Sandy Springs residents who gathered to offer their opinions on a new park on Old Riverside Drive split – loudly and often – over what the park should be like, what it should contain and whether it was good idea at all.

“I am totally against this … ,” long-time resident Karon Maguire said after the nearly two-hour debate May 2. “We need a wildlife area. We don’t need a park.”

But others attending the standing-room-only meeting at Fire Station No. 3 on Raiders Drive argued that children in the area need a place to play.

“I like to have people hearing children play,” said resident Helen Vantone.  “I think it is incredible fear that I hear in this room…. We’ve got kids that never, never play with other kids in the neighborhood. They’re inside watching TV, they’re playing games and getting fat.”

As residents stood to offer opinions on the park, others applauded to show their endorsement of a speaker’s support or complaint. The crowd sounded about equally divided in their opinions.

The debate centered on a city of Sandy Springs proposal to purchase from Fulton County about 24 acres fronting the Chattahoochee River. The county purchased the land decades ago and now only uses a small portion of it for a sewage pump station. The city is considering buying the land for about $1.5 million, then expanding on-site parking and developing about 6,000 square feet  for a playground.

“This is a gem,” City Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny told the about 100 people attending the meeting. “This is a beautiful 24-acre green space that’s been used for a sewer treatment plant. Now we’re bringing it a more public use.”

But some residents complained that the city’s preliminary plans put too much into the park. They argued the city park designs included too many parking spaces and are too big a for a neighborhood park.

“We are concerned about the intensity of the development,” said Patty Berkovitz, secretary of the Watershed Alliance of Sandy Springs. “I think there’s a lot of good uses you can put this to, but I think your plan is too intensive. “

Berokovitz said the city should get the residents’ agreement on what sort of park to develop before buying the land. “I would like to see this nailed down before you buy it,” she said.

City officials emphasized their park development plans are preliminary. “I will listen to people who want less of a playground,” Councilman Chip Collins said. “I think there ought to be a swing set.”

“The parking seems excessive for a mostly passive park,” said resident C. Meade Sutterfield, who lives on Old Riverside Drive and said he favors using the property for a neighborhood park. He said he also was troubled by a proposal to build a bridge to the park.

Other Riverside neighborhood residents were less eager to see the park developed at all. They compared it to Morgan Falls Overlook Park, another city-developed park they say attracts large crowds. Instead, they argued the area should be left to wildlife.

“I think building another Overlook Park down there is a bad idea,” said Bruce Bowen. “It’s a beautiful area as it is. I can understand why we want to utilize the space, but I’d rather my park dollars go someplace else. If you want to build a small neighborhood park, build a neighborhood park. I think it’s too much [as planned]. Keep it simple.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.