Mary Ann Kelly, president of the Brookhaven Park Conservancy, displays an illustration of a possible park entry gate during a Sept. 10 park improvement input session.
Mary Ann Kelly, president of the Brookhaven Park Conservancy, displays an illustration of a possible park entry gate during a Sept. 10 park improvement input session.

The cookout in the pavilion, with neighbors chatting and dogs roaming, may have looked like just another social activity in Brookhaven Park. But the Sept. 10 gathering offered more than a free hamburger or two—it was a chance to weigh in on the future of the park itself.

The city of Brookhaven is creating individual improvement plans for 10 parks in an ongoing process involving some formal meetings with consultant firm GreenbergFarrow. But the city also appointed “stakeholder committees” of advocates for each park to gather local input, who are free to hold their own meetings—or cookouts.

“We thought it would be nice to have a more informal conversation,” said Mary Ann Kelly, president of the Brookhaven Park Conservancy, which teamed with the park stakeholder committee to host the cookout that doubled as an open house.

Kelly displayed an illustration, created by a conservancy member, of one main wish-list item: an arched entry gate to the park on Peachtree Road to welcome pedestrians, rather than only the current half-hidden driveway off Osborne Road, along with a nicer-looking fence.

Also available for public viewing were photos of amenities in other parks, including Alpharetta’s Waggy World dog park and Sandy Springs’ Playable Art Park. Around two dozen people braved rainy weather to attend the cookout and were able to vote on amenities they liked by placing stickers next to the photos.

Jim Dupree, a member of the park’s stakeholder committee, said it was an easy way to help answer the question, “What do you want to see in Brookhaven Park? Or the flip side is, what don’t you want to see in Brookhaven Park?”

Features with some of the highest votes included a fenced dog park, a water feature for dogs and traditional playground equipment. Images of picnic tables and public art got fewer votes. That will inform the process, but is not the final word.

“We would love to see an arts focus in the park,” Kelly said. “It’s so peaceful and serene.”

The 20-acre park has many different uses and some perennial challenges, including its popularity as a dog-walking area and limited parking combined with confusing access by foot or bike. Kelly said the conservancy and other stakeholders are keenly aware of the pending redevelopment around the nearby Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA Station, which would bring many more park users.

One frequently debated item not on the table, Kelly said, is relocating the DeKalb Services Center for developmentally disabled people, which fronts on the corner of the property. That facility has a 50-year lease, she said, and DeKalb County still owns the park’s land, with the city of Brookhaven operating and maintaining it for now.

Brookhaven Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams was among those attending, along with her two pet dachshunds. “Now we’re finally starting to have fun in this city” in planning terms, Williams said, likening the process to drawing up blueprints for a “dream house.”

“The people we chose [as stakeholder committee members] are activists and [are] invested in their parks,” Williams said. “It’s that citizen involvement that is so critical to the success of all of this.”

Also attending was John Ernst, one of the candidates challenging Williams for the mayor’s office. . “I know this park very, very well,” Ernst said, adding that he was one of the organizers of the 2014 Soccerfest that drew enormous crowds to watch World Cup games. “It’s a hidden jewel of Brookhaven that hasn’t been fully utilized yet.”

Ernst said the parks process is an example of “what’s needed in Brookhaven…community involvement and input from citizens.”

City Councilman Bates Mattison noted that “curb appeal is lacking in this park.”

“This park is the namesake of the city of Brookhaven,” yet is easily overlooked by passers-by despite heavy road and MARTA traffic nearby, Mattison said.

The public has other opportunities to weigh in on the future of Brookhaven Park and other city parks. A formal meeting with GreenbergFarrow consultants about Brookhaven Park is slated for Sat., Sept. 12 at the Lynwood Community Center, and the city is considering adding more such meetings. Ideas and suggestions about Brookhaven Park improvements can be emailed to the conservancy at A full list of consultant-led meetings for the various parks can be found here.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.