By Gerhard Schneibel

The debate about the renovation of Chastain Park’s tennis center flared up at the July 1 meeting of Neighborhood Planning Unit-A (NPU-A).

Some progress was made toward a resolution, and members of the opposing parties, the Chastain Park Civic Association and the Chastain Park Conservancy, acknowledged that a study-group process used to gather community input needs improvement.

Civic Association members June 2 accused the Conservancy of bypassing their input for the project, which involves $800,000 in opportunity grant money from the city of Atlanta. The association decided during meetings April 2, May 14 and May 29 to push for one more tennis court and smaller indoor facilities than the Conservancy proposed.

Chastain Park has nine tennis courts now.

John Williams of the Civic Association said a building large enough for a 20-person conference room would be at variance with the Chastain Park master plan, developed by the Conservancy in 2006 and 2007.

“The master plan is supposed to be a guideline. It is not something you have to modify every time you do something in the park,” Williams said. “Please realize that Chastain Park is very, very unique in the city. It is encapsulated by neighborhoods on all sides. Our main concern throughout this process is that our neighborhood, our community, have input in projects that go on in and around the park, specifically projects that affect our community.”

Civic Association board member Brink Dickerson said his main concern is not a $50,000 tennis court, but his group’s role in park planning. “Will the Civic Association be ignored when more important issues are on the table, and is this just the first of more battles? I’m sorry we spent so much time and resources thinking about a tennis court, but that’s really the issue, and I guess the solution to this is to come up with a method so community input is solicited in a less biased way.”

Conservancy executive director Mark Root, however, said the extra tennis court, not the facility with the conference room, would break from the master plan and would require further review.

He suggested moving ahead with the current plan while starting the process for a separate project to add a court. “Our plan there would be to go back to the four local civic associations within the community with a Web-based survey to give more input. We think we can have that done by mid-August.”

The city’s director of park design, Sushma Dersch, said city standards require a conference room to support activities and programs in the facility.

“Our Department of Parks and Recreation will actually manage the facility, so it’s very important to consider how they’re going to run the facility. Of course, they are there to meet the needs of the community as well as to work with everybody to get a nice facility,” she said. “We’re not separating the courts from the building or the buildings from the courts. We look at them as one whole complex. Funding, as you know, is always an issue, and we were very fortunate to have the use of opportunity bonds.”

She urged the two sides to cooperate so the project can move to the stage at which contractors make bids.

The opportunity grant expires at the end of the year.

“We have a very short window, and we want to do this as quickly as possible,” Dersch said. “We had a very successful project, I think, when we finished the [Chastain Park] swimming pool. It was also a very short window, and I think our goal is to do the same thing for the tennis center project. … I just want everybody to sort of be patient, work with each other and be patient with us.”