ATLANTA — An official appeal has been lodged against the permit that would allow the building of an Atlanta police and fire training center - which has been the subject of a more than yearlong protest movement that refers to it as "Cop City" - to move forward.
The appeal was filed with the county's Zoning Board of Appeals by Amy Taylor, who has been a community representative on the project's Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee.
The filing argues that the land disturbance permit, which was announced last week and would allow construction to begin after finalizing the building site, should not have been issued. It cites "sediment discharges from the site during clearing, grading and construction" that would "exceed the numeric wasteload allocation for Intrenchment Creek in violation of state and federal law."
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It also argues that agreements between the city and Atlanta Police Foundation - which is the primary funder of the project - called for the preservation of 265 acres of greenspace on land the city owns, but that the actual greenspace accounted for in the permit would only total 210 acres.
DeKalb County has previously released a timeline of the permitting process that led to the issuance of the permit.
It's unclear if any further work at the site can be conducted before a decision on the appeal. The county issued a statement saying, "The County received the appeal for the Land Development Permit for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center yesterday and it is under review. It would be inappropriate to comment on the substance of the challenge. The document itself requests a public hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals.”
Political interest in the project and the protest movement against the complex, which has involved semi-permanent tree encampments in the South River Forest where it is to be built, have mushroomed since a clearing operation last month resulted in an injured Georgia State Patrol trooper and an activist shot and killed.
The GBI has said the activist, Manuel Esteban Paez Teran who was also known as Tortuguita, shot the trooper and was killed in return fire. That official version of events has been disputed by the protest movement. In particular, the lack of bodycam video - which GSP troopers do not wear - has become a point of contention in fleshing out what exactly happened during the shootout.
The GBI has said a ballistic analysis shows a projectile recovered from the trooper's wound matches a gun tied to Paez Teran through purchase records. Tortuguita's family has said the activist was a pacifist whom they don't believe would have shot anyone.
The opposition movement reached a peak with demonstrations through downtown Atlanta that left a police vehicle burned out and several buildings damaged, one of them targeted for housing the Atlanta Police Foundation.
Six people were arrested after those demonstrations. So far, at least 14 people have been arrested in the forest and are accused of domestic terrorism.
The foundation would build a roughly 85-acre complex on the Old Prison Farm site in south DeKalb County under a land lease agreement with the City of Atlanta.
The protesters have opposed the facility on environmental and historical grounds, saying it would decimate one of the largest preserved forest areas in the city and desecrate historically Native American land of the Muscogee Creek people, who once lived in the woods and called it the Weelaunee Forest before being displaced by white settlers in the early 19th century.
They also oppose it on the grounds that the land was once the site of the Old Prison Farm, a jail complex that was billed during its operation in the mid-20th Century as an "Honor Farm" where prisoners farmed the land as a "dignified means of imprisonment," a practice which has since been scrutinized for its profit generation and exploitation of unpaid labor.
The law enforcement community has argued the training facility would be a crucial component in stabilizing the police force, aiding in recruitment and retention after low morale and departures following the racial and criminal justice protests of 2020.
They also said it would improve training and community ties, framing it as an answer to police reform demands stemming from the 2020 protests to eliminate contentious policing practices and reduce tensions.