ATLANTA — The city of Atlanta will spend more than $6.3 million to settle a decade-long, sometimes bitter dispute with four property owners whose homes are delaying a flood control project in the Peoplestown neighborhood near Grant Park.
Interviewed by Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher during last fall’s mayoral runoff, then-candidate Andre Dickens said flatly of the holdouts: “They’re staying.”
But after he took office, Dickens began moving toward a deal.
Channel 2 Action News reported earlier this year that Dickens had met privately -- and without notifying reporters with the two most outspoken opponents to the demolition of their homes. It’s likely that Dickens also got an earful from city lawyers and the engineers who say the flood control project in Peoplestown has been delayed too long already.
The city council unanimously approved the buyouts Monday evening.
The city’s Department of Watershed Management is anxious to correct the problem of periodic, severe flooding that sweeps raw sewage and dangerous amounts of water down streets in Peoplestown.
Starting 10 years ago, the city acquired and demolished all but four homes in a city block bounded by Atlanta Avenue and Ormond Street. The city went to court and won the right to take the homes, but the owners resisted.
Tanya Washington, a Georgia State law professor, argued the city’s engineering data didn’t justify clearing out a whole block of her neighborhood.
“I don’t think the city should be rewarded for dragging its feet in turning over this critical (engineering) information,” she told Channel 2 Action News earlier this year,
Then-candidate Dickens promised the holdouts would stay during an interview last November.
“A Dickens’ administration, we’ll make sure that we design this pond and this park so that these four residents that are actually on the corners can stay because the pond and park can go in the middle of and they can still stay. They’re staying,” he told Belcher.
But once in office, Dickens changed his mind.
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His administration has negotiated a deal to spend more than $6.3 million to buy out the remaining homeowners, and the prices are substantially above current values.
One had already agreed to a $970,000 purchase price.
Monday, the public learned the prices of the other three homes. Bertha Darden and her husband will receive $1.9 million for their home listed on Zillow for $246,000.
Tanya Washington and her family will receive $1.975 million for a home listed on Zillow for $556,000.
The Jackson family will receive not quite $1.5 million.
“I don’t think it sends a bad message,” says newly elected Atlanta City Councilman Jason Winston, who represents the area.
“I think this is something that was negotiated in good faith, and the mayor was deeply involved in those negotiations,” Winston said.
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Channel 2 Action News asked why he believes the mayor changed his mind.
“Once he got in office, he got a chance to really see the need for the project and really wanted to see it through,” he told Belcher.
And Winston said he’s not especially curious about whether the city was operating on sufficient engineering data when it launched the condemnation move ten years ago.
“From my standpoint, I just wanted to make sure that all parties were satisfied and happy,” Winston said.
He is convinced the neighborhood and the larger region need the $60 million project. In a news release, the mayor’s office says work should begin in 2023. There’s no word when the remaining homes will be demolished to make way for the project.
The city released a statement noting that Dickens has met personally with all the affected families. Dickens was not available for an interview with Channel 2 Action News.
Washington texted that her lawyer advised her and the others not to speak publicly until the deal is finalized.
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