The Dunwoody City Council at its Oct. 24 meeting deferred without discussion a vote on a parks master plan on Vermack Road, angering neighbors who are opposed to a last-minute proposed addition of an access path from their neighborhoods to the park.
A decision on the final master plan for the Vermack property and another one on Roberts Drive had been tabled at the council’s Oct. 10 meeting after several changes were introduced to both plans. Several council members pointed out that the addition of a walking path from the Vermack Road property had not been fully vetted to the neighbors who lived in subdivisions that the pathway would link to the park.
During public comment prior to the Oct. 24 meeting, a half dozen residents living near the Vermack Road property stated their opposition to the insertion of the walking path that would lead to and from their neighborhoods, citing safety concerns about increased and unmonitored public access to their homes.
Peter Fritz, the president of the Heritage at Dunwoody, told the council that 82 families, representing about 160 residents, are opposed to its installation.
“Privacy and safety are paramount to the residents,” Fritz said.
A letter and petition submitted to the council said the residents “ask and demand the insertion of this pedestrian path is removed and any master plan approved also adds measures (fencing, plantings, et al) to prevent any access to the park to/from the Heritage and Village Mill.”
The parks, both around 10 acres, are located at 5435 Roberts Drive, the former Austin Elementary School, and 4809 and 4819 Vermack Road, which currently has two homes on the property.
Both plans have changed significantly after receiving feedback from the public as to various amenities that could be included in the final product. Instead of a one or two softball fields and batting cages at the Roberts Drive location, that area has been replaced by a multi-use field.
At the Oct. 10 meeting, the council looked at three options for the Roberts property that focused on the size of the multi-use field. The original size, 300 x 150 feet, would include two half-court basketball courts and one full basketball court. Another option would expand the field to 300 x 165 feet and have one full basketball court and one half-court, and the third would be 330 x 165 feet, and would have one full basketball court and one half-court.
After some discussion on Oct. 24, the council passed the latter plan.
After the Roberts Drive agenda item, a motion to table the Vermack plan was introduced and passed, with council members Joe Seconder, Stacey Harris, Rob Price, and Catherine Lautenbacher voting to table the measure and John Heneghan, Tom Lambert and Mayor Lynn Deutsch voting to open the matter for discussion.
Dunwoody City Attorney Ken Bernard had advised the council that once the motion was made to table the item, no discussion or debate could occur, according to Robert’s Rule of Order.
During council comments at the end of the meeting, Heneghan said he was disappointed that the Vermack issue was not discussed.
“[At the last meeting], we took the word ‘transparency’ out of our mission statement and I’m not sure that was the right decision,” he said. “I really wish we would have had the chance to comment among council the item that was tabled. I think we could have had some worthwhile discussion, and we could have been transparent to the 50 people who were in the room listening.”
The 2023 parks budget does not include any funds for construction, which have been estimated to be $10.5 million for the Roberts property and about $4 million for the Vermack property. The council had discussed funding Vermack, Roberts and other parks improvements with a $30 million parks bond, but in September decided not to put a parks bond referendum on the ballot in November.
Discussions about putting a parks bond referendum on the ballot in 2023 are ongoing.