Stone Mountain City Council completes purchase of Baptist Lawn propertyTop row, left to right: Jeff Strickland, James Westerfield, Gil Freeman, Gina Stroud-Cox, Teresa Crowe, Darnetta Tyus, Clint Monroe, Chakira Johnson, Shawnette Bryant. Bottom row, left to right: Shawntez Edmonson, Beverly Jones, Michael Brown, Dan Ergle, Rusty Hamby. Photo by Jaedon Mason
Stone Mountain, GA — Before its Dec. 19 meeting, the Stone Mountain City Council closed on the purchase of the Baptist Lawn property.
This is the greenspace that is across from Main Street in the heart of the city that was the site for a potential housing development earlier this year.
The City ultimately elected to deny the rezoning request needed for the development to continue, and purchase the Baptist Lawn from the First Baptist Church of Stone Mountain with $1.1 million in ARPA funds.
The purchase was approved by council at the end of a special called meeting in August, and Tuesday Mayor Beverly Jones and Representatives of the Board of Trustees for First Baptist met before the meeting in order to publicly sign the documents that finalize the transfer of property.
City Manager Darnetta Tyus said, “A year ago, we gave a presentation to the council about securing assets for the city” recalling the process she and her team had been through acquiring this property.
“We reached out to the leadership of First Baptist Church of Stone Mountain and began negotiating with them,” Tyus said. “The signing today concludes that process but begins a journey for this council and the community at large, because we’ve got to figure out what we want to make the space together.”
City Manager Tyus announced that the plan is to turn the space into an amphitheater, and around the meeting room were posters with images of different potential designs of what the amphitheater could look like.
Tyus said that the first step in the input process for the property is going to be Community Table Talks beginning early next year. Once the vision has been crystallized, the city will move forward into a design phase.
“It [The Baptist Lawn] will be used for little things here and there in the meantime,” Tyus said. “But we are eager to embark on this journey with our community.”
The signing served as an informal sort of holiday party, giving City Manager Tyus and the public a chance to send off the outgoing council members. Tyus said Councilmember Clint Monroe, who lost his reelection bid this year, is a, “Genuinely good person,” that Council Member Chakira Johnson was “A repository of information” and thanked Councilmember Gina Stroud-Cox, who also lost her reelection bid, “For holdin’ it down for Sherman town…for being an advocate for your community, not just paying lip service.”
Parks were central to the second piece of big news coming out of the meeting. The Parks and Rec committee was an issue of significant discussion. Members of the Parks and Recreation committee came under the mistaken assumption that because other committees had members submitting letters of intent for re-appointment, they needed to as well. However, several of their terms were not set to expire till April 2024.
This confusion spawned further confusion, as council discussed what to do with these letters of intent.
All attendees spent over an hour and a half going back and forth on the subject, attempting to correct each other about the specifics of how long members had been serving, when they had been appointed and how terms were decided.
Eventually, the city attorney recommended disbanding the Parks and Rec committee and re-appointing the members for terms starting Jan. 1, 2024, in order to wipe the slate clean and clarify the duration of terms.
Mayor Beverly Jones elected to do this and appointed six members of the seven-person committee: Gina Stroud-Cox, Joan Monroe, Rev. Orea Parker, Stacey Green, Beverly Howard-Patterson and Demetra Williams.
Several attendees were frustrated at this conclusion, with everyone accusing everyone else of playing politics.
Councilmember Gil Freeman previously spoke on the “an incestuous consolidation of influence” making a point to ask every potential member of previous commissions whether their spouse had served on any other boards. But he didn’t question the appointment of Joan Monroe, wife of Councilmember Clint Monroe.
The mayor was chastised publicly and privately by members of the audience for taking advantage of the confusion as an opportunity to exert personal influence on the selection process.
Normally, the city manager has an appointment to the committee that serves to liaise between the Parks and Rec committee and public works. This is because park maintenance is public works responsibility and the department falls under the purview of the City Manager. The city manager themselves can actually serve on the committee, but Mayor Jones bristled when Tyus suggested she would serve. In response to this, and despite a warning from the city attorney, the mayor elected to not allow for the city manager’s service on or appointment to the committee.
Mayor Jones also appointed Demetra Williams (who was not in attendance at the meeting) who had originally submitted a letter of interest—notably at the mayor’s behest—for the Historical Preservation Committee.
Ultimately, the appointments stood with the city attorney stating he’d still be open to reviewing anything that formalized how Parks and Rec is run.
In other news:
– There was the final public hearing about Lucky Food Mart’s application to sell alcoholic beverages. Several members of the public referred to the store as a liquor store which is incorrect, Lucky Food Mart was applying for the specific designation allowing “Package sale” a designation that refers to sales of beer and wine in their original packaging for consumption off-premises. This public hearing has been postponed multiple times, but the owner of the store, Shiraz Porbunderwalla, came in and spoke about training employees to strictly adhere to the law. He said he had followed the correct procedure in applying for permits and that after posting his intent to acquire an alcohol license for the requisite amount of time, no one came in to express opposition, and that it was his impression that people in the area were fine with it.
No one spoke in favor of development.
Several community members spoke in opposition, complaining about the store being there in the first place. Community members argued it would be a den of debauchery in their small, quiet community.
The council unanimously denied Porbunderwalla’s application.
– City Manager Tyus went over changes made based on council suggestions to the budget. Council mostly called for more breakdowns of specific areas, but one notable substantive change was a cut to the communications team (Pivot Path) budget for 2024.
– The City Manager requested approval to install traffic-calming devices for 4th Street. Councilmembers Shawnette Bryant and Gil Freeman said wasn’t fair to move forward with this traffic-calming due to the ordeal Bryant had to go through meeting the demands of the city for traffic-calming on Rockborough Road. They asked to be able to personally review the signatures on the petitions.
The two situations differ, as the Rockborough Road traffic study did not ultimately recommend calming, whereas 4th Street traffic study did recommend it. Councilmember Stroud-Cox, who was spearheading this initiative, was also able to produce the petitions, but discrepancies were found, so the matter was postponed.
– The Council voted to deny without prejudice the application for a variance and the rezoning request submitted by Christopher Hunt. This type of denial allows for Hunt to resubmit without waiting the requisite roughly nine-month period that would normally be required. Hunt did modify his application, however, the proposal still had the building interceding into the impervious buffer zone and increased the amount of units on the property to 18 from 12. Hunt began arguing with members of council, before the police told him to leave.
– The Council also approved the $179,550.00 the use of SPLOST 1 funds to buy Flock Safety cameras, this matter was urgent because the price is going to go up.
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