In the wake of some resident frustration over the city’s trail plans, Dunwoody is considering contracting with an outside organization to build out a trail master plan. 

At an Aug. 8 meeting, the city council heard from the PATH Foundation, a group that works to help develop networks of trails throughout the metro Atlanta area. 

PATH Foundation Executive Director Greta deMayo said there were significant gaps in Dunwoody’s trail connectivity. According to the presentation, PATH would focus on connecting city parks through greenways, sidewalks, and paths, and expanding that system into neighborhoods. 

“You’re in the same situation most cities are when they reach out to us,” deMayo said. “You have a parks master plan that was really focused on parks. You have a transportation master plan that was really focused on street right of ways. But that’s not good enough. You really need to do a trail master plan.” 

DeMayo said part of the master plan process would involve educating the public about different types of trails and engaging with the community to understand what they want to see. Over the past few weeks, multiple residents have voiced their concerns over a multi-use path project along Tilly Mill Road. 

The path in question is still in its concept phase, according to the city’s website, and would be a 12-foot-wide shared-use path along Tilly Milly Road from Womack Road to Mt. Vernon Road. Public Works Director Michael Smith presented conceptual designs for the path at a June 13 meeting. At that meeting, Smith said that city staff is recommending moving forward with the east side alternative because of safety and accessibility. According to city documents from that meeting, the estimated number of vehicles entering driveways or roadway crossings is lower on the east side of the road, and there are more residences on the east side of the road that could access the path without crossing a major roadway. 

Since then, multiple residents have spoken in various public meetings against the path, expressing concerns about trees that might be cut down, the cost of the path, and the possibility of putting the path on the east side of the road. According to city documents, the 49 comments that the city received voiced stronger support for putting the trail on the east side.

Karen Rose, speaking on behalf of the Holland Court Homeowners Association at a July 11 council meeting, said she worried that numerous trees would be cut down, removing much-needed shade from the path, and didn’t see the logic in spending more money to put the trail on the east side of the road. According to city documents, the cost of putting the path on the east side of the road would be about 25% more than the west side of the road. 

At the Aug. 8 meeting, residents spoke both against the Tilly Mill path and in favor of paths and connectivity in general. One resident spoke in favor of the Tilly Mill path, but asked that it be put on the west side instead of the east. On the city’s Facebook page, Paige Metzger commented in favor of multi-use trails in general. 

“I am personally thrilled about the trails,” Metzger commented. “I encourage those that are against it to actually walk or bike around the city. Trails will make the city safer and alleviate traffic on the surrounding roads.”

Most of the council members expressed excitement over moving forward with a comprehensive trail plan. Councilmember Rob Price said he wanted to make sure the public input process for the plan was robust, referencing the recent confusion over trail plans. 

“We’ve had citizens coming out every meeting expressing concerns, both for and against trails,” he said. “It’s clear that this is something the public is very interested in.”

DeMayo said there would be in-person and virtual options for residents to give input if the city moved forward with a plan. 

In response to PATH’s focus on greenways, Councilmember John Heneghan said he worried about the number of opportunities for greenway paths in the city. According to deMayo, a greenway is a trail that is separated from traffic and operates within greenspace. 

“Your city doesn’t have a lot of those opportunities,” she said. “We’re going to have to really push our investigation of what’s where to see what you have.” 

Heneghan also said he wanted to learn more about how the path system could work for homeowners who might see trails running in front of their homes. 

“The locations really don’t focus on a greenway-type system,” Heneghan said. “We’re talking about 12 feet of concrete that we’re trying to shoehorn into a 12.5-foot space, leaving maybe a little space for some greenery, but really not much beauty.” 

DeMayo said PATH would want to look for greenway opportunities, but also at other types of trails that run through residential or more urban areas of the city. 

“As you look at other trail types, you start to look at how do we still make it inviting,” she said. “How do we still make it safe? How do we get people to critical destinations where they would want to go?”

DeMayo said a rough estimate for the time it takes to create a master plan would be about 6-8 months. 

In response to questions about how the city will proceed with trail projects if the city moves forward with a Trails Master Plan, spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher said that City Manager Eric Linton plans to meet with staff before deciding how to move forward. She said the city has no timeline for how long that will take. 

The entire presentation and City Council meeting can be viewed on the city’s Facebook page. 

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.