DeKalb County: Developer clearing land illegally

Channel 2's Nicole Carr reports.

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — DeKalb County officials are going to head-to-head with a Michigan-based developer who, according to records, failed to secure permits before clearing thousands of trees and disturbing land near the South River.

The case is pending in DeKalb State Court and revolves around a nearly 100-acre lot in the 2700 block of Moreland Avenue, and half a dozen federal and state environmental law violations.

There are no records that make development plans clear at this point, but earlier this year, a concerned citizen alerted local environmental officials to the development, prompting site visits that revealed the landowners had not secured permitting to cut down thousands of trees and failed to provide proper buffering zones for development.

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A stop work order dated April 4 remains on what’s now a chain-locked, barbed wire fence, but local officials say they’ve been ignored.

“I can’t understand, number one, how a company could have so little regard for the environment and so little regard for the law,” said Carol Hayes, the newly elected district supervisor for DeKalb Soil and Water Conservation.

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Hayes along with state DNR and county code enforcement officials visited the site last month prompting Hayes’ letter to Dekalb County officials.

“The egregious illegal destruction of trees and vast and severe soil erosion were not what was most shocking to me,” Hayes wrote. “The developers involved had an arrogant disregard for the offenses they have committed and pretended to be obtuse to the laws which they have been breaking.”

“I am hoping that steep fines and perhaps the threat of the loss of a business license might rejuvenate their respect for the laws of Georgia and DeKalb County,” she continued.

Local officials said the company and its attorneys failed to show up for a pretrial hearing scheduled for June 25 in DeKalb County State Court.

Property records show Michigan-based Crown Enterprises owns the property, as well as an adjoined lot that houses a trucking yard. Its website touts development for Fortune 500 companies.

Through an open records request, Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr found January communication to from DeKalb County's Department of Planning and Sustainability to Crown Enterprises, warning of half a dozen state and federal environmental law violations.

It threatened fines of up to $2,500 per day, described non-buffered zones and showed photos of illegal tree harvesting.

There’s also communication requiring Crown to submit plan a floodway plan by June 7, in an effort to try and minimize the impact of the work that had already been done on the property.

“They’ve still never gotten permits and they’ve been operating illegally with this land disturbance activity,” said Hayes. “They’ve cut down thousands of trees.”

Carr reached out to the company and later heard back from Crown Enterprises president Michael Samhat, who said his management was aware of the violations issued for the properties and was "working cooperatively with DeKalb County and its regulators in response to those violations with local engineers and surveyors on site."

In the bullet-point statement, Samhat also said Crown anticipates a meeting with DeKalb County soon, which resulted in an adjourned court date.