North Buckhead Civic Association president Gordon Certain, right, honors City Councilman Howard Shook during the association’s annual meeting.

A plan for a $10 million, five-mile trail along the Ga. 400 corridor is drawing critics.

Concerns are mostly centered on the perception that the trail will invite criminals to stroll through residents’ backyards and bring extra cars to park on their streets.

Denise Starling, Livable Buckhead’s executive director, said the group is trying to allay public concerns. The group is working through civic associations and the local media to get the word out about the input meetings.

Inevitably some people will not become aware of it until construction actually begins, she said.

“That’s one of the biggest challenges to public engagement,” Starling said. “They don’t come out until they’re opposed to something.”

Construction on the trail, now proposed to start at Loridans Drive and end at a spur to the planned Atlanta BeltLine, could start in 2013 or 2014, according to Livable Buckhead. The nonprofit proposed the trails as part of the organization’s effort to identify and create more green space in Buckhead.

A survey of north Buckhead homeowners by the North Buckhead Civic Association found a strong majority favor the construction of multi-use trails along the Ga. 400 corridor, but that residents close to the trails are the most likely to oppose them.

Starling said there are around 50 residents with yards along the proposed trail path, but many more in the surrounding neighborhoods who worry about the trail’s impact.

The association’s online survey, discussed at the group’s annual meeting March 29, drew 320 responses, including 26 from people who did not live in the area, said Gordon Certain, president of the association. About 72 percent liked the proposal for the trails, while only about 16 percent disliked the plan, according to a report.

But less than a quarter of the 34 residents who said they lived adjacent to the trails supported the idea, while 62 percent of those residents opposed the plan, Certain said.

“The major factor for people who like or didn’t like the Ga. 400 trail is proximity,” Certain told about 100 residents who attended the gathering at St. James United Methodist Church.

Certain said the survey also showed that people who now use other trails also were much more likely to support the Ga. 400 trails than people who don’t use other trails.

Leanne West, a spokeswoman for residents who live along the proposed trail and question the plan, said opponents object to access the trail will provide to outsiders into their neighborhoods.

“We really don’t want strangers in our back yards,” said West, who presented a PowerPoint presentation about the trails on behalf of Concerned Citizens About Livable Buckhead’s Ga. 400 Path Project.

Opponents also believe the trail will eliminate trees and bring outsiders who will disrupt the quiet, tight-knit cul de sacs.

“Right now, we know everyone on our streets,” West said. “If you allow parking on our streets, we don’t know who’s there legitimately and who’s there to take a child.”

But Atlanta Police Maj. Robert Browning, commander of the police zone that includes Buckhead, said police “have not had problems in any of these trails. The fear that criminals will use trails for access to homes – we just don’t see that happening on the trails we have now.”

Browning said Atlanta police have consulted with officials of Livable Buckhead about security issues on the trail. “We talked about having access to it, not just for police but for ambulances,” he said. “With us being part of the process, part of the design process, I don’t think there’ll be any problem. … Overall, I feel very comfortable.”

But some of the homeowners attending the North Buckhead Civic Association meeting weren’t convinced.

Denise Maxey said that as now planned, the trail would be located in the woods behind her Glengary Drive home, which backs up to Ga. 400. “I have conflicted feelings about the trail,” Maxey said. “I don’t like their idea of having the trail be in my back yard. You would look right into my house.”

West said she spoke on behalf of about 45 homeowners in her community and that privacy and safety were their primary concerns. She said the trail also would eliminate, rather than increase, the amount of wildlife habitat in the area.

“We see wildlife,” she said. “If you take away that green space between us and Ga. 400, you’re not going to have as much wildlife. [You’ll] not have as many trees.”

She said they would like to see the trail start farther south than now planned, so it would not pass their homes. Some homeowners at meeting applauded enthusiastically at the end of her presentation.

“If this happens, our neighborhoods are no longer livable,” West said.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.