ATLANTA — There are new signs that the city of Atlanta is trying to resolve a long-standing dispute over homes near Grant Park that are at risk of flooding.
The city was prepared to ask a Fulton County judge Monday morning to approve the eviction of one holdout homeowner, but someone asked for a delay at the last minute.
Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher says the situation is politically tricky for Mayor Andre Dickens because he went on record with Channel 2 during last fall’s runoff campaign to say that the four holdouts along Atlanta Avenue and Ormond Street in the Peoplestown community would not be forced to move.
Now, it’s evident that this mayor is moving on a couple of tracks.
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He’s authorized very generous offers to the handful of homeowners who have been resisting moving out of the flood zone. But his lawyers were also ready to ask a judge to evict Tanya Washington, who has emerged as the most outspoken of the holdouts.
The issue is the risk of flooding in a low-lying area of Peoplestown.
Because of that risk -- including the release of raw sewage -- the city won the right six years ago to clear out an entire block of homes.
Most of the block is now empty and awaiting what the city says will be a vital flood control project. Four homeowners have been holding out, arguing that the city’s engineering data was never sufficient to support clearing out an entire city block.
While campaigning during the runoff last November, then-candidate Dickens made a promise that hasn’t made his life easier. He told Channel 2′s Richard Belcher, “In a Dickens’ administration, we’ll make sure we design this pond and park and the homes that are actually on the corners can stay because the pond and park can go in the middle and they can still stay.”
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Belcher asked directly if the four holdouts would be staying.
“They’re staying,” Dickens responded without hesitation.
But last week, the city council approved $925,000 to purchase one of the holdout properties, and we learned the city had made offers to others. Tanya Washington acknowledged that the city’s offer for her home was $1,037,000.
On the other track, attorneys for the city were ready to ask a judge Monday morning to evict Washington, six years after the city won the right to condemn her property. At the last minute -- and without public explanation -- the city asked for a delay.
Washington, holdout homeowner Bertha Darden and some of their supporters stood on the steps of the Fulton County Superior Court singing, “Victory is mine. Victory is mine.”
In their remarks to Channel 2, both homeowners made it clear that they were not forgetting the mayor’s campaign promise.
“I’m trusting our new mayor to keep his word and honor it in a court of law,” said Darden. “I think the mayor is a man of his word. I remain optimistic that we are going to be able to settle this in a fair just and equitable manner for us,” said Washington.
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Washington made it clear that her family and the Dardens still are interested in selling.
“Both myself and the Dardens have expressed to the mayor that we are interested in remaining in our homes, and so when we have those discussions with him, we will continue to share that that is what we think a just outcome should be,” Washington said.
Mayor Dickens has already had private meetings with both families, but it’s not clear when they’ll meet again.
About the former holdout who agreed to sell for $925,000, Washington said, ”That was their prerogative. I make no judgement about the decisions they made.”
Mayor Dickens’ office has not issued a statement about the decision to postpone today’s eviction hearing, which is actually an effort to hold Washington in contempt of the court’s 2016 order that she had to sell her home.
Another judge recently ruled that Washington does not have a legal right to reopen her fight with the city, in part because her mortgage was paid off with money that the city set aside after its initial legal victory in 2016. Washington has repeatedly argued that she has not personally accepted any money from the city.
The mayor’s office declined comment other than to say: “Mayor Dickens supports positively resolving Peoplestown in a manner that is mutually beneficial to all parties.”
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