By Greg Crnkovich
On Nov. 8, 2011 Dunwoody voters will be asked to approve or decline two revenue bonds for the acquisition of parkland and the refurbishment of existing and future parks. These two bonds total $66 million and are to be divided equally between acquisition and refurbishment costs.
The general public is aware of these features of the bonds, but questions remain unanswered about several components of the bonds.
The bond values appear, at first glance, to match up with the land acquisition and improvement estimates put forward in the 2011 Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan approved by the city. However, there are serious gaps between the bonds, as proposed, and the budget outlines in that document.
The Parks Master Plan calls for over $59 million in land acquisition and development costs, but this still includes approximately $13.5 million for greenways. Less than $4 million of this estimate is for land purchases. The remaining $9 million would be for improvements if these greenways were constructed.
Other parkland purchases total approximately $9.5 million, bringing the recommended purchase amount to $13 million to $14 million. The Parks Master Plan outlines $36 million in probable costs for renovations to existing parks, but does not credit the $7 million expected from DeKalb County as part of the Brook Run property transfer.
Ignoring the Brook Run amounts, the parks plan calls for $14 million in acquisition and $45million in improvements. But the bond referendum is calling for $33million in acquisition and $33million in improvements. The city has not explained why the referendum is raising $20 million more for acquisition than is outlined in the parks plan.
The acquisition process has also been challenged as not transparent and organized sufficiently to allow for proper oversight and management of the funds.
The city staff prepared a memo for last week’s City Council work session outlining the general approach to be used in acquiring park land. This memo was criticized for not providing multiple independent property appraisals for a particular piece of property and for allowing the city to determine the appropriateness of the property for parks after the purchase was made. The memo then outlined the potential for the city to re-sell the properties, placing the proceeds into the bond funds.
Local resident and blogger Bob Lundsten spoke before the Dunwoody Homeowners Association and at the City Council work session on these points. According to Lundsten, the wording of the memo suggests that city officials may be attempting to use the parks acquisition money as a “land bank” or for community development by purchasing properties zoned for multi-family housing and eliminating apartments from Dunwoody.
Other actions by the city have also contributed to suspicion about Dunwoody’s motives. The city’s recent purchase of the 16-acre “PVC farm” along Chamblee-Dunwoody and part of the 24 acres on North Shallowford Road are outside the commitment for parks.
The city has said that some portion of the “PVC farm” could be commercially developed, kept as greenspace or used as parkland. The 5 acres on the west of North Shallowford Road would require the acquisition of at least two more parcels of land, one of which is multi-family, to complete the Georgetown master plan requirements.
In response to comments about the guidelines and the potential use of parks money as redevelopment tool, City Manager Warren Hutmacher allowed for some tightening of the language. This is to be submitted to the council at its next scheduled meeting.
In the coming weeks, supporters of the parks bonds will be creating a committee to encourage passage of the referendums. The express purpose of this committee is to raise voter awareness and confidence in the bond issue. Given the unanswered questions and the unclear and seemingly loose restrictions on how the money may be spent, the committee will have some heavy lifting to do.
One thing is for certain: The parks bonds should not become a tool for urban renewal and redevelopment in Dunwoody.
Greg Crnkovich has lived in Dunwoody for more than 20 years. He is a member of the Dunwoody Homeowner’s Association, active in the local community and takes an interest in the people and events of Dunwoody.