Joe Santifer was thrilled when the city in recent years purchased 4 acres of leafy Lenox Road property in his Pine Hills neighborhood to turn into a new park.

“I’ve been watching this property,” he says. “I was just curious what they’re going to do with it.”

From left, Atlanta Classical Academy student volunteers Charlotte Taylor, Margaret Taylor, Aurora Santifer, Matthew Celecia and Alex Hoefer join Joe Santifer and Gillian Taylor at the future Pine Hills Park on Lenox Road. (Photo John Ruch)

The real question, he soon learned, was what he and his neighbors were going to do. While the city is happy to buy land for the “Buckhead Collection” — the master plan for adding 106 more acres of local green space — it’s up to volunteer residents to plan and fund actual construction of new parks.

So a few weeks ago, Santifer and some neighbors formed Friends of Pine Hills Park. Their goal is to spend 2017 planting the seeds for a community park to blossom. That includes doing some basic cleanup work, getting public input on what type of park it should be, drawing up a plan and calculating a budget.

“We want to listen to everyone and come up with a park everyone can support,” Santifer said.

The friends group already has some cleanup muscle ready to tackle weeds and litter: students from Atlanta Classical Academy, where Santifer’s children — triplets Aurora, Daniel and Joe — go to school. Pine Hills Park can be one of the school’s ongoing community service projects, the friends group says.

Aurora Santifer said the park effort is in line with the academy’s motto, “Learn the true, do the good, love the beautiful.”

Joe Santifer and student volunteers walk through the future Pine Hills Park. (Photo John Ruch)

The beauty of the future park — two former residential lots about a quarter-mile south of the Lenox MARTA Station —was easy to see on a recent tour with Santifer and some of the student volunteers.

One lot at 3162 Lenox, bought by the city in 2013 for $1.17 million, still includes a vacant house. The city bought the neighboring lot at 3148 Lenox last year for $1.5 million.

Both properties are studded with many mature hardwood trees. The land slopes down to a burbling stream. In the rear is a towering stand of bamboo and a field where another house once stood.

There are a lot of features, and possibilities, for a 4-acre park. Santifer said the type of use will be up to community input, but one thing he’d like to do is save the existing house as an activity center.

“I love Atlanta, but I wish we did a better job of preserving [buildings],” he said.

“It reminds me of a little Snow White house,” added Margaret Taylor, one of the student volunteers, pointing to the brick structure’s cozy charms. (A litter-strewn garage is not among those charms and could be one of the first cleanup projects.)

Connectivity will be another issue to tackle on a stretch of Lenox that currently doesn’t have a sidewalk. The future park’s least attractive feature is a wall blocking noise from Ga. 400 and MARTA tracks. The PATH400 multi-use trail’s route runs on the far side of the highway, but Santifer hopes a way to connect the park to that path could be found.

A brick single-family house stands in the future Pine Hills Park. (Photo John Ruch)

While the friends group plans the future, it’s not alone. The nonprofit Park Pride offers advice and technical assistance to such groups as they create local parks, and Santifer notes there are good local examples to follow, such as Mountain Way Commons and the Blue Heron Nature Preserve. He said he’s already hearing input from local businesses and apartment complex landlords, and even from the former owners of one of the park’s lots.

Meanwhile, the student volunteers are geared up to start on a park that might benefit them the most. Alex Hoefer, one of those students, lives close enough that he arrived for the tour on foot — a big difference from his current favorite local park, Shady Valley, which is over a mile away.

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