Residents urge DeKalb County to issue stop-work order for public safety training centerSeveral residents and activists spoke during the DeKalb Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 16 to urge the county to issue a stop work order on the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. Several people stood in solidarity during the public comments. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
This story has been updated.
DeKalb County, GA — Several residents and activists urged DeKalb County to issue a stop work order on the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. Various residents raised concerns about the development during the DeKalb Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, Feb. 16.
Resident Amy Taylor lives near the site of the public safety training center.
“My community has used this forest to leisurely walk their dogs, utilize bike trails that have been created over time and connect to nature,” Taylor said. “That was before we were prohibited to enter the property in 2021 by its owner, the city of Atlanta. I had no idea, nor did my neighbors, what would come to threaten life as we knew it and our peaceful little neighborhood – a police training facility less than 250 feet from my home.”
The Atlanta Police Foundation is constructing an 85-acre police/fire training facility located in DeKalb County’s South River Forest, called “Cop City” by activists. The location has historically been the Old Atlanta Prison Farm site.
The project will cost approximately $90 million. The area will feature a burn tower; space for high-speed chases, a helicopter pad, a shooting range, and a mock village. One-third of the bill will come directly from taxpayers, and the other two-thirds will come through the Atlanta Police Foundation, a collection of private non-profits who financially support APD in various ways. The land will be leased to the Atlanta Police Foundation for $10 per year.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a member of the advisory committee helping to oversee the project, Amy Taylor, is appealing the county’s issuance of a land disturbance permit that would allow construction to move forward.
The South River Watershed Alliance and DeKalb Commissioner Ted Terry joined Taylor in filing a complaint in Fulton County Superior Court on Feb. 13 seeking to halt construction activities related to the training center.
“My community has no voice or decision-making power in this matter other than my representation on the community stakeholder’s advisory committee,” Taylor said. “I’m only on the committee to guide the development to make it more palatable for those of us who will live next to it. I am not in support of this development destroying the South River Watershed Forest.”
She added that the development will create soil erosion that would cause runoff and sedimentation into Intrenchment Creek in the South River.
“This not only affects me and my neighborhood, but the sedimentation will quickly fill in the river channel, causing major flooding in the area and a greater expense in damages and decreased property values in South DeKalb,” Taylor said.
She urged the commissioners to encourage the county’s zoning board of appeals to permanently suspend the land disturbance permit.
“Atlanta can move their project. We cannot move the forest and the South River,” Taylor said. “The loss of these natural resources would be catastrophic to the area at large. Please help me save it and better save our community.”
During public comment, several speakers echoed Taylor’s concerns and also urged the county to issue a stop work order. Residents stood in solidarity for each speaker who spoke about the public safety training center.
The debate over constructing the facility has become international news. Police officers shot and killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Paez Teran, 26, on Jan. 18 near the site, and a state Trooper was wounded during the incident, which has resulted in several protests.
DeKalb County also recently released an inspection of the public safety training center site at 1350 Constitution Road and 561 Key Road.
In April 2022, the county’s planning and sustainability department received an application for a land disturbance permit on behalf of the Atlanta Police Foundation. The county reviewed the application, which included reviewing the following:
— A site plan
— Grading and drainage plans
— Stormwater management/hydrology report
— An erosion, sedimentation and pollution control plan
— A tree preservation and replacement plan
— A stream buffer variance request
— A biological assessment of any critical habitat, and endangered and threatened species, and
— A flood study
The county issued the land disturbance permit on Feb. 2. On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the county did an on-site inspection of the property. The county received various complaints claiming that unspecified grading, clearing and excavation were taking place on the site. According to the report, the inspectors determined that the work on the site is limited to:
— Path clearing for the installation of initial BMP measures, specifically a perimeter silt fence.
— Tree removal along the site perimeter to make way for silt fence installation.
— Flagging of limits of clearings and stream buffers.
“All work observed is authorized by the land development permit, as issued,” the report states. “Additionally, no mass grading or land disturbance was detected.”
Phase one of the land development process allows for the installation of best management practices, which are measures designed to control soil erosion and sedimentation during construction. It includes silt fences, mulch filter berms and temporary sediment basins, the report states. Construction cannot begin until the county conducts an on-site inspection and approved the BMP measures, and issues a written notice to proceed.
To view the full inspection report, click here. To view the investigation report, click here.
Editor and Publisher Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this story.
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