By John Schaffner

Friends of Tanyard Creek Park were somewhat encouraged at an Aug. 28 BeltLine planning meeting when Ed McKinney of the Glatting Jackson consulting firm, which is working on a BeltLine Master Plan, promised a full review of the PATH Foundation’s plans for a 12-foot-wide concrete trail through the heart of the historic park.

McKinney told the group of about 35 primarily Buckhead neighborhood representatives meeting at the Peachtree Hills Recreation Center he is “in the dark” about what PATH is doing. He promised three action items:

(1) He will meet one-on-one or with groups of neighborhood representatives to discover what they want to see happen with the trail in the area of Tanyard Creek Park.

(2) He will facilitate a meeting in the park with PATH and neighborhood representatives to discuss the proposals face-to-face.

(3) He would produce a base map and/or a tour of the site before a Sept. 15 deadline given to the Friends of Tanyard Creek Park to provide any alternative routes to the consultants.

However, the group also was concerned about their ability for input into the process based on the constraints of a timeline presented to them for a final Master Plan document to be completed and being informed that signoff on the “trails and parks” aspect of the Master Plan will be finalized at the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. level and will not go before either the neighborhood planning units, which represent the neighborhoods or City Council for approval.

Asked what the level of detail will be in the Master Plan, which is to be completed by Jan. 22, 2008, the group was told the land use part will be parcel specific, as will the transportation part of the plan. The parks and trails part of study will not be as detailed because it is not a part of the Master Plan.

When Atlanta BeltLine Inc. Chief Operations Officer Tina Arbis was pressured by members of the Friends of Tanyard Creek Park as to why there was seemingly no public input planned relating to the trails, Arbis attempted to cut off discussion of the proposed PATH through the park.

That not quieting the neighborhood representatives who want to preserve the park the way it is and not allow the concrete path to cut through the heart of the park, Arbis challenged the group to decide if they wanted to have the additional park on Collier Road where the Howard home previously had stood or they wanted that land sold back for some other use.

Arbis told the group if they want the Howard land for a park, then they have to accept the PATH trail connecting to the Howard property, which she said would mean accepting PATH’s route for the trail.

Arbis reiterated that the trail connecting to the Howard land was part of the purchase deal worked out by the Trust for Public Land and the city of Atlanta.

Arbis has been charged by the Friends of Tanyard Creek Park or meeting privately with PATH representatives to move forward this segment of the trail as quickly as possible.

It also was pointed out that Arbis, at an Aug. 23 meeting, handed out a document entitled “Background-Northwest Trail,” which Friends of Tanyard Creek Park, along with neighborhood representatives and media who have attended years of meetings about the PATH alignment in this area, pointed out was riddled with errors.

The same document was included in materials handed out by the BeltLine group representatives at the Aug. 28 meeting. However, Arbis was not happy that another document that corrected the information in the Arbis handout also was distributed to those attending the meeting. That document was prepared by Steven Hart a resident of Spring Valley Road and the person elected to be the liaison between Atlanta BeltLine Inc. and the public regarding meetings such as the one Aug. 28 and the next one Sept. 25, which also will be held in the Peachtree Hills Recreation Center, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Before leaving the meeting early, the BeltLine COO told the group that the timing for developing and adopting the Master Plan is critical and that the calendar will not be changed to change directions based on public input. Informing the public of the timeline and the review phases along the way of the Master Plan development was the main purpose of the Aug. 28 meeting.

However, McKinney’s promise to seek public input on the trail gave some hope to those who don’t want to see the PATH trail cut through the Tanyard Creek Park and meadow where some 6,500 soldiers lost their lives in the Battle of Peachtree Creek during the Battle of Atlanta.

During the BeltLine activity update portion of the program, it was reported that on that day, legislation approved by the City Council’s Utilities Committee provided $30 million for the development of a 13- to 16-acre “aesthetic storm water feature” across North Avenue from City Hall East. It would begin to be developed within five years.

In the audience at the meeting was Bill Eisenhauer, a Midtown environmental activist who in 2002 was part of a group of engineers citizen activists who proposed separating the city’s sewers and developing storm water holding ponds and lakes throughout the city as an alternative to the massive tunnels now being bored under the streets of the city.

That proposal was fiercely discredited by the city department that became Watershed Management and its consultants and was dismissed as not workable in solving any of the city’s sewer problems. The proposal for the new “aesthetic storm water feature,” the same program as what Eisenhauer and his group proposed, is now being proposed by the city’s Department of Watershed Management as part of the BeltLine project.

As Arbis described this part of the BeltLine project, Eisenhauer sat quietly with a broad smile on his face.