The Buckhead Coalition’s influential president is joining skeptics of the financing and planning for a proposed park capping Ga. 400 and has declined an invitation to sit on its steering committee.

Sam Massell says he has questions about how to pay for the park and believes that it is outside the mission of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, the group of self-taxing property owners that proposed the concept.

Sam Massell, a former Atlanta mayor and current Buckhead Coalition president. (Special)

“The park is wonderful and I’m in support of the park. It’s just a question of who is going to pay for it,” said Massell, who is also a former Atlanta mayor.

Jim Durrett, the executive director of the CID, said he respects Massell’s decision to decline the invitation.

“As a courtesy and out of respect for his long service, Mr. Massell was invited to be a member of the steering committee,” Durrett said in an email. “We respect his decision to decline the invitation.”

Two members of the CID board have raised similar concerns about the proposal, which has proceeded through planning stages by frequent split votes from the board.

The steering committee, created by the Buckhead CID, is meant to guide creation of a nonprofit to operate and oversee the proposed park.

The CID has invited members of the business and civic community in Atlanta to join the committee. The members have not been announced publicly. The CID has said it plans to provide more details at the Nov. 29 board meeting.

Massell said he would not join the committee because he believes the park is beyond the CID’s intended scope. He said the CID should refocus on finding solutions for the community’s traffic troubles, its original mission.

“I feel it’s necessary to continue the original purpose of the CID,” Massell said. “Traffic is the real concern.”

The CID is planning to pass control of the park onto the nonprofit the steering committee is helping to form. But, Massell said, the CID resources should not go to that steering committee effort.

He said he also believes there are still too many unanswered questions about the park, especially concerning how it will be paid for and supported.

Massell said he will still help the CID find other people to join the steering committee. He also said he wants to help end the “division” between members on the CID board.

Two board members — Robin Suggs, representative of the Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza malls, and District 7 City Councilmember Howard Shook — have been vocal opponents of the park. Suggs has said she believes the park is beyond the CID’s mission and Shook has said he is frustrated by the lack of information about funding the park. Massell he would like to help “bring them all on one page.”

Massell said he has heard discussion of paying for the park by raising the CID’s millage rate, and bringing residential properties into the CID to expand its tax base.

Durrett said there has not been any discussion of raising the millage. He also said Georgia law does not currently allow residential properties to be members of CIDs and said it has not been considered.

Massell said he hopes the millage rate is not raised. Community improvement districts, such as the Buckhead CID, tax business properties in specified areas to raise money for transportation improvements and other infrastructure and amenities.

The Buckhead CID’s millage has been set at 3 mills for the past several years. That amounts to nearly $6 million in projected revenue for 2017, according to CID documents. Massell believes that amount is plenty to make traffic and infrastructure improvements, which is all the CID should be doing, he said.

“I think it’ll serve its purpose if they spend that much,” he said.

He said he has also heard discussion of bringing residential buildings into the Buckhead CID tax base to help pay for the park. Only commercial properties now are members of the CID.

That would be a welcome change for Massell, who said the CID “should take in residential areas so it could provide services there.”

Massell is also concerned about problems with the agency’s transparency, he said. In recent weeks, CID officials posted a board meeting agenda only a few minutes before the meeting began and did not post minutes from a board retreat until after receiving a request from the Buckhead Reporter.