DeKalb commission orders halt on site of proposed derby track

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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DECATUR, Ga. - DeKalb County commissioners put the brakes on a proposed soapbox derby track Tuesday after weeks of wrangling with CEO Burrell Ellis over his pet project.

The commission passed a resolution halting any work on the site off Rock Chapel Road in Lithonia, and requiring a financial review of the bills incurred so far.

"We've been saying it over and over and it's unfortunate we have to put it into a resolution. But we did, and I think that will carry the message directly back," DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer said.

Ellis has made the project a priority, acknowledging that soapbox derby racing was a boyhood hobby he enjoyed.

His proposal would have cost more than $1 million, and would have brought in an estimated $15,000 each year.

"It just seems that this isn't justifiable right now. I'm not here to oppose the project but I am here to ask that our responsible board of commissioners postpone this project and please allow the community to weigh in," said Victor McCrary, who lives near the site.

The proposal would have been paid for with park bond money that voters already approved, as part of an expansion project for the Bransby YMCA

"The intention of the board I think has been fairly clearly stated," said DeKalb County's Chief Operating Officer, Richard Stogner, when asked about the impact of the board's resolution.

"That will be up to interpretation by the county attorney, and then the CEO's decision on whether he can veto the resolution, or what the impact of it is. I have not discussed that with him, but I will," Stogner added.

Ellis has eight business days to veto the resolution, if he chooses to do so. Commissioners would need five votes to override a veto.

The resolution passed 6-0. Commissioner Jeff Rader was not present at Tuesday's meeting.

"We have to learn to compromise and come up with the best solution for the people of the county, and it's not about us," said Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, who thought they'd been working to add a skateboard or bike park to the CEO's proposal.

But last week, commissioners learned Ellis had authorized county work crews and contractors to cut down trees and clear 11 acres of land for the soapbox derby track.

"It was not approved. We bought the property and we were considering approving it," Barnes Sutton said.

"I was disappointed," said Commissioner Lee May. "I thought we had been making some headway, We'd made some recommendations to the administration about what we wanted to see. We thought they had embraced that and were moving forward."

Stogner withdrew the proposed construction contract for the soapbox derby track on Tuesday; which had been sitting on the commissioners' agenda for six months.

He said with all of the site work that's been done already, the scope and the prices were no longer accurate.

Now, with $91,000 already spent and no way to put the trees back, commissioners have asked staff to come up with another plan.

"Unless we have a purpose for that property, it really is just remaining an eyesore," said May.

Stogner said the county will research any environmental impacts from the land clearing, and consider what to do next. Neighbors like McCrary hope this time they're included in the process.

"It just doesn't seem neighborly for a project of that impact to go on and have not had any contact from the county," said McCrary.



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