By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.net

The Garden Hills neighborhood has designs on spending a quarter-million dollars or more on the Heart of Garden Hills Project — a redevelopment of the neighborhood pool and park and improvements to the intersection of Rumson and Bolling roads and Brentwood Drive, just off East Wesley Road.

Janet Tomko, who describes herself as an enthusiastic volunteer, and Steven McCauley, whom she describes as the dreamer/idea guy who came up with the concept, stood before the board of Neighborhood Planning Unit B on Oct. 7 to gain a vote of confidence needed to seek a grant from Park Pride and the Woodruff Foundation to help propel the project after three years of planning.

Tomko acknowledged “a lot of strife in the neighborhood between factions” over the years — the Garden Hills Civic Association, Garden Hills Garden Club and Garden Hills Pool & Parks Association, the private nonprofit that has authority over the pool and soccer field in the neighborhood. The pool and park are open to the public, except the pool has subscriber hours at the end of the day during the season (about three hours per day).

She said a group of residents started the Heart of Garden Hills Project three years ago because they “wanted a project that would bring the neighborhood together, that would have the ability of a public-private partnership for something that would benefit not only the neighborhood, but also the whole city. We have brought together all of the three civic associations in Garden Hills.”

She said the group started with local developers and businesses to raise a core fund for the project. The Novare Group, which co-developed the Gallery condominiums at one entrance to the neighborhood (Peachtree and Rumson roads), has been very supportive financially, Tomko said.

Tomko and McCauley appeared before the NPU-B board because they are seeking grants from Park Pride and the Woodruff Foundation for the project, and the application requires approval by the local NPU. They are trying to leverage the money they have in the bank.

Tomko said Phase 1 would include a major boulevard cleanup — removing most of the overgrowth, widening the sidewalks, regrading and renovating the soccer field, and installing a new, more attractive fence around the pool. The present fence is chain link and razor wire.

Also in Phase 1 the plan is to install decking around the trees that surround the pool area. Arbors with evergreen vines would be installed over the decking around the pool. The only trees that would be removed would be those that are dead, Tomko said.

The idea is to “create a really nice, elevated place so that the parents can sit out there and watch their children at the pool,” she said. The plan is to install a decorative and functional stone-wall bench on the soccer field side and new landscaping all around.

Phase 2 “is an important part of what we are trying to do by addressing the traffic issues,” Tomko said. “Because of the number of schools surrounding this area, we have kids literally walking and running to and from school all the time.”

The project would address the busy intersection with a raised traffic island and roundabout. Traffic from all directions would have to stop before entering the roundabout.

There is a traffic island in the intersection now, but it is not directly in the area where the roads come together. It is off to the side. “Now the cars very rarely stop at the intersection,” Tomko said. “It would provide a really nice visual centerpiece for the neighborhood.”

The group has checked the roundabout dimensions with Lowe Engineers, the Department of Transportation and the Fire Department to ensure that it will work for emergency vehicles as well as normal traffic.

Right now, the intersection just does not make sense, she said, but the plan makes sense for vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

The Phase 2 improvements are not part of the grant request to Park Pride and the Woodruff Foundation. The grant is for improvements in the park. The grant is up to $50,000, but the applicant must have matching funds.

“We already have those funds in the bank,” Tomko said. “We have been fundraising and putting money aside. We are seeking this grant and any other grant monies available. We are ready to get this project in the ground.”

The group has raised about $250,000 and hopes to get Phase 1 and more done for that.

“The good thing about the economy is that you can get a whole lot of bang for your money right now,” Tomko said. “We can get a whole lot more now than we could three years ago. It is a shame that it has taken us this long. But in the long run I think we are going to end up with much better results.”

She said the group also is working on design standards for all of the entrances and islands in the Garden Hills neighborhood.

“We are hoping that this is a very sustainable project with very high-quality materials,” she said. “We have a phenomenal contractor who has done a lot of work with the city of Atlanta parks organization. So we are hoping for a very high-quality project that will serve as an example of how neighborhoods can come together and really improve their public face. This is where Garden Hills gathers and plays.”