By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.net

The Atlanta BeltLine’s citizens’ Northside Study Group — which earlier lost its battle to change the route of the PATH Foundation’s BeltLine trail through Tanyard Creek Park — was called back into action to review the proposed routes for the Atlanta Memorial Trail along the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center and Bobby Jones Golf Club.

Many of those attending the study group meeting, held April 7, objected to parts of the trail routes and proposed plans, which they claim would destroy an area known as Cathedral Woods. After much discussion, an alternative route was proposed through part of the golf course, which PATH and BeltLine representatives agreed to fully study.

The two-part meeting began at 4 p.m., when about 30 neighborhood representatives met with BeltLine planners and PATH Foundation staff at the Bitsy Grant Center to walk two trails.

The second part of the meeting, which ran from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the AGL Resources offices in Midtown, was a discussion of the trail alignments, landscaping and design elements and opportunities for interpretive materials and public art along the trails. About 25 citizens — many of whom attended the trail walk — attended the discussion portion of the two-part meeting.

Planning is proceeding on these trail segments because the project has received federal transportation funds through the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) with additional funds being provided by PATH.

Just as with the earlier discussions of the Tanyard Creek Park PATH, there were objections and prolonged dialogue of the alignments of the two new proposed PATH trails, as well as discussions related to tree removal and surface type to be used for the trail.

One of the two routes considered is the continuation of the Tanyard Creek Park BeltLine trail from north of Collier Road to Delwood Drive at the Colonial Homes development.

The second is the proposed Tanyard Atlanta Memorial Trail, a spur that will break off from the BeltLine trail at the golf course, wrap around the north side of the tennis center and continue to Northside Drive.

It eventually will connect with a portion of the trail that the GDOT is planning to build as part of the improvements to Northside Drive, which are to begin in 2009. The GDOT portion then will connect with the short PATH section that runs from Sagamore to Peachtree Battle along Northside Drive, north of the golf course.

PATH’s proposed routes for the two trails call for moving greens on the first and 14th holes of the golf course as well as tee boxes on the second and 15th holes.

It was a section of the proposed route of the spur trail and the new positioning of the tee box for the 15th hole that most upset residents from the area, especially those from the Collier Hills North neighborhood.

They claim it could destroy a 5-acre triangular wooded habitat that also was a primary Civil War site for the Battle of Peachtree Creek.

Tony Casadonte, former president of the Collier Hills North Civic Association and a Northside Study Group coordinator, led the opposition to cutting down trees and destroying the natural habitat in Cathedral Woods to relocate golf tees there. He suggested PATH could find a way to weave the BeltLine trail through the woods without removing excessive numbers of trees and ruining the wildlife habitat.

“(The) PATH footprint needs to fit within the existing footprint of the golf course,” Casadonte said. Cutting trees down and putting four tee boxes in the Cathedral Woods area “is totally unacceptable to the neighborhood,” he said.

Eric Ranney, chair of Neighborhood Planning Unit-C, told the BeltLine and PATH representatives, “You are going to have a real problem if you try to ram this through,” without neighborhood buy-in.

The proposed alternative for part of the trail route — that came out of almost two hours of haggling — would consider joining the PATH trail with the golf cart path near the first and 14th greens and running them together through an unused green space laterally between the 15th and 16th fairways of the golf course. That still would allow the BeltLine PATH to end at Bellwood Drive.

That proposed change in the routing of the PATHs would eliminate the need to cut down many mature trees in order to relocate the four tee boxes within the Cathedral Woods.

Casadante pointed out that the BeltLine and Atlanta Parks Department cited minimizing tree loss as one of their major considerations in denying the neighborhood’s preferred trail route through Tanyard Creek Park. He said the same criteria should apply at Cathedral Woods.

The major discussion of landscaping along the trails turned into one of preserving the natural habitat — especially in Cathedral Woods — by removing intrusive elements, such as privet and ivy, and “allowing the native natural systems to be the overriding design criteria,” according to Casadonte. He chided PATH for already destroying too much of the natural habitat in the manner by which it has removed some of the privet. He said a habitat that has supported coyotes, foxes, bird life and amphibians and reptiles was severely damaged.

Paul Taylor, assistant director of the city’s Park Design Office, said that a parallel planning process is in place to determine how the Howard Property will be landscaped and set up for public use. The Howard Property, purchased by the city with the understanding the PATH would run through it, is located along Tanyard Creek and runs from Collier Road and Overbrook Drive toward the Bobby Jones Golf Course.

PATH agreed to study the alternative trail route and report back at the next Northside Study Group meeting, on Monday, May 5 at 6:30 p.m. at AGL Resources, 10 Peachtree Place in Midtown.

Atlanta BeltLine Inc. also will be holding its public quarterly briefing meeting, 6-8 p.m. on April 17 at the Atlanta Public Schools Auditorium, 130 Trinity Avenue in downtown Atlanta.