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Dear Decaturish – Legacy Park Voice responds to Decaturish.com editorial

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Dear Decaturish – Legacy Park Voice responds to Decaturish.com editorial

The Administration Building at Legacy Park on South Columbia Drive in the city of Decatur on August 12, 2020. The park occupies the former site of the United Methodist Children’s Home. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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To see the Decaturish.com editorial on this topic, click here.

Dear Decaturish,

There are significant issues with the revised Legacy Park Master Plan that diminish the quality of life for the residents living in the neighborhoods surrounding the park and the availability of Legacy Park for the greater Decatur Community.

We are disappointed that Decaturish felt the need to engage in ad hominem attacks against the people voicing these concerns rather than discussing the position they maintain.

We ask the community to join us on Monday, September 21st at 7:30pm for the Decatur City Commission meeting.  Please register via zoom so you can speak, if you so choose, regarding the 5.5 Million dollars purchase of the Girls and Boys Club in Oakhurst, and during petitions for a continuing discussion on Legacy Park. Sign up to participate in the 7:30pm City Commission zoom call at https://zoom.us/j/93488278666 You may also access and sign the Legacy Park Voice petition at https://www.change.org/LegacyParkVoice

Legacy Park was purchased in 2017 for 40 million dollars.  Before we began community planning sessions, affordable housing was not the stated purpose for purchasing The United Methodist Children’s Home. We as a community added housing during the community input sessions and each concept included some amount of housing.

At the time, the AJC wrote (May 14, ’17) “Officials say they have no preconceptions about the land’s potential uses. The city lacks parkland and recreational amenities, but the prevailing view is that the home is something of a “blank slate” until community-input sessions are completed. Environmentalists and historic preservationists have some definite ideas and hopes for the site, home of many unique features both man-made and natural.“

Patti Garrett stated on April 18th, 2017, “The purchase of this property fits with the city’s mission, vision and values and is an investment for current and future families and children. The city of Decatur will conduct a community-based master planning effort for the future use of the property once the sale is final and the city has possession of the property.“

The community came together over a 10-month period to provide input on what we value and prioritize for our park. We voted on our preferences for three different concepts, with 91% of the respondents favoring plans giving priority to land allocation for greenspace and recreation.

At the recorded Winnona Park Neighborhood Association Meeting when summarizing the 2018 planning session, the consultant stated the top master plan themes were “conservation of green space, creating event space and recreational space for community use, and making it a public community space for all.  That was a theme throughout, and this continued to be a space where everyone felt welcome to come at all ages, abilities, and interests. And then you will see at number four in our list there would be some housing, some affordable housing on the site.

However, the current Legacy Park Master Plan does not align with the priorities communicated by the Decatur Community during these 2018 planning sessions. Below is a scaled image of the Legacy Park Master Plan presented on a topology map to help show where the land is hilly (lines close together) and the limited amount of available land at the Park. Much of the purchased parkland was allocated to existing buildings or the 22 acres conservation area that contains the lake and wetlands.

So, what is so wrong with this plan?

When the consultants were asked about parking during the Winnona Park meeting, they responded that typically 1.65 parking spaces are allocated per unit. This plan has 0.6 per unit. So, instead of 289 parking spaces, this plan allocates just 105. Where will the other 184 cars park?

Please recognize that instead of localized event-specific parking issues, the building of this many housing units creates a perpetual parking problem that will interfere with our ability to access the park and host special events.  And, this parking problem will overflow into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Per the Commission work session, each parking spot costs $7,000 per space to build. At 175 units, with just one spot per car, we are looking at a cost of $1,225,000 and at the 1.65 level, that number jumps to $2,021,250.  Cost and loss of green space for parking is why parking is missing from this plan.

One argument that we heard was we do not need parking because the residents will not have cars. This is a fallacy. As presented in the July ’19 City Commission planning meeting, this development will likely include market-rate housing.

And, we really could not pick a worst location within the City to place this much affordable housing. Located in the most southeast corner of Decatur, Legacy Park is far from the basics of life. It takes 35-minutes to walk to the Avondale Marta station and it is a mile walk to the nearest grocery store.

The residents in these housing units will add to the already heavy traffic on Columbia Drive due to the opening of the Talley street school and the commuters that pass-through Decatur on Columbia Drive. In the mornings, traffic often backs up on the northbound lanes of Columbia Drive from Talley street south and as far back as Katie Kerr Drive. Commuters that previously preferred main roads, now bypass traffic by driving through our neighborhoods thus risking the safety of our children walking without sidewalks and biking on the roads to school.

It is the impact of the number of housing units at Legacy Park that negatively impacts the quality of life for those people living in the southeast corner of Decatur.  It is not that there is affordable housing is present. And it is the large amount of land allocated to housing when there is such little land available. We either need to reduce the housing footprint or increase the available land.

But why should we care about the Legacy Park Master Plan now? On September 8th, our commissioners said there was no plan.  While we do not have a builder, the Legacy Park Master Plan is the framework for the RFP sent to builders.  “When the City is ready to move forward trying to find a partner for this future housing at the Legacy Park will use the housing study to inform the RFP and selection process.” This plan is what the builders will try to build.

The City Commission privatized the management of Legacy Park in its August 15th 2020 meeting to the Decatur Legacy Project, Inc. nonprofit. This group has the authority to execute the Legacy Park Master plan and that contract goes into effect on October 1st, 2020.  We want to ensure they are executing a better plan.

So, what are we proposing?

We could remove some of the old buildings that require consistent maintenance and repurpose that land to align better with our community priorities. This land could be used house recreational areas for tennis and soccer, or convert to green space for recreation for our kids and community to enjoy as well as offer a space for revenue-generating activities that could directly support the housing on the park.  We could add running paths along the park as they do on the beltline and put local artist installations along these paths.

To our city commissioners, we are asking you to show us that we chose the right people to lead this great city. Allow us to be part of the decision making on the land we purchased. Let us put our heads together, be transparent with all communications and planning going forward. We fully expect the community to participate in a bigger way than we ever have before.

To reiterate – No one is arguing the need for affordable housing as the community included housing in each of the park concepts. We are disagreeing with the impact the updated plan has on the community infrastructure and the allocation of land at the park. We as a community can do better.

Even outside the park, we can look for ways to support those who help our Decatur Community such as our teachers and firefighters. Can we think outside the box and partner with select Decatur apartment complexes to provide rental support to those who need that support and work for the city?  Affordable housing is an issue that requires a multifaceted approach.

And, if we as a community are donating millions of dollars of land for free land to build affordable housing, we want it to be affordable housing!  We do not need one more market-rate unit in our community to further stress our infrastructure and school capacities. Our purpose is not to see how we can make money for builders. Our purpose is to make the financial burdens of living in Decatur better for people living in Decatur.

Even before the pandemic, Decatur high school was looking at creative solutions such as split schedules and satellite class locations.  We simply cannot continue to buy more land and further expand our schools.

 

We have an opportunity here to address the issues of affordable housing while also not missing out on providing incredibly important activities for the community, revenue-generating functions such as farmer’s markets, space for food trucks, festivals, etc… all that could directly support the affordable housing at the park without making a significant impact on those of us who live here and often struggle to live here simply because we want to be part of this community and the amazing schools.

Members of Legacy Park Voice support greenspace, recreation, affordable housing, and revenue-generating event opportunities that could directly subsidize affordable housing solutions for Decatur while not further gentrifying our cost-burdened community.

We cannot think in terms of absolute exclusionary silos.  We are a small landlocked community on 4 ½ square miles of land.  We are one community with a shared desire for solutions that are sustainable and fiscally responsible.  Decatur has the highest taxes in Metro Atlanta.  Let that sink in for a minute. This cost has a price, and we as a community are paying that price.

Many Decatur residents are pushed out of our community as a direct result of rising property tax costs. We have lost much of our diversity and our community friends, families and seniors who have lived here for decades but are now so cost-burdened by the City that they can no longer afford to remain in their homes. We also lose our families when their children graduate from schools and they “cash out” to avoid the taxes.

We as a community can do better.

As an editing note, two of the three community meetings in 2019 regarding Legacy Park plan are on video. All quotes come from watching the actual events, rather than stipulating on what was or was not stated.

Our Legacy Park Voice petition now contains 1,216 signatures and is growing because we as a community need our Commissioners to hear our voice.

We hope to hear your voice on Monday September 21st at the 7:30pm City Commission meeting.

– Lynn Gathercole, Legacy Park Voice

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