Photo by Johnny Jackson
Clayton County Board of Education Chairwoman Dr. Pam Adamson listens to Christian Torgrimson, a managing partner with the Atlanta-based law firm Pursley, Friese and Torgrimson.
JONESBORO — Dozens of Morrow residents stood in opposition to an eminent domain threat recently lodged by the Clayton County Board of Education.
“We want to watch our kids play safely from our kitchen windows,” said Charles Sumblin, a tenant at Regal Forest Apartments. “We are much more than low-to-moderate income people. We are mothers, we are fathers... we are citizens.”
Sumblin’s words were received by applause from fellow tenants during Monday’s board meeting.
State Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Ellenwood) also joined the voices of those who call the apartment complex home, asking board members to reconsider their push to condemn the property owned by Mark Nelkin of Atlanta.
Officials declined to comment.
School spokesman David Waller said the issue is being discussed in the board’s executive sessions and those proceedings are confidential.
Nelkin’s attorneys Christian Torgrimson and Charles Pursley Jr. spoke out in opposition to the board’s plans to acquire the property at 5771 Trammell Road through condemnation.
“We will push to fight it,” said Torgrimson. “It’s an active, well-maintained site. But there is also a human impact here.”
Nelkin said more than 400 people live in the 116-unit complex. He said 2-in-5 tenants have children who attend nearby schools — there are four within a mile radius.
Torgrimson said her firm received notification three weeks ago about the board’s intent to use eminent domain to acquire the land. The attorneys met with residents about the plans two weeks ago, when they collectively decided to fight the proceedings.
She said the board’s plans are to construct a facility that would be the permanent home of the Elite Scholars Academy charter school. It would be funded by the board’s 1-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
The sixth-12th-grade academy operates at the old Morrow Middle School campus a few blocks away from the new middle school, which is about a block from Regal Forest Apartments.
Torgrimson said the apartment complex is also adjacent to Clayton State University, a convenient distance for the academy which plans to participate in the university’s dual enrollment program.
Her client, Nelkin, said he bought the property in 2006 and has invested more than $500,000 for upgrades and repairs.
He said he was approached by board representatives in October.
“They appraised the property for $1.8 million,” said Nelkin. “I pay a $2.9 million mortgage.”
Torgrimson said she believes the representatives had the land appraised, using foreclosed properties in surrounding areas as comparable real estate that do not reflect its true value.
She said the property has gotten previous offers listed upwards of $3 and $4 million “as is,” including an offer from Clayton State.
Torgrimson said the board would have to provide relocation assistance, which could be an additional $30,000 per displaced tenant.
She added that the board has not given any indication that it is following statutory requirements and is abiding by proper protocol for condemnation proceedings.
“We also question the appropriateness of condemning a private residential community,” she said. “They have the burden of proving that this is a public use. They have not done that.”
Torgrimson pointed to four other sites that engineers her firm hired identified as possible alternatives to build the charter school facilities. She said one alternative is board-owned and a block from the old Morrow Middle School, where the academy is housed.
Check back with the Clayton News Daily for updates.