By John Schaffner
Council District 7 in Buckhead is “dead last” when ranked by the amount of parkland and green space within the area, according to Councilman Howard Shook. He says he wants to find a way to improve the landscape.
“The last time I checked, the (council) district average was around 300 acres (of parkland and green space by district),” Shook said. “We have 70 acres in District 7.
“We are dead last by a long shot.”
That is why Shook went to the Buckhead Community Improvement District and Buckhead Area Transportation Management Authority (BATMA) to secure funding and administrative help in doing an inventory of existing and, more importantly, potential parks, green spaces and playground areas. Shook said the study will take about a year.
“I was interested to read in your paper (the Buckhead Reporter, April 23-May 6 edition) that a certain neighborhood president suggested there was no real difference between District 7 and the rest of Buckhead (when it comes to park acreage), which prompted me to look up the numbers,” Shook said. “We have 70-something acres. District 8 has 502 acres.”
In fact, District 8 may contain the most parkland in the city. It contains Chastain Park, the largest park in the city, and Atlanta Memorial Park, which includes Bobby Jones Golf Course.
“One problem that we all face is that our park space has been deflated because they count what they refer to as ‘beauty spots,’ which might be a (neighborhood) circle or a cul-de-sac, which are not really parks.”
He admitted that those represent small amounts of acreage in the count, “but they add up and there are a surprising amount of those.”
Shook said the BATMA study will look at public entities and properties they hold. “Atlanta Public Schools owns a lot of property no one is really aware of. Georgia Department of Transportation owns a lot of property no one is really aware of. MARTA owns property,” he said. “So, one of the first things we are going to do is come up with an inventory that will provide us with a roadmap of who we should go talk to about putting some property together.
“I want to have a conversation with large property owners about finding a way to possibly share already built playgrounds—such as schools and churches,” Shook said. “There are going to be a ton of legal questions, a ton of liability questions, a ton of turf questions, but let’s have a conversation and see what can be worked out.”
The councilman explained, “It would be a lot cheaper to buy access to somebody’s existing playground than to buy property and install a playground that is right across the street.”
He also talked about the amount of “distressed property out there that is increasingly becoming bank-owned that may provide some opportunities.”
Shook said a Georgia Tech expert working with the Obama administration suggested at a meeting of the Buckhead CID that commercial property that is distressed or zoned for development unlikely to happen could be used for parks or playgrounds until the market turns around.
But Shook argues that would never work. “Twenty years later, you can’t tell people a 20-story building is going where you now play,”
Shook said Atlanta’s policy for years has been that it is not going to take on park space unless it has private partners who are contractually obligated to keep it up.
“Sadly, I have learned that park space, like apple pie, is a lot more appealing as an idea than a reality,” Shook stated. “There are people who get really upset if you tell them we are going to create a park next door, because it conjures up an image of crime and trash and all that. Little Nancy Creek Park is coming along nicely—everyone loves it, with the notable exception of a couple of adjacent neighbors.”
Shook also predicts a change in city laws will be required because the code says the city will not acquire park space that is less than 2 acres.
“We need to find a way to stitch in green spaces along our dense commercial thoroughfares,” such as Roswell and Peachtree roads he said. “They are all going to be well under 2 acres. Right now, that 2-acre policy is a barrier to us. I told the Parks Department that policy has to go, and they agree.”
One of the larger tracts that has been mentioned for a park area is the Related Company’s property on Roxboro Road, which was going to be developed into 3,900 condo units in several high-rise buildings, but now has been taken over by the bank. “The people who live in the condos surrounding that property would love to have a park there,” Shook said.
(A listing of all parks by council districts, including their size, can be reviewed on the city’s website www.atlantaga.gov by going to the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs under the Departments category.)