Blackhall Studios has conceived and proposed a land swap to DeKalb County involving a large portion of Intrenchment Creek Park. The studio maintains it is beneficial to both parties and the surrounding communities. DeKalb County has not reached a conclusion. The Chief Operating Officer of DeKalb County and the Parks and Recreation Department have been responding to this request to determine its legal, environmental and practical viability.

My position is that the swap must be evaluated, the facts must be determined and the case must be presented to the public. I informed the County COO that an ecological, recreational, financial and land use study must be completed AND the benefits have to be clearly advantageous to DeKalb county citizens who have helped pay for the purchase of Intrenchment Creek. Currently, there is no agenda item pending before the Board of Commissioners who has the governing authority to approve acquisition and disposition of land.

As a part of their proposal, Blackhall Studios has stated they are willing to replace any and all improvements within Intrenchment Creek Park including the trail, trailhead, parking and miniature airstrip for radio-controlled aircraft. State law requires that the value of the land received by the County must be greater than the value traded away. Blackhall proposes to trade 55 acres for 50 acres of park property.

The County has performed property appraisals.  The Blackhall property values exceed the financial value of the County land. Other Studies are in process as well as Historical research of the Records. Missing has been an evaluation of the ecological and recreational values of the properties. Are the lands under consideration comparable in those terms? It is my understanding that the Chief Operating Officer is seeking an evaluation.

From a land use planning perspective, Blackhall believes the swap will result in a better arrangement of residential and industrial properties. The movie studio generates a significant amount of truck traffic. Under the swap, Blackhall would have their operations concentrated on Constitution Road and would be able to keep their trucks off Bouldercrest Road, which has a more residential character. Blackhall further argues that the consolidation of open space will be beneficial to the larger community.  These are legitimate land use considerations.

Another important consideration is the extension of a multi-purpose trail through the area. DeKalb County and the PATH Foundation have been building the South River Trail for about 20 years. It is a grand effort that will connect Intrenchment Creek Park/ Key Road area to Arabia Mountain and Panola Mountain on into Rockdale County. Much of it is built. I have been working with many stakeholders to extend the trail from Intrenchment Creek Park north to reach the Beltline. How the proposed swap could help or hinder extension of the trail north to the Beltline is another piece of the land use and recreational evaluations.

Another consideration that has been loosely thrown into some of the Blackhall presentations to some of the community groups is economic development. This is harder to quantify but my position is that there has to be some baseline initiatives, which are documented and measurable. Blackhall has made a major investment in DeKalb County and they intend to expand. While many jobs have been created, most are for people outside DeKalb County. Over time this may change, and local people may gain opportunities with appropriate, target training programs.  It is my understanding that the County and Blackhall are discussing creating some sort of tangible program that provides opportunities for local students and residents.

The proposed swap does not include the land bordering Intrenchment Creek.  The historical research shows that the grant used to purchase this property was based upon a Scope for the South River initiative, which targeted the protection and preservation of this important tributary of the South River.  The acquisition of Intrenchment Creek land and Constitution Lakes were to provide educational and recreational opportunities while insuring no negative impact to the water quality of the South River.  While it is clear that Constitution Lakes was to be a low impact area, Intrenchment was envisioned as a mix of passive use near the Creek and “a multi-use sports area” elsewhere.  Part of the ecological and recreational evaluations should be to determine if the Creek will continue to be protected and where to best locate recreational opportunities.

The swap also does not include the “prison farm”. The ultimate use for the prison farm property, which abuts the other side of Intrenchment Creek, is largely controlled by the City of Atlanta, its owner. Though many people would like the property to become a park, or permanent open space, the City has not determined the future use of this property. I will continue to urge DeKalb County to initiate joint planning for this adjacent important asset.

I understand that rumors have been flowing, Blackhall feels like they have been discussing this for a very long time, some neighboring communities have been given limited information and others feel ignored in what clearly has been a lack of process.

I believe we now have a handle on the process; what information is needed by the Board of Commissioners and the types of evaluations needed to provide this information.  As soon as we know – YOU will know. Commissioner Larry Johnson and I have offered to host a Public Meeting to share the findings, hear the County’s recommendations and your thoughts, as we strive to come to a conclusion for the future benefit of our community’s residents and businesses.

Thank you for your patience.

Kathie Gannon, Commissioner, Super District 6