No sooner do I blog that I thought that the neighborhood meeting concerning the trail went well than I learn that there appears to have been a coordinated, behind-the-scenes effort to override public opinion against the trail.
It is not at all surprising to me that certain trail advocates are strategizing and maneuvering to see their vision realized, but I received a series of emails, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, that reveal the very same Parks Commissioner and City Councilperson I met with Sunday have been talking with our elected neighborhood Planning Unit leader on how to "get around" and "beat" public resistance to the trail, which they seem determined to build regardless of how it is received.
A little background: we have a very nice little public park in our neighborhood. It is not very wide, but runs along the floodplain of a tributary to Peachtree Creek. It's basically a long meadow, ideal for walking a dog, a leisurely stroll, or even a touch football game, all of which seem to be occurring every time I visit. It's one of our neighborhood assets, and is of historical significant. The Civil War's Battle of Peachtree Creek was fought largely along this floodplain, and on one day of fighting alone, over 6,000 soldiers were killed (compare that to 3,000 dead over three years in Iraq).
A trail foundation would like to run a 15-foot-wide concrete path through the park and connect it with similar trails they are building along old abandoned railroad lines ("rails to trails") and around (but not through) some larger parks. A nice idea in concept, but in our neighborhood the dream becomes dystopic.
In order to comply with stream buffer rules, the trail would have to be off set from the creek by 100 feet. This would put the trail smack in the middle of the park. If the path were moved to the far end of the park, away from the creek, it would virtually run in people's back yards, a very unpleasant proposition to them as it would effectively cut them off from the park, and bring strangers into their back yards.
A paved trail for joggers, bikers, walkers, rollerbladers and what have you in the middle of the park would effectively destroy its current and much loved character. The remaining greenspace on either side of the trail would not allow the recreational activities now enjoyed. It would diminish the green and natural appeal of the park. It would encourage people to drive into our neighborhood and park cars in front of our houses (and we already have a pretty serious traffic problem). Paving existing greenspace would add to the impervious ground cover in this urban area, worsening flood impacts from which we're already suffering. And the floodplain river-bottom setting is a fragile ecosystem, and the increased use, traffic and concrete will not help it recover one bit.
It basically comes down to this - we will lose a cherished park and a historical resource, with no compensation, so that others will have a thoroughfare for their enjoyment.
So - the battle lines have been drawn. The residents and neighbors v. the trail foundation and its advocates. So who's side do our elected officials align themselves with?
In the released emails, it has become apparent that the Parks Commissioner, our Councilperson and our Planning Unit chairman have been in long discussions with the trail foundation talking about how to get around the community resistance, how to "spin" the facts to us, how to pit the pro-trail neighbors against the anti-trail neighbors, and so on.
In one particularly unpleasant message, the Planning Unit leader dismisses our concerns about the trail, stating that we "have had the same concerns about what the trail should look like for some time. That is something for Parks to deal with later, and is different from the issue of whether there shold (sic) be (a) trail."
"Let Parks be the bad guy as to the reality of what the trail will look like," he advises our Councilperson. "(The Commissioner) knows how to handle that."
"As to the general neighborhood traffic issues," he goes on, "I don't see how they should be part of the discussion."
Our neighborhood Planning Unit leader, as you might imagine, does not actually live in our neighborhood. Last summer, I accompanied him on his first tour through the park. In fact, I have worked with him on issues related to the Atlanta Beltline and had thought that he was a fairly trustworthy man. So after reading through his treacherous and mean-spirited emails, I sent him the following (edited for this public medium) this evening:
"The email messages we have received confirms to me that you have been meddling in the trail issue in a biased and unprofessional way, and have not been at all responsive or sensitive to the concerns and issues of the residents in this part of your Planning Unit. I am informing you of this first to give you the opportunity to explain your actions, but I intend to share this with the rest of the Planning Unit Executive Board to get a resolution to order you to immediately cease and desist any further involvement in the trail issue, and further to adopt an Ethics statement forbidding the Planning Unit Chair or other officers from participating in divisive neighborhood issues in a partisan way. I request that this issue be added to the Agenda at the March Planning Unit meeting, where the email below will be distributed.
"Further, I intend on telling both Councilwoman M. and Commissioner C. that we consider your counsel in the matter of the trail to have been both duplicitous and irresponsible, that you do not represent the interests of this neighborhood, and that you do not have our confidence. I will request that all further discussion on this matter be directed to the individual neighborhood association leaders, and not be addressed at the Planning Unit level.
"I personally am disappointed that things have come to this, but the preponderance of evidence and particularly your words below show that you have brought this upon yourself, for reasons that I cannot begin to fathom."
Angry, confrontational words, but words that actually had been edited to tone down the betrayal that I felt. Beware, they say, the anger of a patient man.