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After Mayor’s Promise, Peoplestown Residents Still Not Sure Where They Stand

Despite Dickens' pledge to bring closure to their fight, Black homeowners are still in legal limbo.

Peoplestown residents Robert Darden, Tanya Washington Hicks, and Bertha Darden are in a legal battle over their homes. (Aboubacar Kante)

It’s been three months since Mayor Andre Dickens met with Black homeowners in Peoplestown and committed to resolving their years-long eminent domain saga within the first 100 days of his administration.

That self-imposed deadline expired two weeks ago with Dickens reportedly telling members of the media that discussions are still ongoing.

This week, two of the three parties named in separate Peoplestown eminent domain lawsuits say they’re in the early stages of negotiating settlement offers to sell their properties to the city — against their wishes.

Tanya Washington Hicks, Dwayne Adgar, and Bertha Darden all had eminent domain lawsuits filed against them in 2016. On April 19, their attorney, Donald Evans, confirmed Darden and Adgar reluctantly made undisclosed settlement offers to the city after receiving emails earlier this month asking them to name their price.

“Every one of my clients prefers to stay in their home,” Evans told Capital B Tuesday. “They just want to be left alone, but if they’re not going to be left alone, they will certainly consider any fair offer.”

Evans and his clients declined to share details on their asking prices. He said city officials haven’t made a settlement offer to Washington Hicks.

“I’d need a crystal ball to be able to tell you why,” Evans said. “I don’t see a reason for treating Tanya differently than anyone else. It’s hard to guess their motives.”

Dickens’ office said via email on Tuesday that it would still be “inappropriate to comment on pending litigation.”

Bertha Darden, 67, said she and her husband, Robert Darden, 71, have lived in their Peoplestown home for more than three decades.

She expressed disappointment after her lawyer informed her of the city’s intent to continue pursuing the purchase of her home.

I don’t feel good at all because this is not what we discussed when we met with the mayor,” she said. “Market value means they want to buy the house. Nothing else is discussed about what we talked about with the mayor, and I don’t like that.”

The Peoplestown saga has made international headlines over the years, as the number of houses on the neighborhood’s historically Black residential block dwindled from at least 27 in 2012 to just four in 2022.

Read: A Renewed Hope for the Embattled Residents of Peoplestown

Since 2013, city officials have been buying homes in Peoplestown to make room for a park containing at least one retention pond designed to prevent flooding in the community.

Some of the neighborhood’s remaining homeowners have presented engineering evidence in court showing the city doesn’t need to take their houses to address its flooding concerns.

After years of fighting in court, Bertha Darden said she still doesn’t know why the city insists on buying her home.

“We never got the why,” she said. “They don’t need to put no park and pond where I live because you’ve got enough green space to put that there. So why do you need my house? It’s not making any sense.”

On April 22, Adgar acknowledged speaking with his lawyer about the city’s request for a settlement offer, but he remains skeptical that a just outcome will be reached.

“The reality is different from the talk,” Adgar said. 

His suspicion has merit. Earlier this month, the father of two received a Fulton County magistrate court notice in the mail about a mandatory April 7 eviction hearing despite also receiving word of the city’s interest in settling his case. Adgar provided a photographed copy of the notice to Capital B Atlanta.

During his April 7 hearing, Adgar and his attorney said a judge dismissed one of two separate eviction actions previously filed against him, but the positive turn of events came at a price.

Adgar missed work to attend the hearing and was fired from his new IT technician job as a result, despite previously putting in a request for personal time off.  “To me, it’s just one more brick thrown at your house,” he said.

The city is also threatening to add another name to the list of Peoplestown homeowners facing eminent domain lawsuits.

Sheryl Calhoun said her lawyer sent an email from the city on April 22. The message suggested the city would force the sale of her family’s Peoplestown home via eminent domain unless she agrees to sell the property at a “fair market” price.

“Please offer a fair market value amount for consideration by the City of Atlanta (‘COA’),” the email stated. “COA has an interest in resolving this matter prior to the commencement of formal condemnation proceedings.”

“Condemnation” is a legal term that means using eminent domain powers to force the sale of a property. 

Calhoun is the 64-year-old daughter of the late Mattie Ansley Jackson. She inherited her mother’s home after Jackson died in 2020 at the age of 98.

She’s also the widow of Charles Calhoun, who last month was fatally shot by Clayton County Police outside the couple’s primary residence in Jonesboro.

Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed agreed to let Calhoun’s mother keep her home in 2015, but Sheryl Calhoun requested an undisclosed offer amount through her attorney because she feels there is no other choice.

“I do not want to give up my family home for a park,” she said. “The city is not going to let this go away. They’re not going to leave these four homes here after 27 is gone. The best I can do is make them pay for what they want.”