The Gist

- Brookhaven City Council rejected a resolution aimed at redeveloping blighted areas of the city.
- Residents were concerned about whether the measure could expand the city’s eminent domain powers.
- One councilmember supported the resolution, saying it would give the city more say in redevelopment along Buford Highway.

The Brookhaven City Council rejected a resolution that under Georgia law would have allowed the city to redevelop “blighted” areas of the community after residents expressed concern during a Tuesday meeting. 

During a Nov. 30 Brookhaven City Council meeting, the council rejected a resolution stating that one or more “pockets of blight” exist in the city. Passing this resolution would have been a prerequisite for the city to exercise any powers under the state’s Urban Redevelopment Law. The law allows cities to redevelop areas in its borders that might be under-utilized or dilapidated and to create an Urban Redevelopment Authority to help implement the redevelopment. 

During public comment before the vote, many residents expressed concern over the resolution’s effect on the city’s eminent domain powers, which is the right of the government to take private property for public use. Residents also raised concerns about how the city would go about designating areas as blighted, and if the public would have any input. 

A couple of residents also worried the law would create a more “cookie-cutter” aesthetic for Brookhaven and that neighborhoods would lose their individual character.

“Our property has been family-owned for over 50 years, we’re fully operational, well-maintained, and we’re always reinvesting into it and improving it,” said Eugenie Viener, who owns a business located around the intersection of Ashford Dunwoody Road and Johnson Ferry Road. “We might not be cookie-cutter, but we really enjoy and are passionate about taking care of … the location.” 

Residents’ fears appeared to come from a social media post about the resolution, which a city spokesperson confirmed came from Nextdoor, a social networking app for neighborhoods. Councilmember Linley Jones, who made the initial motion to reject the resolution, criticized the post for spreading “false information” about the city’s intent to use eminent domain. 

“False social media posts are not helpful to this or any other discussion, and they only serve to create unnecessary fear and anxiety,” Jones said. “We do not intend to exercise [eminent domain] willy nilly on anything that someone may consider blighted. That is not what any of this is about.”  

City Attorney Chris Balch said that the Urban Redevelopment Law does not expand the city’s eminent domain powers. According to the law, the city or Urban Redevelopment Authority would not be able to acquire property through eminent domain unless that property would be used for public use. Balch added that the authority and the City Council would be required to vote to approve any use of eminent domain. 

Jones said the council had not yet officially designated any area of the city as “blighted,” which was another worry that residents had. However, Councilmember Joe Gebbie said if the resolution had passed it would most likely affect areas along Buford Highway, and Balch said that there were properties in at least four areas of the city that would be “likely deemed” to meet the law’s definition of “underutilized” or “outdated and obsolete” if the resolution had passed. 

Jones said she believes that the Urban Redevelopment Law is a good idea “under the right circumstances,” but said she would like to have a more concrete project for redevelopment to bring to residents before moving forward.

“While I think it’s a really good idea in the future, I think the timing is not right,” Jones said. “I don’t think it would have done a bit of harm to pass it now, except it could create the kind of fear we’re seeing tonight.” 

Gebbia was the only member to vote in favor of the resolution. He said he worried waiting would give the city less of a voice in the type of redevelopment that takes place along the Buford Highway Corridor.

“I think the timing is right,” Gebbia said. “It’s going to take the administration time to make sure that we really solidify this opportunity and do it in the most constructive way for everybody.”

Viener spoke again during the meeting’s second public comment, thanking the council for their decision. 

Writer and Journalist Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.