By Stephanie Ramage

The Dunwoody City Council has decided to delay its vote on the city’s wide-ranging parks master plan, which some city officials have said could be financed through a $51 million bond. Mayor Ken Wright has said the city has not yet decided to seek a bond.

About 80 residents turned out at a recent council meeting to voice their feelings about the plan put forward by consultants. Many attending the meeting were concerned about locating three ball fields in Brook Run Park.

The plan calls for closing the ball fields at Dunwoody Park, by the Dunwoody Nature Center, and allowing the nature center to expand.

Councilman Danny Ross referred to this as a $7 million project to relocate ball fields, when the taxpayers might be better served by refurbishing the city’s existing ball fields.

“That’s a lot of money to move a ball field from a neighborhood where they do want it to a neighborhood where they don’t want it,” Ross said.

Some residents suggested that the city instead should seek to purchase property where a complex completely devoted to baseball and softball could be built.

Lakeview Oaks residents said building the ball fields next door to their subdivision would create more drainage problems in an area already built in a flood plain and burdened with flooding. Additionally, they worried about noise from the ball fields, traffic and light pollution. “My yard really looks onto the Brook Run property,” Hilbert Margol, a 25-year resident of Dunwoody, told the council.

Though the city didn’t back off its plan, the outcry was enough to defer a vote indefinitely.

City Councilman John Heneghan, who has visited Lakeview Oaks and toured the bordering area of Brook Run, said that if artificial turf is used, the residents’ fears could be warranted because rainwater would not be absorbed into soil and vegetation.

Heneghan expressed support for the parks plan. His concern, he said, was that the city provide places of recreation for young people. “If you serve the 4-year-olds, the rest will follow,” he said. “I just don’t understand how a playground could be detrimental to a community.”

Resident George Bender acknowledged the needs of young people, but responded with a plea. “What are you thinking? I love you, John, I really do. But let’s not make decisions on millions of dollars on things we don’t know,” he said, reminding the council that when the city of Dunwoody was formed just a scant two years ago, its council promised to deliver fiscal responsibility. “I see politicians all of a sudden now that want to start spending taxpayer money like crazy.” He wanted to see the council take more time in determining a parks plan.

City Councilman Robert Wittenstein said the city has been hard at work on the parks plan for six months. He supports the plan as it stands. City Councilwoman Adrian Bonser does not. “I completely oppose moving the ball fields from the nature center to Brook Run,” Bonser said. “I know the nature center wants to expand,” she said. “But teaching kids about nature can happen at any location.” Also, she said, the ball fields at Brook Run, given that practice tends to take place after school, will create more traffic problems for the area during rush hour.

Ross concurred. “I can’t imagine putting my grandchild in the car at 4 o’clock in the afternoon to try to get to a baseball game there,” he said. City Councilman Denis Shortal said he didn’t like the idea that Lakeview Oaks might be the only neighborhood that doesn’t get some compromise from the city. “We’ve shut down the road behind the library,” he said, referring to a plan to expand Ashford Center Parkway into the Chestnut Ridge subdivision. “We’ve shut down the greenway under the power lines. There’s no reason why this neighborhood should be the one where we draw the line.”

The neighbors in Winwood Hollow want to be sure that if there are restrooms placed in the parks, there is some way to monitor their access to discourage illegal activity in them. “Let’s not rush into this,” said Mike Gluck.

But City Councilman Doug Thompson said the park is “very dated.”

“It needs a facelift,” he said.

Pat Sadler, president of Dunwoody Senior Baseball, a volunteer group based at the city’s current ball fields, expressed the need for improvements.

“Whatever you decide, we’re going to run with it,” he told the council. “But our parking lot is shot. Our restroom is not ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant. We have had trees topple onto our field. That’s a 40 year-old facility.”

Shortal reminded his colleagues that they had all said they would be fiscally responsible and the master plan requires a tax increase if it’s financed by a bond, a statement which earned the ire of Mayor Ken Wright.

“It’s a master plan!” Wright said. “We haven’t talked about a bond. We have not gone down that path. If we do a bond, it will be on a citizens’ referendum.”