Sunday, August 02, 2009

Tanyard Creek Park (above) is one of the largest stretches of unimproved greenspace in our neighborhood, and a significant Civil War battlefield. I don't normally post email I've received, but the author (a friend of mine) wants to get the word out about our attempts to save the park, and I couldn't summarize the current situation at our embattled neighborhood park any better than with her own words:

Dear Councilmembers Muller, Shook and Norwood,

I am writing this message to inform you of the current situation with the Tanyard-Atlanta Memorial Trail and ask that you please intervene to prevent what independent experts are now saying will be disastrous consequences to the trees in our parks along this proposed stretch of trail.

As you know the Community Group consisting of the surrounding neighborhoods and Friends of Tanyard Creek Park has been involved in the ongoing conversation and planning of this trail for many years. Our most recent public engagement with PATH [the trail developer], Parks and Atlanta Beltline was a walk through that we did yesterday to work towards fulfillment of the Tree Conservation Commission rulings and hopefully have the advice of an independent arborist taken into consideration to truly minimize the impact of the trail construction on the trees in Tanyard Creek Park, the Howard Park and Atlanta Memorial Park/Cathedral Woods. The oral report provided by the private arborist, Spence Rosenfeld from Arborguard, was sobering to say the least. Spence was not paid by the neighborhood but instead volunteered his time to help us because he wants to see the best outcome for the trees. In addition he brought David Deschamps, a construction arborist who also works with Arborguard whose sole professional focus is arboreal consultation as it relates to construction. They both agreed that the current standard construction plan that has been submitted to the city and approved by every part of the planning process can be significantly improved in many places, and in one area of the trail in particular, along the creek in the Howard Park, the design plan as it stands now will have disastrous consequences to the trees, one of which has been designated a historic tree as it is the largest of its kind with in the perimeter of I-285.

You may not be aware that Arborguard was called in by Dekalb County to create a tree prescription plan for the South Peachtree Creek Trail after PATH was found in violation of tree ordinances and other environmental laws last year. I request that you talk to David about what the South Peachtree Creek area looked like after the trail had been constructed when he went in to visit the site to prepare his report, and how the planning and construction could have been done to prevent what happened. As a result of what happened at the South Peachtree Creek Trail, Arborguard has subsequently been hired by Dekalb County on the front end of trail planning to ensure that future trail design and construction plans are as minimally invasive to the trees as possible.

Clair [Councilwoman Muller]- you must recall the ordeal that arose with John Sacha over the section of PATH trail that was built by Sagamore and Peachtree Battle. After trees had been cleared with no prior notification to the surrounding residents, John Sacha complained and the Director of the Bureau of Buildings was brought in at your request to intervene. He determined that the trail had been over engineered. For the benefit of the other councilmembers I am including a link to the letter prepared by John Sacha to Mayor Franklin detailing the problems faced with that section of trail. These are the same problems we are facing now and the same problems faced at the South Peachtree Creek trail site.

Clearly a precedent has been set by the PATH Foundation and the standard construction techniques that the municipalities are allowing them to use. Subsequent to a number of Superior Court rulings against Dekalb County and the PATH Foundation stemming from the South Peachtree Creek trail issues, Dekalb has woken up to the fact that they needed to set the standard for trail construction and not leave it up to the PATH Foundation’s discretion. While PATH made have built a positive reputation on rails-to-trails conversions such as the Silver Comet Trail where there is an existing cleared rail corridor with easy access, where standard construction techniques may be appropriate, these same designs and techniques are not appropriate in our forested in-town parks. Delicate measures must be taken to surgically insert the trail to minimize tree impacts. THIS IS THE POINT THE NEIGHBORHOODS HAVE BEEN TRYING TO MAKE FOR YEARS. We are not a bunch of NIMBYs as Ed McBrayer [Director of PATH] would lead you to believe. We just want the trail and the construction plan to be designed in the most environmentally sensitive way possible.

Looking at the previous trail examples at Sagamore and South Peachtree Creek I think bad precedents have been set. Looking into the crystal ball we can expect the same outcome or worse with the Atlanta-Memorial Trail going forward under the current plans. What we heard yesterday from representatives of the PATH Foundation, the Parks Dept including its Director, and Atlanta Beltline were comments that they can’t possibly make changes now because the plans are complete and they are too far along in the process to make changes. This thinking is very concordian. Just because so much has been invested into an inappropriate plan doesn’t mean it should go forward. It took acts of the Superior Court in Dekalb County to shift the county’s attitude and correct the planning process for future trails, and ongoing litigation against the PATH Foundation is continuing to result in judges rulings in favor of the plaintiffs. Please don’t let the trail situation in the City of Atlanta follow the same course.

Please don’t just take my word for it. Contact Spence Rosenfeld and David Deschamp and ask them for their independent opinion on the plans for the Tanyard-Atlanta Memorial Trail as they currently stand and what cold be done to improve the plans and minimize the tree impacts.

Clair - I am now begging you to please intervene and cut the losses on the money PATH has invested in the plans to date, and start over and get this done right. I think I speak on behalf of our Community Group when I say we all want a trail we can be proud of, not a legacy of disastrous tree loss. The Howards’ vision was to share this beautiful property with the public because of its natural beauty and links to other parks. This is the legacy they intended to have preserved not destroyed. We need strong leadership at City Hall to make this situation right before it is too late.

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