By John Schaffner
There is a battle brewing in the Collier Hills section of Buckhead—site of some of the most bitter fighting of the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta—and this time it is between civic associations teamed with a park support group against the city of Atlanta and the PATH Foundation.
The Collier Hills-Ardmore Park area of southwest Buckhead is rich in Atlanta history and lush with established homes and landscaping along its gently rolling hills and hollows and along Tanyard Creek.
The Collier Hills Civic Association, Collier Hills North neighborhood and Friends of Tanyard Creek Park find themselves poised for battle to protect their neighborhoods and park from the being forced to accept a 12- to 20-foot-wide concrete ribbon meandering through their historic park and along the creek bed and neighborhood backyards.
The three soldiers at this point on the side of protecting the neighborhoods and the park are Katharine Caesar Montgomery, president of the Collier Hills Civic Association, Tony Casadante, president of Collier Hills North, and Maggie Garrett, an ACLU attorney president of the Friends of Tanyard Creek Park.
Casadante and Montgomery were summoned to meetings at city hall on January 8 and 10 respectively where they were told by city of Atlanta Director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Dianne Harnell Cohen and City Council Member Clair Muller that this is part of the bigger Beltline trail system. They indicated the trail has been made a condition of the purchase of several acres of prime property along Collier Road and Tanyard Creek, known as the Howard property, which is to be turned into a neighborhood park.
Montgomery explained, “I got the call from Tony that Commissioner Cowen, Council Member Muller and Pete Pellegrini of the PATH Foundation wanted me to meet with them and give my opinion on what my neighborhood thought of gaining the Howard estate for parkland and having a trail running through it to connect Memorial Park and Tanyard Creek Park. I said I can’t give that opinion.”
She said the neighborhoods had agreed with Jim Howard not to discuss his land deal. The day before the meeting at city hall, Montgomery called Jim Howard to find out if the land deal was imminent right now and “he said no.”
So, Mongomey knew that going into the meeting Jan. 10, where she was told “the Howard land deal was contingent on a trail going through the property, the same deal as was part of the Ardmore Park urban forest Tanyard Park land deal.” Montgomery said Cohen told her they were not going to call it a Beltline land deal “but something else, like a Beltline trail.”
Montgomery said they had been made aware of the neighborhoods’ concerns about the PATH trail and the request for the use of alternative materials. She was told “PATH would discuss those concerns with all stakeholders,” but Pellegrini made it clear that PATH “would not consider use of mulch or gravel trails.” She asked, “What about shredded rubber trails that are already in Tanyard Creek Park?” She said he told her they “did not have enough information on the long-term durability of those materials and the maintenance issues.
“He said we are only going to do solid-surface trails,” she recalled. “He said that meant concrete.”
She questioned Pelligrini as to whether the PATH would have to be the same 12-foot width as the one in Ardmore Park, and she said he responded “that wide or wider.”
Asked if the trail had to be made of concrete, as PATH trails are, Langford said “the only stipulation is that it be a Beltline trail.” When asked if the Beltline trail has been specified anywhere, he said, “it was not specified by Garvin and has not been specified by the city.” He said the width of the Beltline trail, materials used, etc. had not been specified.
That sentiment also was shared with Montgomery by Elizabeth Coyle, a consultant and activist, who has been closely associated with discussions about the Beltline trails with hopes of getting something other than concrete trails through Piedmont Park. She also told Montgomery there are no Beltline standards for trails as of yet.
Montgomery wanted to come out of the meeting with two weeks time to go back to the neighborhood., “which she knew they did not want to give her when she went in there.” She said she told Cohen that she had talked to Howard and “knew the deal was not imminent and that she needed two weeks.” She said Commissioner Cohen said okay. “But I don’t think she was happy about it..”
According to James Langford, spokesperson for the Trust for Public Land, which along with the city will purchase the Howard property, “some of the donors do have strong opinions and preferences that a trail be run through this property.” He basically confirmed the trail was a prerequisite for purchasing the Howard property and turning it into a park for the city.
Langford said the city is a financial partner in the purchase of the property, but did not elaborate. After the property is purchased, Langford said it would be turned over to the city.
Asked about timing, Langford said “this offer is not open-ended. Not out in the future.” However, he added, “there is a certain schedule involved with the transaction and it involves a relatively short timeframe.”
During the Jan. 10 meeting, Montgomery said she was told there were two things that were coming up. “One was that money was there to buy the property and they had to make a decision on it,” she said “Two, that PATH had to respond to the federal government by this summer on where trails were going to go in order to secure federal funding .”
“They wanted to know right then what my neighborhood thought about the purchase of the land and with the condition of this trail,” she added. Many of the residents would like to see their neighborhoods remain as they are and have been for many years—mostly tranquil, forested urban enclaves. Others would like to see more of the urban active lifestyle permeate their neighborhoods.
Montgomery pointed out that she, Casadante and Garrett met and determined to poll their members and put it out there with options: No trail, a trail with alternative materials from what PATH typically uses and a trail made out of the concrete material PATH typically uses. She said of the votes polled together “the highest votes were for no trail. That included the three groups,” she added.
Casadante said there were two ways to vote in a positive way for a trail and one way to vote that you didn’t want any trail. “Of those three options, there were more people that voted for the no option. But there were more people who voted in a positive way,” he added. “Apparently that is because there were two questions: Do you want one of these three options for a trail? Do you want it to be a loop trail or a through route?”
He said the two ways to vote positively for the trail were: I want a PATH concrete trail, or I want a trail made of alternative materials.
According to Casadante, “Collier Hills voted about a third each for the three different options regarding the trail. Collier Hills North was the most positive for a trail at about 75 percent across the two positive ways to vote for the trail. Friends of Tanyard Creek Park came in at 92 percent opposed to any trail,” he added. “The Friends of Tanyard Creek Park are the closest to the park. They are the active park users. It makes sense. They are the most adverse to change because the park meets their needs. The park works for them.”
“A lot of people brought up a number of good issues relating to crime, the fact it is a Civil War battle site, drainage and flooding issues,” Montgomery said. “
Garrett told the Reporter last Saturday she got a call on a January Saturday afternoon “from one of her members who said she had gotten a ballot that day about a PATH that none of us had ever heard about and that it was due to be filled out and returned by the next day.” The ballot was dated Jan. 16 and was due back on Jan. 21.
“Nobody is opposed to parks,” Montgomery said. “The 12-foot wide concrete trail I think converted some people who are favorable to trails to vote against it. Overall, it was supported, however. Because our thing was if you don’t want the trail, you don’t get the park.”
According to Montgomery, Commissioner Cohen made it clear there were no parks opportunity bonds going to purchase the park, “because we said we want no active use in there. We don’t want anything that is going to attract people to drive their cars there. We were told directly that the purchase of the land is contingent on there being a trail through it. They also said this is a Beltline project. They were asked twice and Pelligrini said it and Commissioner Cohen said it.”
Montgomery said, “The concern is that they are going to go ahead and buy it and pave it before anything is done about defining what is Beltline trail and we will be stuck with it.”
Casadante added, “From the neighborhoods perspective, everyone has been very respectful of the Howards, somebody that is willing to donate land for a park. I realize they are going to be compensated for the land, but they could get more for it from a developer. We are very thankful for that and I want it to become parkland. We just want to be involved in the process every step of the way. You just don’t want things to get lined up and predetermined before there is the chance for public input.”
Montgomery recently heard that the residents of Ardmore Park now have received a ballot regarding a proposed trail to connect their PATH through Tanyard Creek Park.
“Even if the Beltline transit goes on the initially proposed route, and especially if it is far away, the most this could be considered is a feeder trail into the main route,” Casadante explained. “One of the points that I have made at every meeting I have gone to is that whatever would come back through here—even if it is called Beltline trail—is still not the main Beltline loop. Anyone that is going out and doing their 22 mile run preparing for a marathon, the main loop is staying wherever the transit is.
The nationally recognized consultant’s study of the Beltline “did have the trail diverging from the transit corridor where it would be unsafe or unsightly, “ Langford explained. “That is not to say there will be no areas where there will be active rail traffic next to Beltline transit and the Beltline trail running together. But this is not the case here.”
The plan is to have a continuous Beltline Trail all around the city,” he added. “After passing through the Howard property,” Langford said, “this trail is designed to go east along Peachtree Creek to the Lindberg Station.” With that plan, it would not at all connect to the piece of PATH at Sagamore and Peachtree Battle that was built in 2001 and has caused so much controversy in the area neighborhoods.
“In general, I think the majority of my neighborhood is in favor of this amenity coming through,” he added. “People are in favor of being able to get better recreational facilities and access to parks that are there. Although I am generally in favor of this, I am also the first person who will throw himself in front of a bulldozer to stop the wrong plan from being implemented,” Casadante concluded.