Apr 13, 2023 - News

DeKalb board rejects appeal of 'Cop City' permit

Illustration of a cityscape with buildings that have police badge-shaped windows.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The effort to halt the construction of Atlanta’s public safety training center encountered another setback Wednesday, as the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously rejected an appeal of the project's land development permit.

Why it matters: Opponents to what activists have dubbed ‘Cop City’ argue that the environment of the forested south DeKalb County land will be harmed if construction proceeds.

  • Tensions between activists and law enforcement have ramped up over the last few months, culminating in the shooting death of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán by a state trooper in January during a "clearing operation" at the site.

Catch up quick: The land development permit was issued days after the fatal shooting and it was appealed by Amy Taylor, a member of the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee for the training center who lives near the site. DeKalb Commissioner Ted Terry joined the appeal.

  • At issue was whether DeKalb planning director violated state or county law in issuing the permit.

What they’re saying: Jon Schwartz, an attorney representing Taylor, said the county’s zoning ordinance prohibits the planning director from issuing land development permits if a proposed project would violate state law. In this case, Schwartz argued the permit would violate Georgia water quality standards.

  • “It’s disappointing that the board decided to uphold an unlawful land development permit,” Commissioner Terry said Wednesday in a statement.

The other side: Leah Ward Sears, an attorney and former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court representing DeKalb County, said the appellants failed to meet the burden of proof that the county violated state law when it issued the permit.

  • "They simply can't show that the director or his staff acted unprofessionally and appropriately, arbitrarily, or contrary to law,” she said.

Of note: ZBA members voiced concerns about the location of the training center and its impact to the environment, but believed the county did not break any laws in its decision.

  • "I don't see any clear evidence that the county has not met due diligence on this," ZBA member Dan Wright said.

Mayor Andre Dickens said in a statement following the ZBA's decision that "every part of this project has been scrutinized and has been found to be fully compliant with the law and all environmental protection requirements."

What's next: Schwartz told Axios his clients will appeal the ruling to the DeKalb County Superior Court.


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