Multiple residents came out to a neighborhood meeting to discuss their concerns about a future multi-use path along Tilly Mill Road

Over the course of the past few months, multiple residents have spoken against the proposal, which would be a 12-foot-shared-use path running from Womack Road to Mt. Vernon Road.

The city’s website shows two possible alternatives for the path, one on the west side and one on the east side. At a June 13 Dunwoody City Council meeting, Public Works Director Michael Smith recommended to the council that the path run on the east side. 

Throughout multiple city council meetings and at a meeting for the Holland Court subdivision held on Sept. 1, residents have been voicing concerns about safety, the effect on the city’s tree canopy, and the decision to consider the path on the east side of the road instead of the west. 

Holland Court is a subdivision along Tilly Mill Road. According to a presentation given by resident Karen Rose at the neighborhood meeting, the subdivision consists of 11 homes. The community is structured in a way where multiple homes end up running parallel to Tilly Mill Road, their backyards facing the street or foliage between the street and the subdivision.  

At the meeting, residents brought up concerns about how many trees would need to be cut down in order to build the path on the east side of the road versus the west side. City staff have said they would replant trees that were cut down, but residents worried about how long it would take those trees to reach the maturity of what they have now. Cutting down those trees would not only be bad for the environment, they said, but would remove a buffer between certain homes and the road, leaving them vulnerable to noise, safety issues, and heat. 

“I want to invite you all to my house,” said Mary Molnar. “What you see here is ridiculous. You’re disturbing and upsetting 11 households.”

Councilmember Tom Lambert and Public Works Director Michael Smith listened to concerns from residents at the meeting. Both said the proposed trail comes from the city’s Transportation Master Plan. According to the city’s project page, the hope is that the trail will improve walking and biking access to the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, Congregation Ariel, and the Georgia State Dunwoody Campus. 

“What we’re trying to do is connect the city,” Lambert said. “This is by far the number one request we get from citizens.” 

Many Holland Court residents said they weren’t against connectivity, but didn’t want to sacrifice their privacy, safety, or tree canopy. The concept plan for the trail includes a proposed gravity retaining wall, in part to provide separation between the homes along the road and the path itself, said Capital Projects Manager Ishri Sankar. But residents worried a small retaining wall wouldn’t be enough to separate their homes from the path and the road. 

Multiple residents also asked why the city made the decision to look at putting the pathway on the east side of the road rather than the west. According to the city’s website, it would cost $700,000 more to put the trail on the east side of the street over the west side. Smith said part of that increase in cost is because if the trail goes on the east side, the city still plans to fill in gaps in the sidewalk on the west side. 

At a July 12, 2021 meeting discussion about a design contract for the path, Smith originally talked about putting the path on the west side, which is the same side as the MJCCA. Councilmember Stacey Harris brought up the MJCCA and said that she thought traffic on that side might be too heavy due to the center. 

“There’s a lot of conflict because of traffic in and out,” she said. 

At the June 13 meeting, Harris recused herself from the conversation about the Tilly Mill path due to her affiliation with the MJCCA, saying that her superiors had very strong opinions about the path. 

In an emailed statement, Harris said she did not recuse herself from the July 12, 2021 discussion about the path because the council was not discussing where or how the path should be constructed, but discussing awarding the design contract for the project. 

“The agenda item for the July 12, 2021 meeting was a discussion to award a design contract for the multi-use path on Tilly Mill Road.  During the discussion about the contract, the consensus from council was to have the path fully designed for both sides of the street,” Harris said in an email. “Once the path was designed and came in front of council, I recused myself from the discussion on which option to choose.” 

The MJCCA did not return requests for comment. City spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher said the city has met with the MJCCA, neighborhood groups, and other property owners. 

“Input from all groups is being factored into the project equally,” she said. 

Smith said that the reason staff recommended that the path go on the east side of the road was due to a heavy amount of traffic coming from the west side, particularly Mt. Vernon Place, as well as the trail being easily accessible to more people on the east side of the road. 

Rose brought up the trail master plan that the city is considering, and asked if the city would consider pausing on the project until after a master plan is created. At an Aug. 8 meeting, the council heard from the PATH Foundation, a group that works to develop networks of trails throughout the metro Atlanta area. The council is expected to vote on an agreement for a trails master plan at a Sept. 6 meeting. 

Smith said that since the path project is in such early stages and is not expected to be funded until 2026 or 2027, it would not make sense to pause for the much shorter period it would take the PATH Foundation to work through their plan. 

Lambert said the reason the city is holding neighborhood meetings is to receive this feedback from citizens. He said the project will likely move forward, but maybe not in its current form. 

“I’m not making any promises,” he said. “When it’s all evaluated we might end up right where we are today. I hope not. I think there’s room for improvement.”

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.