Bond, Dickens Seek to Reverse Eminent Domain in Peoplestown
Atlanta City Councilmembers Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large) and Andre Dickens (Post 3-at-large) have introduced legislation asking the Law Department to cease its eminent domain actions against Bertha and Robert Darden, Prof. Tanya Washington, and Dwayne Adgar.
The legislation, Ordinance 19-O-1518, is pending before City Utilities Committee and will be heard in Committee Room 1 at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 10, 2019.
It has also been referred to Finance/Executive Committee. If it passes out of City Utilities, it will be heard in Finance on Wednesday, September 11, at 1 p.m.
“I’m incredibly grateful because I feel like it signals they recognize something is wrong, and that it deserves the consideration it did not receive when the ordinance was passed in 2014,” Washington told Atlanta Progressive News.
The proposed ordinance, which is brief, reads in pertinent part as follows:
“WHEREAS, Ms. Tanya Washington, Mr. & Mrs. Darden, and Mr. Dwayne Adgar (the “Parties”) are residents of the Peoplestown neighborhood in the City of Atlanta; and
“WHEREAS, persistent flooding in their neighborhood caused the City in 2017 [sic] to pursue eminent domain of her property [sic] to prevent storm water flooding issues; and
“WHEREAS, it is in the best interest of the City to withdraw all condemnation actions against the Parties and to enter into any settlement negotiations.
“THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ATLANTA, GEORGIA, HEREBY ORDAINS, as follows:
“SECTION 1: That the City of Atlanta Law Department withdraw all condemnation actions by the City of Atlanta against Ms. Tanya Washington, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Darden, and Mr. Dwayne Adgar.
“SECTION 2: That the City Law Department enter into any necessary settlement negotiations with all parties…”
In 2014, the City approved legislation by Councilwoman Carla Smith (District 1) to authorize that the City take the homes of several Peoplestown residents through eminent domain.
The intent was to create a park with a pond to retain water in an area generally affected by flooding.
However, evidence reviewed by Atlanta Progressive News and withheld by the City until after Washington’s eminent domain hearing, shows that the City was aware it did not need to take the homes it was trying to take in order to address the flooding issues in Peoplestown.
Some 35,000 pieces of paper were withheld by the City, according to Washington.
“Highly relevant, not just anything. Like, how did you miss this?” she said.
“The main thing that was revealed is, at the time that they were deciding they needed the block, the project manager and city engineer in charge of that, were saying they didn’t have the engineering data to support the conclusion,” Washington said.
In 2015, Atlanta Progressive News reported that the City was threatening to take the home of Mattie Jackson, who at the time was ninety years old. Community advocates and residents rallied around “Ms. Mattie.”
Shortly thereafter, then-Mayor Kasim Reed made a surprise executive decision to promise Jackson that she could stay in the home as long as she wanted to stay there. But the City’s continued its actions against the rest of the square block.
Several homeowners impacted by the eminent domain decided to sell their homes to the City of Atlanta.
However, three holdouts have been tied up in court: the Dardens, Washington, and Mr. Adgar.
In 2017, Atlanta Progressive News was there in Fulton County Superior Court when Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall oversaw the hearing regarding the taking of Washington’s home.
While the City’s case for eminent domain appeared weak, Judge Schwall later signed the City’s proposed order to approve the taking.
Since then, Washington’s case has been embroiled in a lengthy appeal.
After the City revealed a new batch of documents in discovery, including emails undermining the City’s case for taking, Washington sought a new hearing.
Judge Schwall did not grant the new hearing, but allowed Washington to seek an intermediate appeal to the Court of Appeals of Georgia on the issue of whether to get a new hearing.
The Court of Appeals remanded the case back to Schwall for further proceedings on the fair market value of the home, where the case is currently pending.
In the meantime, Robert and Bertha Darden had a meeting on April 30, 2019, with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Mayor Bottoms’s spokesperson told CBS 46 that they thought the meeting was productive and that they would keep an open line of communication with the Dardens.
Subsequent to the meeting, the Mayor’s Office asked for a possible workaround or alternative plan to address flooding without taking the Dardens’ home, Washington says.
Washington says those alternative plans were provided to the Mayor’s Office shortly thereafter.
Councilman Dickens did not immediately respond to a text seeking comment.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)