By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

A $2 million portion of a City of Atlanta Opportunity Grant designated for improvements in Chastain Park is set to expire at the end of the year and has given rise to heated disagreements between the Chastain Park Civic Association (CPCA) and the Chastain Park Conservancy, which was designated by the city to manage the improvements.

About $1 million has been spent to refurbish the park pool; another $200,000 was earmarked for improvements to the recreation center. However, plans to build a new tennis center with the remaining $800,000 have become a point of contention.

During a June 2 Chastain Park Civic Association meeting at the Galloway School, John Williams and other association members accused the conservancy of bypassing recommendations made through the CPCA’s new study group process. The study groups of about 5 people met April 2, May 14 and May 29, Williams said.

The study group recommended a facility of about 2,000 square feet with a “modestly sized conference room” and an additional tennis court, Williams said. Instead they were presented with proposals considerably larger in size with a 20-person conference room but no additional tennis court. The existing facility has an about 1,100 square-foot building and nine tennis courts.

According to Williams the study group is “a process by which representatives from the community would have input on major projects going in and around the park.”

However, the association voted its approval of the Chastain Park Master Plan as developed by the Conservancy at a well-attended meeting in late January of this year, without contention of the development plans for the tennis facility.

“We did approve the master plan with, of course, the neighborhood planning units (NPUs) back in [January] and assured them that there is a mechanism within the master plan to allow the community to give input. The tennis center is really the first project – a test for this process – that went through this process. A study group was formed,” he said.

“We asked, ‘Is there any way you could mock up a new center with a tennis court somewhere in the mix?’ It was at that point in time [Conservancy Executive Director] Mark [Root] pointed out at 2,100 square feet there wouldn’t be enough funds to pay for an additional court and I said, ‘Well, can we plan towards it in the future?’”

Two current versions of the plan call for 2,600 square feet or 2,800 square feet, according to Williams, and neither include the tennis court he had hoped to gain

“I had a major concern in that at 2,100 [square feet] there was not enough funds for more courts. Now we’ve got another proposal that was basically 600 or 800 square feet more. So, the funds are there somewhere.”

Root argued a master plan for the entire park, which has been available since 2003, calls for a new center of about 3,200 square feet and does not address any new courts. It would have to be rewritten to add a court, and the 20-person conference room was a stipulation put forth by the city, he said.

“If we’re going to add additional courts, then that changes some of the parameters. As the conservancy, when we took this around we told this body, we told the other civic associations in NPU-A, we told 25 NPUs around the city that here’s what we’re doing with the land that’s in this park. And that was an obligation we had as a regional park. If it’s a neighborhood park there are different criteria. But as a regional park, we had to go through a broader process and we said we’re not adding courts. We’re going to create about a half acre of green space,” he said.

Dianne Harnell Cohen, Commissioner of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, said the city maintains a memorandum of understanding entrusting the Chastain Park Conservancy with the park’s master plan and fundraising for it.

“The master plan did go through and did not at that time include any tennis courts,” she said. “The issue of the classroom is simply that all of our recreation centers – as we remodel our facilities—have classrooms for education, for staff meetings and training. If we’re going to run the center as it is a City of Atlanta center, then we have to design it so it functions for us also.

“I was involved in many of the community meetings, so I do know that community planning went on,” she added.