A major redesign of Lynwood Park, never before seen by the general public until it was included in the Brookhaven $40 million parks bond is one of the projects to be decided by voters Nov. 6.
Bond opponents say that behind-the-scenes redesign shows that city officials can’t be trusted to deliver the parks bond’s promised projects. City leaders say the key opponents were directly involved in the redesign process, even if the general public was not, and that if the bond is approved, a citizens oversight committee will review its parks projects.
“Lynwood is a precedent-setting action,” said Sue Binkert, a member of a citizens task force that worked with city officials on the parks bond and its project list. “This City Council majorly changed a park master plan with no public vetting. These parks are for all of us. There shouldn’t be only a few people who can make major changes.”
Mayor John Ernst, who lives in the Lynwood Park neighborhood, said that the task force knew about the master plan changes and actively worked on them.
“They helped create the layout as it is right now,” he said. “They were advocates of the designs and plans … and helped create it as part of public input and the stakeholder process.”
The original Lynwood Park master plan was created with public input in 2015 and approved by the City Council in 2016. It included relocating a swimming pool and tennis and basketball courts, and building a natural play area with restrooms and a pavilion near the existing playground.
The new Lynwood Park master plan became known to the general public on July 25 as part of the City Council’s vote approving the parks bond. The new design keeps the swimming pool in its current place and expands it with a type of water ride called a “lazy river,” where people can float in a shallow pool that has an artificial current. The design also includes a splash pad; restrooms and changing rooms for swimmers; and area in a parking lot for food trucks.
Binkert is chair of the Parks and Recreation Coalition of Brookhaven and a member of a task force that worked with city administrators on ideas for funding the city’s various parks master plans, which ultimately resulted in the parks bond. Most of the task force members now oppose the parks bond ballot question, saying it goes beyond what they thought was reasonable and ignores other funding sources.
Terrell Carstens, another member of the funding task force, contradicted Ernst’s assertions and said they had “zero input” into the changes at Lynwood Park. She said they were told someone was working on possible changes to the Lynwood Parks plan. She said she saw the final Lynwood Park master plan in a July 18 email. The last meeting the PARC members had with city staff before they announced their recommendation for a $40 million bond was July 9, they said.
“They were done with us and we had no more input,” Carstens said. “We all thought the new [Lynwood] plan would be vetted and public meetings would be held just like in the past….”
Binkert added transparency is government, “is questionable when a park master plan can be changed and voted on without full public vetting, especially in regard to Lynwood, … [which] was approved and then the referendum was approved [the] same night.”
Ernst said their accusations they were not part of the master planning process and the final plans were “categorically false.” He produced an email from Parks and Recreation Director Brian Borden to Binkert that included attachments of all the master parks plans to be included in the parks bond. The Lynwood Park design included in the email is the same as what is in the parks bond.
City spokesperson Burke Brennan said a public referendum is the “ultimate public vetting.”
“All projects covered under the parks bond referendum are published and available for review,” he said in a written statement. “If the residents want to fund the parks projects they should vote yes, and if they do not want to fund the parks projects they should vote no. Either way, the city of Brookhaven will abide by the people’s decision and continue to provide the highest level of government service possible.”
City officials further explained the Lynwood Park master plan was changed because the original designed turned out to not work in practice as the concept moved into a design and budget phase. They say GreenbergFarrow, the consulting firm that led the master plan process, discovered that the swimming pool and play area would take up at least part of the space where the recreation center and a playground now stand.
“The [original] plans would have called for the rebuilding of the recreation center … and that would have impacted the historical structure,” said City Councilmember Linley Jones, who represents Lynwood Park. The recreation center is the same building that was once a school for African-American students before desegregation. Lynwood Park is a former historical black neighborhood.
The playground that Jones said would have been affected by the original plan has special local significance. John and Sara Shinnick, Lynwood Park residents, paid for the playground and dedicated it to the city in 2015 in memory of Liam Shinnick, their son who died shortly after he was born.
Jones said she and the city also received community input that they did not want another traditional swimming pool like the ones at Murphey Candler Park and Briarwood Park and there was desire from the community to “differentiate” Lynwood Park from other parks.
City officials also said the bond’s $11 million for Lynwood Park – the single largest expenditure in its program – is intended to complete the entire master plan at one time. They say that completing major construction at one time is less costly than phasing the project.
“The unique nuance about Lynwood is that, based upon the layout of the current park and the specific challenges with upgrading that park, a piecemeal approach would be considerably more disruptive and expensive,” Brennan said.
A citizen oversight committee, with membership to be determined, is included in the parks bond legislation to ensure community input, Ernst said.
John Ruch contributed.
This story has been updated with information from the mayor about a June 25 email from Parks and Recreation Director Brian Borden sent to the PARC chair Sue Binkert that had attachments of the current Lynwood Park plan that was voted on July 25.
Additional dates of correspondence between PARC members and city officials that happened in July prior the parks bond vote have also been added.
The story is also clarified to make clear the general public has been able to view the major revisions to the Lynwood Park master plan, but only after it was voted on and approved by the City Council on July 24 to be included in the parks bond referendum.