Decatur Planning Commission votes against plan to develop Oakhurst Dog Park

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt May 5, 2015
Local attorney Robert Wayne asks Decatur Planning Commissioners to block a proposed housing development that would bulldoze Oakhurst Dog Park. Photo by Carey O'Neil

Local attorney Robert Wayne asks Decatur Planning Commissioners to block a proposed housing development that would bulldoze Oakhurst Dog Park. Photo by Carey O’Neil

This story has been updated. 

By Carey O’Neil, contributor

The Decatur Planning Commission on May 5 voted unanimously Tuesday night to reject the subdivision of a lot for a proposed housing development that would bulldoze part of the Oakhurst Dog Park.

Commissioners said protecting the dog park and avoiding potential flooding issues outweighed the property rights of the Boys & Girls Club, which owns the property, and Weaver Capital, the company looking to develop the land.

“For me, the greater good, it’s starting to weigh very heavily,” Commissioner Tony Powers said to the standing-room only crowd of about 75 before the vote.

Jay Weaver, a founding partner of Weaver Capital, is under contract for the property. He planned to purchase the property and split it into two single-family homes but, after the blowback he’s received from the community, said he’s open to working with the city to maintain the park. He would sell the property to the city for a profit after purchasing it for the agreed price with Boys & Girls Club. Weaver estimates each lot is valued between $335,000 and $350,000 and said he’s willing to sell the property to the city for below what he considers fair market value.

“I feel like the city can put it to good use, and I feel like I could be part of it,” he said.

Weaver said he would offer the city a fair deal on the sale of the property. If his development plans are blocked and he is unable to sell the property to the city, he may be forced to walk away from the project. That may protect the dog park in the short run, he said, but the property value is only likely to increase and the city might not get this same chance again.

Decatur resident Lee Goldsmith spoke passionately against the development. He said he’s spent thousands of hours creating paths, laying mulch for plants and caring for trees at the dog park. He’d like to see the city purchase the land and protect the park in the long term.

“The forest must be saved,” he said. “This land has been used for the highest public good forever.”

Despite the Planning Commission’s decision, Weaver is not out of the game. The commission recommends what action the City Commission should take. City Commission members have the final say in the property’s future.

Though he said he is willing to work with the city, Weaver told the Planning Commission he was confident he could legally move forward with the development without the city’s approval.

But that is the worst-possible outcome for Goldsmith, who said he’d put more than 1,000 hours of work into the park clearing brush, restoring trees and creating pathways, and that other Decatur residents had spent thousands more.

“You have the legal right to say no,” he told the commission.

Robert Wayne, a local attorney whose family has lived in the area for generations, cheered the commission’s decision. The dog park came about as a result of the city’s investment and maintenance of the Boys & Girls Club’s fields, he said.

“The creation of the dog park was expressly linked to the community’s investment of public funds into private property for public benefit,” he said. “It’s worth fighting for.”

The Decatur City Council will meet on Monday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Decatur City Hall to consider the Planning Commission’s recommendation and make a final decision on the issue.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that the Planning Commission makes recommendations to the Decatur City Commission. The City Commission will have to ultimately approve or deny the developer’s request. The developer also clarified that he estimates each lot is worth $335,000 to $350,000 for a total of $670,000 to $700,000 for both lots. 

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