By Stephanie Ramage
Doris Williams moved into her home in Dunwoody’s Lakeview Oaks subdivision 10 years ago with the expectation that it would be the last house she ever bought.
“And that’s true for almost everyone in the neighborhood,” Williams says. “When we leave, it’ll be feet first.”
That’s why Williams and about two dozen of her fellow Lakeview Oaks homeowners turned out at the Dunwoody City Council’s March 14 work session: They are determined to fight the city’s plan to build three ball fields on the Brook Run Park property that abuts their quiet woodland enclave.
The placement of the ball fields is part of a much larger parks development plan that city officials expect to finance with a $51 million bond.
City Council members who support the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan argue that now is the time to buy acreage — prices are low, but they may be increasing again soon. Others say the city is rushing to decisions.
While municipal bonds carry debt that has earned the ire of taxpayers across the country, in Lakeview Oaks the issue is sensitivity to the wishes of retirees they say deserve some say in what happens next door.
“I have walked the property back there,” Williams’ neighbor, Donna Hardesty, told the council. “And what is there now is 50 feet of hardwoods. If you tear that down to build the ball fields, you will tear down the buffer and it will just scare all of the snakes and rodents over into our neighborhood.
“We need to consider what the citizens of Dunwoody want and not just what looks pretty on the page.” she said.
Besides, added Williams, when she spoke after Hardesty, there is the noise from the ballgames going late into the night and the 12 light towers that will illuminate her neighborhood to consider.
Williams and Hardesty would like the city to consider moving the Dunwoody Nature Center from Dunwoody Park to Brook Run and building any desired additional ball fields at Dunwoody Park.
Ann Hicks, president of the nature center’s board, disagrees. She supports the plan as it now stands because it would allow her center to stay at Dunwoody Park and expand.
Frank Lockridge, president of the Lakeview Oaks Homeowners Association, asked the council to scale back its plans.
“To locate three ball parks here, this is very, very close to our community,” he said as city staffers projected an image of the proposed ball parks onto a screen. “If it’s lighted, it will certainly be a disturbance. It will definitely impact the lifestyle of the people in this retired community. I think, at a maximum, there should only be two ball parks there, not three.”
There was a suggestion that a playground might be better than ball fields.
City Councilman Robert Wittenstein said he supports putting the three ball fields behind Lakeview Oaks as the master plan recommends.
“I am respectful of the neighbors, but I know people who live next to ball fields now who say they are quieter than a playground,” he said. “I am a big supporter of keeping the three ball fields where they are in the plan.”
That option doesn’t have Councilman Danny Ross’ vote. “When you have someone who has lived there since 1968 say they are concerned about lights and noise, I put a lot of strength on that,” he said. “I don’t think we should put the baseball parks there. I think it should be a more passive park all the way around.”
Councilman Denis Shortal pointed out that he has been saying “buffer, buffer, buffer” from the whole plan’s introduction. The massive blueprint of water features, volleyball and basketball courts, tennis courts, a new dog park, a Frisbee golf course, a great field and other amenities, he says, seems a bit luxurious for a new city in a difficult economy.
“It’s a little too utopian, a little too pie-in-the-sky,” Shortal said. “As I was looking at it, I just kept thinking ‘This is a great governmental document, kind of a utopian plan that’s packed with pork.’ If we had money in the budget, fine, but all the money we have is theirs out there,” he said with a wave toward the audience. “Frisbee golf may be a great game, but I’ve never even heard of it.”
When Shortal and Ross compared the plan to buying a Bentley, Mayor Ken Wright raised his voice. “Let’s stop grandstanding and just have a discussion,” Wright said.
The “grandstanding,” though, echoed the worries of Lewis Miller, a Dunwoody resident who crunched the numbers for the bond issue. He argued the parks plan is irresponsible because it relies on bonds.