing] to be out in the county, or not in our city?”

Commissioner Tony Powers stated that the plan for affordable housing symbolizes “equity and inclusion for all — the core of what we fight for” in Decatur.

– A front yard tree program from Trees Atlanta to plant shade trees in residents’ yards was also approved, with the city allocating $10,000 for the project.

– An absentee ballot drop-off box has been placed outside of City Hall for use by the community in the November elections.

– Mayor Garrett proclaimed September 21, 2020 as Simone Mize-Gregg Citizenship Day in honor of Derek Mize and Jonathan Gregg’s legal battle for their adopted daughter to be declared a U.S. citizen. The couple joined the Zoom call with their daughter to thank the Mayor and commission.

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