The Brookhaven City Council has approved a construction contract to add parking to Murphey Candler Park’s Horseshoe Road, a decision that had multiple residents leaving a Tuesday meeting in anger. 

“This contract and the granting of this contract is a final step for the fulfillment of the obligations in the park bond that was approved by 12,500 voters,” said Councilmember Linley Jones. “The funds are being used to fulfill the plan that was presented.”

The issue of parking on Horseshoe Road – known by some residents as “the loop road” – has been contentious between the city and a group of opposed residents for years. The plan to add parking comes from the city’s $40 million park bond, which passed with 60% of the vote in 2018. 

Located off Candler Lake East Drive on the east side of Murphey Candler Park, the road has been gated to traffic for years. Due to concerns about the lack of parking raised during the park bond public input process, the city planned to allocate more parking along the road itself. However, residents have expressed concerns about safety, started a petition to keep parking off the road, and even created their own parking plan to share with the city. 

Jones, who is the council member for District 1 and the Murphey Candler Park area, previously told Reporter Newspapers that she appreciated residents’ concerns, but she wouldn’t be able to advocate for a plan other than what voters passed in 2018. At the March 22 meeting, she thanked residents for speaking up about the project, but the contract still passed unanimously. 

During Jones’ remarks at the meeting, residents stood up and walked out in anger as she spoke. Most of them had expressed their opposition to parking in the loop road during a public comment session earlier in the meeting. 

A family walks to the Murphy Candler Park playground in July of 2020 using the loop road. (Erin Schilling)

“Converting this greenspace into a parking lot is deeply unwise and unsupported by the community, as proven by a grassroots petition that we did almost two years ago,” said resident Pam Burnett. “This project has no merit.”

Burnett and others also spoke about the cost of the construction contract, which is roughly $675,000. A draft of probable construction costs for projects at Murphey Candler Park from July of 2018 estimate the cost of a Horseshoe parking area to be about $50,000. 

“We don’t need traffic back there,” said resident Nancy Perk. “It’s time to pull the plug on this thing and stop the never-ending cash flow from our pockets, from us, the taxpayers. That is money that could be spent somewhere else that would be a whole lot more advantageous.” 

Resident Juliet Cohen said she taught her children how to ride their bikes on the road, and didn’t like that others wouldn’t be able to do the same safely. 

“The thought of a mother having to worry about a vehicle coming from the other direction as her 5 or 7-year-old is learning to ride a bike in one of the few places that they can learn to ride a bike safely, is frightening,” Cohen said. “It’s a huge loss to take what is a footpath, really, away from the residents of Brookhaven and thousands of visitors that come to Murphey Candler Park”

Rose Haber, who said she has lived in the area for 41 years, said she didn’t see any reason to open the road to vehicles. 

“It’s already been expressed by several other people that it’s a danger to the children,” Haber said. “Aside from the money aspect – that’s another issue completely – but for the safety of the people at the park and the children that love to play there, I think it’s a terrible idea.” 

Tom Cutler, who was one of the residents who tried to present an alternate parking plan to the city, said he felt as though the residents’ attempts at conversations with the city went nowhere.

“The park has been called the crown jewel of the city of Brookhaven, and we’re trying to preserve it,” Cutler said. “There’s been a lot of back and forth. There’s been no compromise.” 

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.