In an email exchange provided to ACPC, Dave Wilkinson, President and CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) informs the foundation’s lawyer that APF plans to continue construction of Cop City in the Weelaunee Forest despite a recent appeal that stayed the use of the Land Disturbance Permit. Continuing construction while an appeal is under consideration violates Dekalb County law. “We plan to move full speed ahead,” Wilkinson states in the email, suggesting that “it defies common sense” that an appeal from a resident who lives near the forest could force a work stoppage.
Wilkinson is referring to the appeal filed February 6th by local resident and Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee member for the Cop City project, Amy Taylor, which challenges the County’s approval of the project’s LDP on the grounds that the project will create more sediment discharge into Intrenchment Creek than is allowable under both state and federal law and overstates the amount of green space available on the site if the project is completed.
Wilkinson insists that the APF does not have to stop work on the site unless Dekalb County issues a stop work order. Attorney Jon Schwartz, who filed Taylor’s appeal, disagrees. In his reply to APF’s lawyer, Simon Bloom, Schwartz cites DeKalb County Code of Ordinances, Chapter 27, Section 7.5.2(D), which requires that while an appeal is pending in the Zoning Board of Appeals for a residentially zoned property, land disturbance and construction activity must stop.
Appeal stays land disturbance or construction activity in certain situations. If the action or decision appealed from permits land disturbance or construction activity to commence or continue on residentially zoned property, [emphasis added] the appeal stays the land disturbance or construction activity until the zoning board of appeals issues a decision on the appeal. Thereafter, land disturbance or construction activity in such cases shall only be stayed by an order from a court of competent jurisdiction. In all cases involving non-residentially zoned property, the appeal to the zoning board of appeals does not stay land disturbance or construction activity; such activity shall only be stayed by an order from a court of competent jurisdiction.
Wilkinson and Bloom’s objection to the appeal, and the required cessation of construction activity, seems to center on a fundamental misunderstanding of the property’s zoning status. As noted by Schwartz, per the APF’s own plans for cop city, the property is zoned Residential 75 (R75). The zoning designation previously benefited the police foundation during the permitting process. Under R75 zoning, “government facilities” are considered a permitted use, enabling APF to avoid a potentially quarrelsome zoning variance application, which would have included opportunities for public comment sessions frequently attended by the many opponents of Cop City.
Earlier this week, APF contractor Brent Scarbrough & Co. began early construction efforts at the proposed site. Neighbors and media reports show the installation of numerous portable toilets, brush and tree clearing, and redistribution of earth. It is unclear whether the purpose of this work is erosion control, securing the site against protestors, or simply the APF attempting to demonstrate progress on the Cop City development to its corporate stakeholders.
Atlanta Public Safety Training Center Site Plan Top Sheet. Note in the upper left hand corner: “zoning use: R75.”
This would not be the first time APF worked without a Land Disturbance Permit. On June 10, 2022, a stop work order was issued by the Dekalb County Department Planning and Sustainability Inspection dvision after contractors cut down trees and bulldozed paths at the site.
Simon Bloom both lawyer for the Atlanta Police Foundation and member of the foundation’s Board of Trustees, was reached for comment, but did not respond by the time of publication.