Brookhaven’s Public Works Department has implemented a right of way policy to clear up confusion for property owners and city officials when it comes to ensuring the areas are well maintained and free of obstructions.

Public Works Director Hari Karikaran informed the mayor and City Council at its Aug. 22 work session that the policy sets up a clear definition of right of way and the responsibility of property owners adjacent to the city’s rights of way, informing them that permanent fixtures, such as fences, cannot be installed in city rights of way.

“When the city is trying to enforce right of way issues … all is just not clear for the city,” Karikaran said. “There is also confusion for citizens on what is the right of way.”

Public right of way is defined as the area on, below or around a roadway that the government holds for the benefit of the public and where, for example, a sidewalk, curbing or utility infrastructure exists or could exist in the future, city spokesperson Burke Brennan said. Some roads in the city may have rights of way ranging from 40 feet (20 feet on each side of the road) to as much as 90 feet (45 feet of each side of the road).

As a fairly new city, residents and city staff continue to raise questions about who is responsible for what when it comes to the public right of way.

Defining and enforcing a right of way policy will allow the city to ensure it is able to undertake infrastructure projects, including road paving, sidewalks, multi-use paths, stormwater maintenance and utility work, Karikaran said.

Councilmember Linley Jones raised the issue of poor sidewalks near Montgomery Elementary School on Ashford-Dunwoody Road. Homeowners along Ashford-Dunwoody have said they are not responsible for the sidewalks because of the city’s right of way. That is not true under the new city policy, and the sidewalks are now the responsibility of homeowners, she said.

The new policy states property owners who have property abutting a public right of way are responsible for:
• Removing temporary obstructions from the public right of way, such as vehicles, trailers and stockpiled materials.
• Removing snow, ice, dirt/leaf accumulation from a sidewalk to ensure the safety of pedestrians.
• Removing plant materials, such as grass or weeds, growing into cracks in sidewalks.
• Repairing a sidewalk if it is damaged by neglect or abuse of the property owner, such as driving or allowing heavy vehicles onto the sidewalk.
• Trimming all trees within private property that grows into the public right of way.
• Maintaining the landscape buffer along the property in a safe and clean manner.

This typically includes the land between the curb or pavement edge and back of sidewalk. For example, some properties in Brookhaven have right of way outside a fenced-in perimeter or beyond a wooded area which has not been maintained by the property owner, explained Brennan.

“These areas are not exempt from the stipulations of this policy and property owners are required to maintain these areas as well,” he said.

Property owners are also required to:
• Remove unpermitted temporary and permanent objects from the right of way.
• Obtain right of way encroachment permits and/or tree removal permits from the city before cutting down healthy trees in the right of way.
• Not construct any permanent structure except a driveway or mailbox within the right of way.

The city is not responsible for:
• Removing healthy trees from the right of way.
• Removing trees from private property.
• Trimming trees on private properties that have overgrown into the right of way.
• Repairing any malfunctioning or leaking irrigation system/sprinkler system within the right of way.
• Repairing or installing private driveways.
• Repairing mailboxes.

The city will remove dead or hazardous trees from the right of way that are reported to the city and deemed dead or hazardous by the city’s arborist.

The policy goes on to say that the city will remove fallen trees only within public rights of way. However, any portion of a fallen tree that extends onto the private property is the responsibility of the property owner to remove, according the policy.

When the city begins a project such as road paving or widening, repairing or installing a sidewalk or path, or traffic calming measures, the city will notify property owners of any encroachments they have into the public right of way, Karikaran said.

If the property owner does not respond within a reasonable amount of time, the city will remove the encroachments and place them on the private property, according to the policy.

The policy also states that mailboxes removed from the right of way for a city project will be removed by the city and reinstalled at the city’s expense.

Any ornamental shrubbery that has to be removed will not be replaced by the city and trees within the right of way will be removed and property owners will not be compensated, he said.

Properties which do not comply with the policy and code could be subjected to citations and fines. If the city finds a violation, a written notice will be given by the city and the property owner requiring the property owner to fix the problem within a stated time given by the city.

If the property owner does not fix the issue within the stated time — such as moving a car parked in the right of way — the City Council has the authority to adopt a resolution to fix the issue and pass on all costs to the property owner, according to the ordinance.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.

3 replies on “Brookhaven tightens right of way policy”

  1. This policy has been needed in Brookhaven for some time. But here are a few statements in your article that may be in error.
    The area between the back of sidewalk and the right of way line is not as clearly defined in the ordinance as in your article. I realize your definition is what is desired, but better language in the policy is needed.

    Secondly, in your 7th paragraph, it is written that the sidewalks around Montgomery Elem are now the responsibility of the adjacent homeowners. First nothing in the policy makes it retroactive. Secondly the sidewalks were in disrepair before the policy was enacted when “owned by the COB/DeKalb” and may not meet ADA and additional width requirements based on historical pedestrian traffic. Leveling, widening, patching, and further improvement may be required to bring the sidewalks up to safe conditions prior to the citizens/homeowners becoming responsible. Besides the policy clearly states that the sidewalk would be the responsibility of the property owner if it was damaged by the property owner.
    There are a few other improvements that should be considered, but the above are the most glaring issues with the policy. I hope the COB is open to revising the existing policy to provide clear guidance for both the COB and its homeowners.

  2. What do they mean by the requirement to trim trees on private property that grow into the right of way? I hope that only pertains to trees that obstruct a sidewalk or the right of way and not to overhead branches that provide valuable shade to sidewalks and the street.

    As to power lines Georgia Power or other utilities have always cleared those – and unfortunately they have gotten far more aggressive about that.

    Bottom line the code should better define the trees that need to be trimmed so that its limited to trees that obstruct save passage of pedestrians, bikes or vehicles.

    1. Eric, in the policy it states that an overhead clearance of 7 ft or more should be maintained over the shoulder and I believe 14 ft over the adjacent road for truck clearances. Even if a sidewalk does not exist, the shoulder should be cleared of obstructions since people can use that area for walking or safety instead of walking in the road. Laterally the growth should not get into the sidewalk area. Some walk and others ride their bikes on the shoulder/sidewalks and they should not be affected by the overgrowth.
      I am surprised their was no public meeting or engagement of the community in preparing this policy. Don’t get me wrong…I’m all for it but where was the transparency and communication we have heard about from our leaders. Same for the fence and wall policy.

Comments are closed.