City of Atlanta Threatens Mattie Jackson, 93; Whole Peoplestown Block With Eminent Domain
(APN) ATLANTA — One of Atlanta’s most revered community leaders–Mattie Jackson, 93–is in danger of losing her home to eminent domain as the City moves forward with plans to bulldoze two city blocks in Summerhill-Peoplestown in order to install stormwater detention ponds.
The stretches of Ormond Street and Atlanta Ave. in question were part of the Summerhill neighborhood until the area was redistricted last year; now they are part of Peoplestown.
Mattie Jackson has lived in and advocated for the neighborhoods her entire life.
As a Board Member of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, Jackson was instrumental in securing a Community Benefits Agreement when the Olympic Stadium (now Turner Field) was constructed, ensuring that jobs and revenue flowed to those impacted by the development.
She even ran with the Olympic torch in 1996, when she was in her seventies.
But her most persistent service hasn’t always been about impacting policy or making the news.
“If two people come to me and say they’re hungry and I have a pot of food in my kitchen, then I feed them in my kitchen. If more and more people come and say they’re hungry then I set up tables on the street with a sign and feed the people,” Jackson said in an interview with Atlanta Progressive News.
“She’s a community activist. A civil rights activist,” Joyce Dorsey, who is president of the Fulton County Community Action Authority and a close friend to Jackson, said.
The current trouble started in 2012, when heavy rains caused flooding in homes near Turner Field. Acres of parking lots surrounding the stadium created massive runoff.
Jackson didn’t have flooding in her home, but some of her neighbors did.
A few of them sued the City, and the Department of Watershed Management set out to develop a comprehensive plan to fix the stormwater problem.
In just two years the Department made real progress, diverting 13.34 million gallons of rainwater by installing numerous rain gardens and bioswales, repaving six miles of roads with permeable material, and constructing a five-million gallon water storage vault under one of the Turner Field parking lots, according to a Department report.
Then, in September 2014, the Watershed Department unveiled a new plan: citing a need to divert ten million more gallons of water, Watershed Management Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina proposed to construct another underground storage vault in a Summerhill park, as well as a system of “capacity relief ponds” in place of homes that had flooded.
In other words: save homes from flooding by demolishing them and replacing them with ponds.
This makes little sense considering the City didn’t implement the full plan put forth by a design and engineering firm it contracted to respond to the flooding problem.
Gresham, Smith and Partners created a comprehensive plan that included the rainwater gardens and bioswales, permeable pavers, and underground vaults already mentioned.
But it also proposed to replace a portion of Turner Field’s giant parking lot with a large greenspace that could curb runoff by absorbing water.
“Paying homage to the Braves while providing stormwater retention and green infrastructure, the Proposed Atlanta Fulton County Wet Pond will include jogging trails, walkways, recreation areas, and an elevated amphitheater for outdoor entertainment,” the project description read.
But the Department of Watershed Management never greenlighted this part of the firm’s proposal, and instead came up with its own plan to demolish twenty-nine houses.
Dorsey told APN that in May of this year, 2015, the City offered 212,000 dollars for Jackson’s home and gave the elderly woman sixty days to make a decision.
“She’s lived here for forty-seven years. She’s lived in this community all her life. She’s ninety-three years old, and you’re talking about sixty days to figure out how to leave?” Dorsey said.
Jackson’s family fears what will happen if she has to move to another neighborhood where she doesn’t have friends or support.
Summerhill and Peoplestown are gentrifying, and housing prices have spiked.
Dorsey says the family hasn’t had success finding a comparable house for $212,000 in the neighborhood.
“I want to be right here in this community where I was born. I don’t have no business being in nobody else’s community,” Jackson said.
Her family is in the process of getting a second appraisal on Jackson’s house.
Jackson’s neighbors have had similar frustrations.
“It’s like dealing with the mob. It’s not a negotiation. It’s their way or no way,” Dwayne Adgar, who lives near Jackson on Ormond Street, told APN.
Adgar says Markus Butts, a Watershed Department manager, told residents at a City Council meeting last year that the City appraiser would use “Grant Park prices,” meaning homes in nearby, affluent Grant Park would be included in a sales comparison to determine home values.
Adgar’s appraisal included no Grant Park houses; instead, the appraiser listed five comparisons that were riddled with problems.
On the list was a house that sold for 91,000 dollars in 2013 and was flipped for 293,000 dollars in 2014.
Instead of using the lastest sale price, the appraiser used the much lower one, saying it was a better comparison because the higher price accounted for the cost of renovations. The appraiser apparently didn’t consider how high demand has inflated housing prices all over Atlanta, regardless of physical improvements.
The list also included a house that, according to the appraiser’s own description, is in “an area that is not as desirable as the main project area on Ormond Street. This type of analysis is the opposite of what Butts promised. That house sold for 106,000 dollars.
The highest priced house on the list was 155,000 dollars, and had not yet been sold at the time of the appraisal. It was under contract for that amount, and therefore subject to change.
Based on these questionable sources, the city initially offered Adgar 122,000 dollars. Adgar emailed a complaint to Butts, Councilwoman Carla Smith (District 1), and two employees of an acquisitions company that was handling the process on behalf of the City. He says he never received a response to his email.
Three months later, on August 17, 2015, he received a letter with an offer of $148,925––still less than what he says he needs in order to stay in the neighborhood.
The letter gave him until August 31 to send a “satisfactory reply” or else face “legal proceedings.”
Another neighbor, Malcolm Jones, said he never even saw an official appraisal from the city.
“They just sent me an offer in the low 100s and gave me ten days to get my own appraisal… I feel like I’m bear-hunting with a water pistol. I’m defenseless,” Jones said.
A City of Atlanta spokesperson wanted to comment when contacted on Friday afternoon, but was unable to reach officials because it was Labor Day weekend and many people were already out of the office.
Ms. Jackson and her neighbors are running out of time. The Urban Design Commission (UDC) will consider whether to grant a permit to demolish their homes on Wednesday, September 09, 2015. The UDC meeting will take place at 4pm in the Old Council Chambers at Atlanta City Hall.
APN’s Editor, who served on the FACAA Board of Directors with Jackson, has created a Facebook event page for the Commission meeting here:
Ms. Jackson demurred at many points during her interview, saying that she isn’t trying to a point finger at anyone or start any trouble.
She just wants to stay in her home, or at least be treated to a fair relocation.
Her daughter, Cheryl Ansley-Calhoun, was more forthright.
“We’re going to fight for her. She’s taken care of everybody for so long. Now it’s time for all of us to take care of her,” Ansley-Calhoun said.