A proposal to create an urban trail system in Dunwoody along a Georgia Power Co. easement is not off to a running start.
A meeting called specifically to gather resident input at City Hall drew more than 200 people Feb. 21.
Instead of a format where council members listened to residents’ grievances about the trailways, Warren Hutmacher, city manager gave a brief presentation and planners attempted to gather people’s input.
For the most part, the responses were negative and the atmosphere was heated. The reason: a 4.5-mile stretch of power line easement that could be converted into a city ‘greenway’ could tread through many backyards in the city.
The idea for the 4.5-mile stretch is to create a backbone for a city trail system that would link to parks within the city and also, eventually, link to Gwinnett County’s trail system to the north and Fulton’s to the west.
At the meeting, however, there seemed to be more questions than answers. In fact, many residents said the only reason they even knew about the greenway in the first place was because a neighbor had put a flyer about it on their doors.
One woman wondered whether her property could be affected with or without the trail being built. The fact that the trail bisects her parcel on a map could be enough to ‘encumber’ the property if she wanted to sell it, she speculated.
Others wondered how a shaded, fenced trail could be built underneath a power line easement. Georgia Power Co. strictly enforces what kind of trees can be planted underneath the company’s high-voltage power lines, they said. Who would use the trail in the heat of the summer?
For Lewis Miller, who lives near Winwood Hollow Park, it was all about business. The biking enthusiast has used the Silver Comet Trail that runs from Cobb County to Alabama.
However, when people are suffering in an economy that has yet to turn around, a trail system is an extravagance, he said. He wondered how a city that operates on an $18 million budget has a 10-year spending plan that outlines $61 million be spent on parks.
“It’s putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “Dunwoody property values are down. DeKalb County has to cut services and they just lost their bond rating. At this point in time, it comes down to what we can afford.”
But Dunwoody’s discussion about the greenway and parks is more complex than just discussions of the budget. Some residents say that part of the reason they supported the city’s incorporation in the first place was to create more and better parks.
John Crawford, with Dunwoody Senior Baseball, said that since the city has taken over local parks, Dunwoody Park’s baseball fields have improved. Brent Walker, the city’s parks director, has made good on improvements around the ball fields, including running a water line to the park’s concession stand.
“These are all things that the county would have never done,” Crawford said.
In the midst of all the controversy over the parks, the city plans to move forward with a bond referendum in November to raise revenue for park improvements and the acquisition of more parks.
At the greenway meeting, an increased sales tax was not on the minds of Forrest or Carol Johnson. They were worried about the trail destroying a garden of field peas, corn and other truck crops that they have nurtured. “You’d have to abandon it” Forrest Johnson said.
The organic garden, 100 by 75 feet, has been there since the Johnson’s moved to a Dunwoody neighborhood near Happy Hollow Road. It’s directly beneath the power lines.
“We don’t want it, period,” Forrest Johnson said. “The only way they’ll get it is they’ll have to condemn it.”
Others didn’t draw such a hard line. Kay Ruggiero said that she was happy to hear that the city wasn’t looking for large easements along portions of the trail that were near residences.
Besides, the trail likely wouldn’t be built until she retires, she joked. If it is built, she said she could live with a trail that was built “at the land at the very, very end of the easement.”