Richard and Phyllis Franco returned from their walk by the river, using a park that’s part of a sanctuary recognized by the federal government as part of the Chattahooche River National Recreation Area.
They’ve been married 53 years, and have lived within walking distance of the park for 38 years.
“We walk along the Chattahoochee every day,” Richard Franco said.
People fish and hike there. It’s peaceful. It’s quiet. It’s also part of one of Atlanta’s large civic associations. Since 1984, the Mt. Paran-Northside Citizens Association has worked on preserving that peace by keeping commercial development out of the neighborhood. Even the modest country store, opened in 1906 and a neighborhood treasure, didn’t succeed in expanding, according to a historical narrative published by the association.
The community’s boundaries are the Chattahoochee River to the north, West Paces Park Court to the south, I-75 to the west and Northside Drive to the east. It contains more than 1,000 homes, and 15 percent of it is in the newer city of Sandy Springs. Its residents include CEOs and civic leaders. District 8 City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean lives there. It is zoned for Warren T. Jackson Elementary School.
The neighborhood claims it has been so successful in keeping commercial interests at bay that they don’t bother filing zoning applications. The strict residential zoning keeps everything in check.
Jennifer Moyers, the association’s current president, is a relative newcomer to the area. She’s lived in the neighborhood for 10 years. Her sand-yellow home sits surrounded by trees, and is within walking distance of the river. Moyers said she spends much of her time dealing with traffic and neighborhood security.
Residents are wary of their newest neighbor. The new North Atlanta High will be located on Northside Parkway. “There are a lot of concerns about what’s going to happen with the traffic,” Moyers said.
Much of the traffic comes from another nearby amenity: an exit onto I-75. Southbound drivers can’t turn left – a measure meant to curtail traffic – and make speedy U-turns to head west, causing accidents.
Moyers’ neighbor, Randy Merrill, got into an accident near that exit, caused by a car making an illegal U-turn. It broke his hand, but didn’t sour him on the neighborhood. He bought his house in 1991, and said he has been pleased with his decision so far.
“I think once you learn about the neighborhood, what sells it is the fact it really is a neighborhood,” Merrill said.
I-75 also offers residents convenience. Downtown Atlanta is a short drive away.
Mt. Paran-Northside contains several smaller neighborhoods with their own traditions. Moyers enjoys the local supper club. There’s also a community-wide garden club, a membership social and, of course, the association’s board meetings.
Two amenities the neighborhood lacks are sidewalks and bike lanes. Moyers said when the neighborhood formed, there was opposition to sidewalks, but she said opinions have shifted in recent years.
“I’d love to be able to see it become more pedestrian and more bike-friendly,” Moyers said. “I think those are challenges for us.”
The Francos said they worry about crime and were sad to see some of their neighbors lose their homes when the economy collapsed.
At the same time, they are encouraged by what they see happening around them.
“I’m impressed that so many families use the park,” Richard Franco said.