Greenspace and connectivity were discussed as major priorities for the upcoming year during a Brookhaven City Council panel discussion at the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
Mayor John Ernst and three other council members discussed what they plan to prioritize in their districts during the panel, which took place on Feb. 17 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Atlanta Perimeter Dunwoody on Chamblee Dunwoody Road. District 2 Councilmember John Park was not present due to a work conflict.
Each council and the mayor laid out what they wanted to concentrate on during the upcoming year.
Mayor John Ernst
Ernst said in 2022 he would like to prioritize connectivity, focus on the city’s new Special Services District, and hopefully start to pull the city out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council voted to create a special tax district called a Special Services District at a December 2021 meeting. The district would have certain business owners pay more property taxes to fund infrastructure improvements in the city, and the council reviewed a draft list of projects during its annual City Council advance meeting earlier this month.
The next steps involve a public engagement process to help decide which projects might be funded through the special district.
“That’s going to be a big, major push this next year, picking projects and moving them forward,” Ernst said.
Ernst also said he expected the end of February to bring an end to Brookhaven’s COVID-19 State of Emergency Orders. He also discussed the city’s handling of the pandemic, including the decision to allow expanded outdoor dining after the state lifted some COVID-19 restrictions in April of 2020, and the designation of $725,000 of federal funding to help residents who had fallen behind on rent.
“I’m really proud of the fact that Brookhaven worked very quick,” Ernst said. “Get the money, get the money out.”
Councilmember Linley Jones, District 1
Councilmember Linley Jones said that during 2022, she wanted to prioritize greenspace and connectivity, particularly a multi-use along Ashford Dunwoody Road.
“We are going to be filling in the gaps in the path … that is going to run all the way from Peachtree all the way up to I-285,” Jones said. “I hope that’s important to those of you who have businesses in District 1.”
Jones also said the city would be looking to acquire more greenspace for District 1 in order to fill in gaps and make it easier for residents to be able to easily get from one outdoor space to another.
“We are continuing to put in additional pieces of path, additional pieces of sidewalk, additional pieces of trail, in various locations so you can get from point A to point B,” Jones said. “And really so that our citizens, despite living in an urban area, have all the benefits of being outside and enjoying the kind of outdoor activities you can enjoy when you have lots and lots of connectivity.”
Jones also briefly discussed the location for the city’s new City Hall building, but said no decisions have yet been made.
Councilmember Madeleine Simmons, District 3
Councilmember Madeleine Simmons echoed Jones about the importance of connectivity and greenspace, and said she would like to focus on two parks in particular, District 3’s Brookhaven Park and the newer Langford Park.
Brookhaven passed a $40 million park bond in 2018, which included improvements for Brookhaven Park. However, improvements for the park were delayed due to a dispute between the city and county. The western portion of the park is owned by the city, while DeKalb County owns the eastern part. The city has been trying to purchase the county’s half of the park for years, and sued the county in January of 2021 to try and force it to transfer ownership.
DeKalb County issued access easements to the city in July of 2021 so the city could begin work in the park, but Simmons said the lawsuit is still ongoing.
“We’re hopeful that the case is going to resolve and we’re able to beautify the park this year,” Simmons said.
The city purchased the property at 1174 Pine Grove Ave., now known as Langford Park, in April of 2020 and approved a contract to begin the planning process for the park in June of 2021.
“We’ve been working very diligently with the city administration to identify funding to be able to develop that park into a pavilion and a playground and a place where people can gather,” Simmons said.
Simmons discussed Brookhaven’s City Centre project, which is expected to go before the City Council for approval on March 22 and is meant to create a framework for a possible downtown area and guide future developments in the commercial area along Peachtree Road. Connectivity is a major focus of the City Centre project, she said.
“A lot of the feedback that we got from community members was really a focus on connectivity of the different areas of this city,” Simmons said. “Can we have more connectivity … to make people be able to better get around and enjoy all of the wonderful businesses that so many of you all have here in Brookhaven?”
Councilmember John Funny, District 4
Councilmember John Funny, who was elected to serve District 4 in 2021, said he also planned to prioritize greenspace and connectivity, as well as to preserve the cultural identity of the Buford Highway area.
Funny said it would be important to preserve Buford Highway as a global, diverse area within the city. Brookhaven adopted a resolution to designate Buford Highway as a cultural hub of the city at a Jan. 11 council meeting, and held a press conference introducing the resolution on Feb. 18.
“We want to make certain that Buford Highway receives the appropriate development or redevelopment of areas that can retain our international brothers and sisters,” Funny said.
Funny also said that the city is looking to increase the amount of connectivity and park space in District 4.
“We’re looking to increase greenspace in District 4, to provide access to recreational facilities and parks,” he said. “We have the Peachtree Creek Greenway … that’s our Beltline.”
The first mile of the Peachtree Creek Greenway opened in December of 2019, and Funny said the second phase is currently in the design step. The third phase of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, which would extend the trail from Briarwood Road to the Chamblee city line, is one of the projects that the council discussed as a possibility to receive funding from the Special Services District.
Funny also said that the city’s new public safety building is expected to be completed on June 30. The new building will be located along the Peachtree Creek Greenway at 1793 Briarwood Road and will hold the Brookhaven Police Department and the city’s municipal court.