The Atlanta City Council unanimously approved the use of eminent domain for 10 properties in Southwest Atlanta to make way for the Atlanta Beltline.
The move marks the first time Atlanta officials may use the controversial practice to grow the development project which aims to transform blighted land into a 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit.
Atlanta officials plan to use seven of the parcels to expand Enota Park in the Westview community. The other three parcels will enable the city to build the two-mile Southwest Connector Trail, linking John A. White Park to the Beltline.
George Dusenbury, commissioner of the city’s parks, recreation and cultural affairs department, said eminent domain is a last-resort option.
“Our hope is always to be able to negotiate,” Dusenbury said, noting that most properties are abandoned lots and no one is displaced by the move.
“Unfortunately there’s no other way to fulfill the promise of the Beltline,” he said.
The Trust for Public Land, a greenspace nonprofit, and the Atlanta Beltline Inc. have worked to secure the necessary properties since the mid-2000s, he said. A year ago, city officials began direct negotiations with property owners, a task that proved difficult because many lots are abandoned or tied up in tax liens and litigation.
Of the roughly 20 parcels needed to expand Enota Park, only a third will be acquired through eminent domain, Dusenbury said.
City officials needed easement rights on 13 parcels for the trail and were able to reach a deal with most of those owners. Though the city council approved pursuing eminent domain for three of those properties, Dusenbury said he believes the city will only exercise that option with one parcel. In that case, the property owner died without a will and an heir has not stepped forward.
Dozens of residents from the Westview neighborhood attended Monday’s meeting on the legislation and applauded the council’s move. Many said the abandoned properties are preventing economic development in their community.
“I understand that eminent domain is not something to be taken lightly, but this neighborhood that I’ve lived in for four years has been held hostage by absentee landlords,” resident Claudia Hicks said. “This (project) would add a great deal to our community.”
David Cater, who has lived in Westview since 2001, said while he’s generally wary of eminent domain, it was critical for the project to move forward.
“I’m a fiscal conservative and I believe strongly it shouldn’t be taken lightly,” he said at the meeting. “That said, there is a place for it and it sounds like the homeowners have had ample time to (work) with the city.”
Only one resident — Atlanta City Hall regular Ron Shakir — spoke against the project, citing concerns the Beltline expansion would lead to gentrification.
No parcel is expected to cost more than $20,000 and will be paid for out of a park improvement fund, Dusenbury said.
Property owners can dispute the city’s plans in court.