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City's plan to prevent Peoplestown flooding could mean moving 93-year-old longtime resident

'I want you to tell me why I got to go,' senior advocate tells Atlanta Urban Design Commission

Mattie Jackson sounds like she doesn't suffer fools. The 93-year-old Peoplestown resident says she’s never drank. And if somebody comes up on her porch drinking, she’ll beat them with a stick. But let her find a motherless child in the street, Jackson says, and the child will get something to eat if it is her "last biscuit."
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?An inviting screen porch runs the whole front width of Jackson’s bungalow. It’s only a zoning quirk that made a woman sometimes called the “Mayor of Summerhill” a recent resident of Peoplestown. She’s lived in the neighborhood her whole life and has been a longtime volunteer and advocate, notably as a member of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, where she secured funding for Summerhill residents to get job training for the 1996 games. In a transient city, Jackson is as local as it gets.
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?The problem is, other blocks look down on hers — literally. It’s at least 20 feet lower in elevation than nearby blocks. When strong rains happen, water flows toward Jackson and neighbors and can overwhelm the sewer lines that run behind their homes. There have been bad enough floods that some residents who live on the block have sued the city for damages.
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?Now the city wants property owners on the block to sell their land to make way for a retention pond that will function as a park and handle the persistent deluges. But Jackson is determined to stay put in the place she has long called home. For plenty of the people on the block, it’s hurtful that some people will soon enjoy a park and elevated property values while their own block gets the boot.
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???? ?Jackson’s home is on one of 29 plots on the block bound by Greenfield, Ormond and Connally streets and Atlanta Avenue south of Phoenix II Park. Some of the houses date back to 1920.
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?After major flooding in 2012, Mayor Kasim Reed said the city would find ways to fix the issue. The city settled on a $65 million Department of Watershed Management project in southeast Atlanta for infrastructure that is mostly underground, but meant to slow water flow.
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?On Jackson’s block, city officials want to get rid of all the buildings and rework the land into ponds, low spots, and contours that will soak up and hold the worst downpours. To non-engineers, it will simply be a park, complete with plants and paths.
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?The $65 million project is supposed to keep southeast Atlanta’s buildings safe during what engineers call a “one hundred year” rainfall — 6.62 inches in six hours.
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?If there were more rain than that, yes, there could still be problems, and not just in southeast Atlanta.
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?“You’re talking about a catastrophic event,” said Todd Hill, Director of Environmental Management at Watershed. He says the works are a holistic approach to fixing flooding problems.
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?All but eight property owners have sold out or inked deals to do so with the city by last week. Jackson, however, is not one of them.
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?“I want you to tell me why I got to go,” Jackson told the Atlanta Urban Design Commission, a board of building and design professionals who comment on projects like Watershed’s, but have no formal power over demolitions, on Sept. 10. “Because no water came in my house.”
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?Since news of Jackson’s potential move was made public, advocates have called for the city to leave her house alone. Jackson’s daughter, Josephine Lowe, has said the move would literally kill her mother. Other neighbors and supporters question the process, asking why, for example, Watershed is allowed to apply for demolition permits for houses they don’t own, including Jackson’s.
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?Some advocates, including Atlanta Progressive News, question why the city isn’t following flood relief recommendations that Gresham Smith and Partners, an architecture, engineering, and design consultant, drew up at City Hall’s request.
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?The firm’s plan suggested improvements the city did decide to do, like adding underground water storage vaults and pervious surfaces. The city didn’t go along, however, with the recommendation of creating a park centered on the old baseball diamond of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium to soak up water on part of Turner Field’s parking lot.
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?The plan was “infeasible,” Watershed Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina told AUCD. It “would not help this block of homes.” She said that computer modeling showed there is nothing watershed could do except on Jackson’s block.
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??El Baker, Jackson’s neighbor for 18 years, has suffered flood damage and has sued the city over it. Baker decided to sell out and said negotiating with the city was tough. He said he went through three appraisals to settle on the sale price: one by the city, one he commissioned himself, then a third he and the city agreed to commission.
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?“If we didn’t have some form of education, we would have gotten beat,” Baker said.
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?Watershed is authorized to pay up to 120 percent of fair market value plus moving costs. The city has paid between $130,000 and $430,00 each for the properties, according to public records on the already completed transactions.
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?Joyce Dorsey, an activist and friend of and advocate for Jackson, criticized the low end of those valuations at the AUDC hearing.
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?“There is a need to make sure we are taking care of the people who built the foundation of this city,” she said. “I ask you to stick to a standard, that standard is fairness.”
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?Lillian Govus, Watershed’s communications director, said her department is trying. She said the department wants to work with Jackson and make her happy either by moving her home to a nearby lot, moving her into a different house nearby, or by coming to a mutually-agreeable sale price.
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?“It would be irresponsible for us to leave those homeowners in a place that we know will flood,” Govus said.
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?Watershed’s demolition permits are now being reviewed by the city’s Office of Buildings. On Monday, some residents whose homes must be demolished to make room for the park announced they would not leave their property. A rally and BBQ is planned for Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 163 Ormond Ave. SE.




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