After several months of friction and two days of listening to constituents’ called-in opinions, the Atlanta City Council voted with a heavy majority late Wednesday to allow a controversial public safety training campus to move toward construction in southwest DeKalb County.

With a 10-4 vote, the council approved legislation that authorizes a ground lease with the Atlanta Police Foundation to build an 85-acre complex on Key Road for training the city's police and firefighters, according to a city-issued release at 10:33 p.m. Wednesday.

The city has owned the 350-acre swath of southside land that includes the Old Atlanta Prison Farm—located about six miles from downtown—for a century. Beside the complex, the remaining 265 acres will be “preserved as greenspace for ecological habitat restoration and public access,” city officials noted.

Late Wednesday, councilmembers Jennifer Ide, Carla Smith, Natalyn Archibong, and Antonio Brown voted against authorizing the training complex.

Voting in favor were Michael Julian Bond, Andrea Boone, Andre Dickens, Dustin Hillis, J.P. Matzigkeit, Marci Collier Overstreet, Joyce Sheperd, Howard Shook, Matt Westmoreland, and Cleta Winslow, as the AJC reports.

How the police and fire training facility would fit with forested acreage in the area, as supporters envision it. Atlanta Police Foundation

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and police foundation CEO Dave Wilkinson, applauded the council’s decision in separate statements late Wednesday, with the latter calling the proposal “the most impactful legislation in support of public safety that our city has passed in a half-century.”

Atlanta BeltLine visionary Ryan Gravel, who has worked with the Nature Conservancy to protect and restore forestland in southwest DeKalb, wrote on Twitter after the council’s vote: “We lost, but I have a feeling this isn't over.”

Alongside various fire, police, and government heads, the Atlanta Police Foundation has argued the $90-million complex would replace outdated training facilities and bolster the recruitment, retention, and morale of public safety professionals in the city. The Foundation has pledged to build the first phase using corporate and philanthropic donations.

Pushback has come from environmental groups, urbanists, everyday Atlantans with “Defend the Atlanta Forest” signs in their front yards, and social-justice protesters on the steps of City Hall rallying against what they perceive as a “Cop City” and unnecessary expenditure. (It’s been more derisively described by national media as a “massive new police fantasyland.”) Furthermore, opponents have argued, public engagement in the process was inadequate this year.

Tentative breakdown of planned uses at the $90-million training complex, as approved by Atlanta City Council in 2021. Atlanta Police Foundation

Facets of the training facility will include classroom buildings, a 50-lane shooting range, a section for explosives, burn/smoke buildings, a mock city with a “shoot house” for training, but also four miles of public trails and other greenspaces. According to the Atlanta Police Foundation, the site is a half-mile from the nearest homes and has few hardwood trees but a major utility easement and new-growth invasive species.

No timeline for the training facility’s construction has been specified, but environment studies are expected to begin soon. The approved ordinance can be viewed here

The great Atlanta police, fire training center debate: Where do you stand? (Urbanize Atlanta)