By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.net

The Sandy Springs City Council—with a full complement of members for the first time since August—took a straw vote Nov. 13 on a dog park for the city as the first phase of a grander Morgan Falls Park. What they ended up supporting was the first plan drawn up by developer John Willis and the costliest.

What first started out with the city discussing spending $25,000 to add a dog park at Ridgeview Park in the southeast part of the city off Peachtree Dunwoody Road, now is being estimated to cost over $276,000, with the city chipping in $150,000.

But, as Mayor Eva Galambos indicated during the update discussion at the council’s work session, it is an investment into a much larger future park.

That was pretty much the message developer John Willis sent to the council when he was called forward at the beginning of the meeting to provide an update on his efforts to design and find funding for a dog park at Morgan Falls so that the council would no longer consider the Ridgeview Park site, which is in Willis’ backyard.

Willis showed council a Plan A and a Plan B for the dog park at Morgan Falls, Plan A being one he and his engineers drew up and Plan B being one that had been tweaked by the rowing club at Georgia Tech—which would use facilities at the new park—and the Sandy Springs Conservancy which has secured the land where the park would be located. In both cases, the actual dog park area would be .9 acres.

Willis told council this is “not just a dog park, but actually phase I of a larger and grander Morgan Falls Park,” with a boat launching area on the river and trails for walking.

Willis described Plan A as being least impactful on what is there in terms of grading of the land. This park he explained caters to the dog park and has a smaller amount of impervious surfaces. It has a shed for rowing boats and equipment with a drive right to it. He said the drawbacks are that the parking lot is elongated and thought to be less safe and that he is not sure there is enough room for vehicles with boat trailers to turn around in a proposed circle.

Willis explained that Plan B puts the parking area near the main road and closer to what would be future venues. It might be better for the grand park of the future. The impervious surfaces would be further from the river and half the parking area could be chopped off more easily. He said parking was planned for 70-72 spaces. He said the actual dog areas are minimized, tucked back out of sight as the park is entered.

The drawbacks to Plan B, he said were that the rowing shed might have some security problems and there is no roadway leading to the rowing shed. People would have to carry their boats down a pathway to the water.

Karen Meinzen McEnerny said she felt Plan B gives more of a sense of arrival to something bigger.

Willis had originally been challenged by council to come up with a dog park plan for Morgan Falls and the difference in funding between the $25,000 the council would authorize for Ridgeview Park and the estimated $200,000 to build the facility at Morgan Falls if he and his neighbors were so adamant about not having the dog park at Ridgeview.

Of the two plans he presented to council Nov. 13, Plan A was estimated to cost $276,220 and Plan B $260,850. Willis said he had in-kind donations on construction of 30 percent of the cost, or about $70,000. He also said the engineering work so far has been free and his firm would donate the construction work at the park. That leaves $150,000 needed from the city, which City Manager John McDonough would include $100,000 coming from the recreational funding for schools and $50,000 that would come from the city’s street paving budget.

After some discussion of the merits of the two plans, the mayor sought a consensus from council members as to which plan they favored. Plan A won. The approval to move forward with the dog park plan will come up for public discussion and a vote at the Nov. 20 council meeting.