A group of Murphey Candler Park residents have come up with an alternate parking plan, hoping to deter the city from opening up Horseshoe Road to parking and traffic.
Tom Cutler, a resident of Murphey Candler Park, spoke about the alternate parking plan at a June 29 Brookhaven City Council meeting. Opening up Horseshoe Road – known by some residents as “the loop road” – to parking has been a point of contention between the city and a group of opposed residents since 60% of voters approved the city’s $40 million park bond in 2018.
“We have very real concerns,” Cutler, who voted for the bond, said at the meeting. “This is something that can be addressed … by getting a landscape architect involved. So please, look at the plans.”
Horseshoe Road is located off Candler Lake East Drive on the east side of Murphey Candler Park by the playground. The road has been gated to traffic for years, but due to concerns about the lack of parking that were raised during the park bond public input process, the city has plans to allocate more parking along the road itself.
Some residents have come together to oppose this plan. A petition to keep parking off the road has 596 signatures as of July 27, but the city has maintained its position that it must do what voters approved.
But now, some members of the Murphey Candler Neighborhood Association (MCNA) and the Murphey Candler Park Conservancy have gone a step further and asked an architect to come up with a plan to move parking off the road and into other areas in the park.
“Instead of just complaining, let’s give them the change that we’re looking for,” Cutler said.
Jeffrey Cohen, who volunteers with the MCNA, said residents shared their plans with District 1 Councilmember Linley Jones at a meeting in May 2021.
“[The city] seems to be frustrated that we even ask for them to make some considerations … we’re not opposing 90% plus of the projects,” Cohen said. “They’re just not willing to keep cars out of the park.”
According to plans shared with Reporter Newspapers, one of the main guiding principles of the resident-proposed plan is to keep parking relegated to the edges of the park. The plan would add a small parking lot at the south end of Horseshoe Road. The plan would also have the city pave existing gravel parking spots on Candler Lake East just outside of the loop road, adding four new spaces. Parking spaces would also be added farther down Candler Lake East. No parking spaces would be added on the loop road.
Much of the pushback from some residents toward parking on the loop road has stemmed from concerns about safety. According to survey results and public input documents from the park bond process provided by the city, expanding access to parking in Murphey Candler Park did come up as an issue in multiple meetings as far back as 2015. In a Sep. 12, 2015 public input session, attendees discussed the need for parking, but also the need for traffic calming measures throughout the park, particularly near playgrounds. The new Murphey Candler Park playground backs up to Horseshoe Road.
“We’ve asked [the city] to maintain the pedestrian aspect of this,” Cohen said. “This is where people walk with their kids, [where] they push their strollers.”
In an interview with Reporter Newspapers, Councilmember Jones said although she appreciated the meeting, she wouldn’t be able to advocate for a plan other than what voters passed in 2018. According to data from the Nov. 13, 2018 City Council meeting, 12,448 voters voted for the park bond while 8,311 voted no.
“Although it has some good ideas – and we’re going to look at seeing what we can do with regard to some areas of their plan – unfortunately, the city can’t supplant the voter-approved plan with a privately created plan,” Jones said.
According to documents from the July 2018 City Council meeting where the master plans were affirmed, the Murphey Candler Park plans do specify parking on Horseshoe Road. However, some residents have questioned why some projects have evolved but the city will not budge on others. For example, the city proposed a “lake house” as an alternative to a community center that was originally in the plan for Murphey Candler Park. The public input process that led to that decision began in 2019, after the park bond referendum passed.
“They have the ability – and they’ve shown that – to change their plans,” Cutler said.
In response to where evolution in park projects comes from, City Attorney Chris Balch said when the original park plans were voted on and approved, only about 60% of the projects were fully designed, including parking on Horseshoe Road.
“We had about 60% actual knowledge of what the project was going to look like,” Balch said. “The evolution happens in that 40% after the vote where we start looking at topography and landscaping and all those kinds of things to finish out the finality of those projects.”
Jones added to Balch’s comments, saying she didn’t think the changes to the lake house violated the “spirit or the law or the letter” of the park bond ordinance, and she has tried to incorporate similar changes.
“We’d like everybody to be happy with this,” she said. “But the final ask that we arrived at that does violate, according to our city attorney, the park bond plan, would be not to have parking on Horseshoe.”