Nearly 100 homeowners turned out for the latest meeting with city officials on the proposed park on Old Riverside Drive.
The meeting was held at Fire Station 3, where residents were split on support and opposition for a park in their neighborhood. In February, City Council voted to move forward in developing the site, a former sewage pumping station for Fulton County.
Proposed parking for 50 to 60 vehicles have many residents skeptical about the city’s plans. Councilman Chip Collins has said plans are for a passive park.
“Fifty parking spots is very large,” said Bruce Bowen, who has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years. “Allen Park has 27. Abernathy Park has 22. Those are neighborhood parks that have a smaller footprint and smaller impact on the local community.”
Residents worry the park would draw crowds similar to Morgan Falls Overlook Park.
“I think they want a neighborhood park, not a big park that’s going to generate a lot of traffic on Riverside Drive,” said Bowen to Collins.
Collins was joined by City Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny, City Manager John McDonough, Recreation and Parks Director Ronnie Young and Police Chief Terry Sult.
The park would cost $1.5 million to develop and about $40,000 per year to maintain. A total of 3.25 acres of the 23-acre site would be developed. Plans include a playground, walking and jogging trails, a pavilion, park benches and picnic tables, restrooms and open greenspace. A buffer is planned around the property border.
City officials have said they will move forward with the new park if the community is on board.
Patty Berkovitz with Watershed Alliance added, “Fulton County has said they will not sell unless there is [approval] from the neighborhood.”
Watershed Alliance is concerned about how the development would affect the riverbank, she said.
Many residents at the meeting applauded in support of the park. Collins said he has received hundreds of emails from folks encouraging the city to go forward with plans.
“I think it’s great,” said Helen Vantine. She is disappointed over opposition to the park, describing it as fear of a bad element coming into the neighborhood.
“We’ve got kids that never get out to play in the neighborhood,” she said.
Another neighbor said he would rather have a neighborhood park than drive the distance to Morgan Falls Overlook Park.
“I don’t want you to minimize all the unheard voices that are not here right now,” he said. “This will improve the property values. I can’t believe that somebody would [be in favor of] an old abandoned sewer system over a playground for kids to go and enjoy and play. This is why we became a City of Sandy Springs.”
Research shows parks can raise property values.
“I have gotten hundreds of emails from families around here that say, ‘This is what we want. This is what we need,’ “ Collins said.
As with the previous meeting in March at the proposed park site, Sandy Springs Police Chief Terry Sult told the residents that parks tend to decrease crime. There is more public focus on the site and vicinity, he said.
Sult said there were 34 calls for service in all of Sandy Springs parks from April 2011 to April 2012.
There appears to be other questions or wrinkles to be worked out if the park is developed.
Some residents gladly accept street parking for sporting events at The Riverside Club but oppose street parking for park users.
“We haven’t made a determination,” said John McDonough, on whether street parking will be allowed. “We can’t have that both ways. It’s got to be one way or the other."
Another resident asked about the height of a perimeter fence that was discussed at the previous meeting.
“I don’t know if we need a fence given the terrain…I think the response would be to leave it to the professionals, if it makes sense where there are safety issues…The thought to just blanket the whole 23 acres with a fence, I don’t think there is a plan to do that,” McDonough said.