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Judge denies move to stop development of land near 'Cop City' site

The land was transferred in early 2021 to a real estate firm controlled by film executive Ryan Millsap as part of a deal with DeKalb County.

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — (This story has been corrected to reflect that Shadowbox Studios is not the owner of the parcel of land involved in this case. It remains under the ownership of a real estate company formed under the Blackhall name.)

A DeKalb County judge on Wednesday denied a legal move by opponents of a land swap deal between the county and what was once known as Blackhall Studios to stop development on the land that was transferred to the studio's owner.

The studio was sold in 2021 and is now called Shadowbox Studios. The land, however, was not part of the sale. Blackhall's owner before the sale, Ryan Millsap, manages a real estate company under the Blackhall name that owns the land.  

The question of developing the land has become something of a side issue to the ongoing protest encampment against the proposed police and fire training center in Atlanta, referred to by opponents as "Cop City."

The roughly 40 acres of land that was transferred to Blackhall in Jan. 2021 sits adjacent to the land owned by the City of Atlanta where the training facility is set to be built, and also forms part of Intrenchment Creek Park.

RELATED: Five people arrested and charged with domestic terrorism over 'Cop City' protest clashes

Under the deal between the county and the movie studio, DeKalb transferred land that was behind the existing studio complex to Blackhall for the studio's expansion. In exchange, DeKalb received a little more than 50 acres in return that is to be reincorporated into the park with an agreed-upon $1.5 million in improvements to the land and the existing park.

The actual studio expansion plan now in place with Shadowbox does not include the land owned by Millsap. His development plans for that parcel are unclear.

Opponents of "Cop City" who have built treehouses as a semi-permanent protest encampment against the training center in the South River Forest also oppose the land swap deal, and in a legal filing DeKalb County alleged they have used the land owned by Millsap as a "staging ground for their illegal activities in the forest."

A lawsuit launched against the land swap deal in Feb. 2021, after the actual land transfer was completed, filed last week for an emergency injunction against any further development at the site. The filing requested "emergency relief to prevent further destruction of public park land known as Intrenchment Creek Park."

The defendants in the lawsuit are DeKalb County and Blackhall Real Estate Phase II, LLC. Ryan Millsap, the former Blackhall owner, is not a direct party to the lawsuit, but filed an affidavit ahead of Wednesday's hearing. That affidavit states he is the manager of Blackhall Real State Phase II, LLC.

After hearing arguments Wednesday, DeKalb Judge Stacey Hydrick denied the motion for an emergency injunction and explicitly criticized the protest encampment - saying "the public interest, frankly, I think favors getting all these folks off this property, first and foremost."

Judge Hydrick added: "Frankly, the damage being done to the property by those folks inhabiting it is far worse than anything anybody else is doing at this point, and they need to get out of there. But that's another issue for somebody else to worry about." 

Clashes between the protesters and Atlanta Police, DeKalb Police, state and federal law enforcement agencies have increased in recent weeks as authorities move to begin constructing the police and fire training facility, known formally as the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. 

Earlier this month, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced at least five people were arrested during law enforcement actions to clear the encampment on charges including domestic terrorism.


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