Brookhaven Councilmember Linley Jones says the city will move forward with plans to add parking along a Murphey Candler Park road, despite outrage and opposition from residents that has led to a neighborhood petition.

The “loop road” is off Candler Lake East Drive between a playground and the east side of Murphey Candler Lake and was gated for decades to stop vehicle traffic. The city plans to repave the road and add gravel parking spots between the trees. Residents say opening the road to cars will cause safety and environmental problems, but the city says it needs the space for more parking.

A family walks to the Murphy Candler Park playground July 28 using the loop road that the city has since reopened. (Erin Schilling)

Jones said in a written Aug. 11 statement published on the city website and Facebook that resident concerns were addressed and “the plans are now finalized.” The city points to years of community events for parks bond projects as opportunities to express concerns, but residents say the lack of meetings of a citizen oversight committee show the city’s disregard for public input.

Residents say that opening the loop road to traffic would make it unsafe to children playing at the nearby playground and may cause crime problems along the road. The loop road originally closed to traffic in the late 1970s because of crime concerns, residents and city officials said. Residents also worry about damage to the environment in allowing cars on the road.

City’s response

Jones said the city will lock the gate if speeding becomes a problem. She said Brookhaven Police Chief Gary Yandura doesn’t have concerns about crime because the area is more accessible for police patrol with the gates open.

Jones said she and Mayor John Ernst worked to make sure no trees were cut in the parking space plans and chose gravel spots to minimize environmental impact.

The city’s draft plans for parking along the loop road in Murphey Candler Park, as presented to the Parks Bond Citizen Oversight Committee in May 2019

The Murphey Candler Neighborhood Association, which revitalized in order to express resident opposition to the park plans, thinks she could do more.

“Jones declared she has done all there is to be done in responding to community concerns about the loop road and other park plans,” MCNA President Zane Douglass in a written statement sent to the Reporter. “We are not satisfied with this response and we intend to continue working to protect our park and quality of life.”

City spokesperson Burke Brennan said parking spot construction will begin after a new playground and community green are built. The playground is set to be finished in November, and the city has not yet approved a construction contract for the community green.

The gate wars

For weeks, neighborhood residents and the city have battled about the road reopening.

The city opened the gate at the end of July to “prepare for construction and to establish a baseline for traffic and police patrol need,” the Brookhaven Parks and Recreation Department posted in the neighborhood’s private Facebook group after the neighborhood expressed opposition to the city.

The gate that shuttered the loop road before the city removed it on July 30 amid controversy over both its permanent opening and pre-design testing. (Erin Schilling)

A resident kept closing the gate at night, so the city took the gate off its post completely on July 30, triggering even more intense pushback from the neighborhood.

The city also told a youth football league, Atlanta Colt Youth Association, that players and families could use the loop road as “supplemental parking” for an Aug. 17 game, according to an email from the ACYA to families. Brennan said the city always offers the loop road as extra parking for sports leagues.

“The city is very aware of the opposition to this loop road parking,” resident Pam Burnett said. “It’s a sad betrayal of the community.”

Burnett started an online and print petition to oppose the plans for the loop road. The online version has 170 signatures as of Aug. 20, and Burnett said she has more than 350 signatures in total. She said she plans to give it to the city in 10 days and still has half the neighborhood to ask for signatures.

Adding parking to the loop road is part of the city’s $40 million parks bond program, which was approved in a 2018 referendum. The plan to open the loop road was in the proposed improvement plan for Murphey Candler Park available to voters before the referendum, but residents say they either didn’t know about the project or didn’t realize those proposals were definite plans.

Citizen oversight

The Parks Bond Oversight Committee, which was created to oversee parks bond plans, approved draft plans to add parking and open the loop road to cars at a May 2019 meeting. The committee has not met since February 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brennan said, but the city has continued to move forward with parks bond plans.

“The committee was not supposed to continue monthly meetings once the master plans were established and [design firm Clark Patterson Lee] had instructions to proceed,” Brennan said. “There really haven’t been any issues that the committee needed to issue an opinion on since their last meeting in February.”

The committee was planned to meet once a month for the first six months then decrease in frequency as the projects get underway, according to the minutes from its first meeting in February 2019.

The five-person committee was created to advise the administration, review internal audits, recommend project phasing, look at designs, and consider “scope reductions or additions based on resources,” according to the city in January 2019 before its first meeting.

The MCNA said the city has kept the committee “in the dark about any opposition to the park plans” because of the lack of recent meetings.

Brennan said the committee may start meeting again at the beginning of September but nothing has been approved yet.