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Homeowners: PATH trail-builders should repay $8M to DeKalb



Small trees replanted between the path and South Peachtree Creek near Mason Mill ParkThe trail-building PATH Foundation owes more than $17,000 for homeowners’ legal bills after disturbing a DeKalb County forest and stream without necessary permits, a judge ruled recently.

Now, the homeowners say, PATH should pay $8 million more.

Specifically, the homeowners want PATH to reimburse DeKalb County for all payments since 2004 for work on at least 13 projects. That payback, they said, should include at least $599,000 paid to PATH for construction of a paved trail along South Peachtree Creek behind their homes.

A judge nullified PATH’s deal to build the trail in December. PATH was not entitled to taxpayer funds for the project, Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams ruled, because the work was awarded without the competitive bidding that Georgia law requires for any public works contract worth more than $100,000.

By that standard, the homeowners contend in a new lawsuit, all of DeKalb’s payments to PATH since 2004 have been illegal. None were awarded by competitive bidding or approved by county commissioners, say the homeowners, calling themselves the Three Forks Heritage Alliance.

On July 21, Adams ruled that PATH was also liable for $17,044 in legal fees run up by in another lawsuit by the same homeowners seeking to stop construction of the trail. PATH made it necessary for the plaintiffs to run up their legal bills, he said, when it continued work on the trail despite complaints about its legality.

“Despite ample warning that its conduct appeared to be illegal, at no time did PATH ever voluntarily cease or hold off on its illegal conduct to allow the [Zoning Board of Appeals] and Court to adjudicate its rights and responsibilities,” Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams wrote in his ruling.

Founded in 1991, the PATH Foundation has used public and private support to build a network of hiking and cycling paths in the metro area. Its projects include the 60-mile Silver Comet Trail, which extends from Cobb County to the Alabama state line.

Much of the path is a boardwalk through tall trees rather than a paved trailThe DeKalb controversy boiled over in February 2008, when the County issued PATH permits to build a three-quarter-mile bike and pedestrian trail connecting Medlock and Mason Mill parks near Emory University. The plan showed a path running through relatively mature hardwoods and within South Peachtree Creek’s 75-foot buffer zone for at least 1,500 yards.

Three neighbors challenged the permits, complaining of noise and runoff problems and seeking a less intrusive design, with the DeKalb Zoning Board of Appeals. DeKalb County responded by simply voiding the permits, declaring they were unnecessary and had been issued “erroneously.”

The county’s action allowed PATH and its builder to begin work even as the homeowners took their case to court and the zoning board. In May, the board agreed that the work needed a permit. In August, Adams issued a temporary restraining order to stop work.

Even then, PATH worked at the site for more three days until Adams issued a preliminary injunction against the work.

The court ultimately found that Three Forks was correct — the work required permits, and PATH did not have them.

But by then, the trail was substantially finished. DeKalb County agreed to pay Three Forks $45,000 for legal bills and to set aside $50,000 for revegetation along the trail. Lewallen Construction, PATH’s subcontractor, agreed to pay $7,000 toward Three Forks’ legal bills.

The South Peachtree Creek project was budgeted at $1.6 million, or about $286 per linear foot. The judge noted that an independent engineer testified a road with curbs and gutters could be built for roughly $150 per foot.





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7 Responses to “Homeowners: PATH trail-builders should repay $8M to DeKalb”

  1. Curious Bystander says:

    PRIVATE DEVELOPERS “borrowed” millions from schools under the TAD program. They essentially stole from your kids with the promise to repay someone else’s kids, maybe. PATH did what they said they were going to do and it’s something that benefits us all! Unless of course you are too lazy to get out and use the trails PATH has created. As for disturbing natural areas, since when did almost anyone care about natural areas in Atlanta? The smallest parcel of land is clearcut, leveled and some totally useless, over-priced, shoddily built townhomes are built on the property. This, of course, is allowed as it represents ‘progress’ but actually simply increases the tax base for whatever locality is involved.

    The return-on-investment in trails is absolutely incalculable! Thousands of people use the trails. From infants in strollers to Octagenarians on walkers! Go out and get a real knowledge of the good that the trails do and you’ll realize what PATH is creating!

  2. waitaminit says:

    they broke the law arrogantly proceeded. why? because Coke and Cox will back them up push come to shove.
    Yes–I’m guessing that we would enjoy trails and ped connections all over DeKalb–makes sense, energy efficient, mostly nice scenary.
    Why won’t the commissioners formally adopt the plan tho? Always been sticky–…but again, who’s got the biggest stick.

  3. seen it says:

    The revegetation efforts are unfortunate. About six weeks ago, I watched the workers plant four trees in a swampy area that floods 6 – 12 inches deep when it rains. One of the trees was completely dead, one was half dead. The other two were seriously wilted, and all looked as if they had been left out in the sun for way too long before planting. Sure enough, only one remains.

    I am not foolish enough to believe anyone in charge really cared whether revegetation survived – they were just doing the job as fast as they could – but what a waste of $50,000…

  4. Clairmont Heights says:

    That PATH was the best thing ever for teh communities it serves! It is so nice, most everyone – even a few who were against it – love it now.

  5. taxpayer says:

    PATH built the trail by BREAKING local, state and federal laws and the taxpayers are footing the bill – even as PATH continues working (without bidding) and getting paid by the county. The ends DO NOT justify the means!! (there are other PROFESSIONAL trailbuilders around). Laws, rules and regulations are for EVERYONE in the community and non-profit organizations are not exempt from following the rules. And where are all the financial donors, contributors and board members? One would think THEY’D have something to say about this.

  6. Logical Thinker says:

    It seems to me the issue isn’t the trail as much as it is the trail builder.

    Sorry, but I’ve experienced better trails in other cities that are designed specifically for urban vegitated areas. Hands down, PATH kows how to design and build road-like concrete trails like no other. They’re cheaper and easier to construct. However, I prefer to take my 5 yr old on his bike and my 9 mos old in her stroller on a trail that is environmentally and ecologically friendly. Come on folks raise your expectations so the bar will follow. We, the community deserve better!

  7. Retired Georgia Peach says:

    Great reporting!!

    The blog below also nails it, especially with the visuals…