By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.net

The Chastain Park Conservancy and its operating partners rolled out in public meetings this past week a number of proposals for park improvements which were initiated by a five-month survey that generated over 1,100 public responses toward developing a Chastain Park Master Plan.

The conservancy has been meeting on a regular basis with the operating partners and city of Atlanta to develop a number of alternative approaches to address the issues outlined in the public survey, which brought the process to the point of sharing those alternatives with the public at a series of meetings Aug. 4, Aug. 6 and Aug. 11 to again gain additional community input.

Almost a year ago, in October of 2006, the Conservancy began the process of identifying improvements to the park that were most desired by those who use it and the park’s operating partners in order to put together a master plan to guide the future of Chastain Park.

It started with a community input survey which from November 2006 to March 2007 generated over 1,100 responses. The top priorities for improvements from the survey included additional parking, restrooms, improved walking trails and sidewalks and traffic calming.

From that list, planning priorities were developed, including: facilities enhancements, historical preservation, improved aesthetics, infrastructure improvements and park user amenities, open green space, pedestrian access and safety improvements and traffic and parking improvements.

J.P. Matzigkeit, president of the Conservancy, who lives just off Lake Forrest Drive just north of Mt. Paran, labled the process maybe 80 % complete.

“We are in the public input stage—reaction to all sorts of good ideas and alternative concepts,” he said during the Aug. 3 open house at the Art Center in the Park. “The paint is absolutely not dry on this thing.”

Matzigkeit explained, “We are here showing some concepts and we want the public opinion. We expect this plan to change for the better as the result of the public input we get. There are a lot of steps that we have yet to go through—to get this public input, refine the plan, we are going to go to all the neighborhood planning units and come up with a final plan for the Urban Design Commission. Then we will go to City Council and ultimately the mayor,” he added. “It is their decision as to what the final plan will be.”

He said the Conservancy hopes to have the process completed before the end of the year.

Ray Mock, the Conservancy’s director of operations, further explained the process, saying, “We got input from our survey, in depth interviews with park operating partners, the man on the street, online surveys, the Parks Department and Planning Department of the city and, of course, our consultants that we hired and our board.

“The survey indicated there was a desire for wider sidewalks on West Wieuca,” he said. Showing one of the boards on display at the open house, Mock explained, “One concept shows taking the parking lane out, narrowing the road and bringing the sidewalk out and making it a mini plaza, where it is more than just transportation and pedestrian safety, but you can have a seat, enjoy it, hang out.”

Explaining the plan for the master grill, Mock said, “We want to restore it—including the cave—and put the pavilion back the way it was. This is part of our historic restoration. We have many historic buildings, including the Art Center” (where the meeting was held). It was built in 1909 and opened in 1911.

He explained that the area along Nancy Creek has been cleared of thicket and the Conservancy intends to come back and install native plants and maintain a natural trail system through there. “It is really for passive recreation,” he said.

“One of the things the survey showed us is that people really enjoy the broad vistas across the golf course. So we intend to maintain that sense of the broad vistas,” Mock said.

He pointed out opportunities for pocket parks along the trail, for instance by the American Legion Post at the southern end of the park.

The golf course was opened in 1935 and Mock explained it was designed by the same architect that re-designed the Pebble Beach course in 1928. The course hosted the first USGA National Championship in the South. In 1948, it hosted the first U.S. Public Links Championship and the clubhouse that is used today was built for that event

Buckhead resident Joe Massey who uses the park in a variety of ways, said, “I am really excited about it (the master plan). It is an extremely ambitious plan.” He uses the park for swimming, jogging, occasionally comes to the art center, he plays tennis and he said his grandkids use it all the time.

“I just didn’t have any idea that the park had this many possibilities for turning into something even greater than it is,” Massey said. “This really shows us what the potential is. It is exciting.”

Matzigkeit said he and Mock got together with Master Plan Co-Chair Justin Wiedeman and Kirk Oppenlander and formed the Conservancy. They definitely needed a woman to help guide them so Mary Dodson came on board.

What is the Chastain look? Mock describes it as “the rustic Adirondack style of the national park era—rough hewn timbers, open rafters, etc. We are going to come up with a palette of trees and plants that we will stick to. In all our designs we will incorporate stone and wood,” he added.

“We have to change our gateway to Lake Forrest and West Wieuca,” Mock explained. He said parking is one of the park’s biggest challenges. “This is huge,” he said. “On a regular day, not including concerts, we are about 1,000 parking spaces short. That is always a problem.”

Proposals shown at the open houses indicate two approaches to adding a parking deck in the area of the present gym in the park. “The gym is 35 years old and outdated,” Mock explains. “One concept is to build a parking structure around the gym . Or there is an option to tear down the old gym, build a new gym with a plaza at West Wieuca and a parking structure on the side which also has an exit directly to Lake Forrest.” The new gym and parking structure would have a low profile from the golf course and the streets.

Another plan is for restroom facilities for people using the PATH trail.

Peggy Hutchins, who lives near the park on Hillside, favors prioritizing the plan for a park welcome center on West Wieuca. “It gives an access into the park. It gives a statement that you have arrived,” she stated. She said she favors the welcome center because it provides impetus for future growth. “It sets the standard and the stage. I think it is a wonderful entré.”

As for Mock, he is not supposed to express an opinion, but he favors the West Wieuca Boulevard concept. “Visually it gives the same impression…You are here…This is a park,” he said. He added that it almost has to be coupled with the design for a parking deck in order to get the cars off the street.”

The remaining public input sessions in this series are Saturday, Aug. 11, 8-11 a.m. at the tennis center in the park, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2-4 pm, at the Chastain Pool; Thursday, Aug. 16, 6:30-8:30 pm, at NYO’s Dowis Building, and Monday, Aug. 27, 6:30-8:30 pm, at Sutton Middle School, for the Chastain Park Civic Association meeting. For further information, go to www.chastainparkconservancy.org.

The master plan will then move on to the next phase, incorporating what is learned through these public input meetings.