Thursday, November 30, 2006

MDJ: Board chose well with parks panel picks

An editorial from the Marietta Daily Journal on Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's hard to recall a public issue in Cobb that has proven more popular than the $40 million referendum for local parkland acquisition. Not only was there no organized opposition to it and not only did it pass by landslide proportions Nov. 7, applicants came out of the proverbial woodwork when it came time for the Cobb Board of Commissioners to appoint members to a panel that will advise the commission on which pieces of land to acquire. Some 25 people filled out formal applications just for the three positions that were filled by Northwestern District Commissioner Helen Goreham, for example.

The commission ultimately chose 15 people for the panel, three by each of the five commissioners. And an impressive panel it is.

Commission Chairman Sam Olens selected Carol Brown, chairwoman of Canton Road Neighbors Inc.; All-State Insurance Co. attorney John Pape Jr., who is treasurer of the Cobb Parks Coalition (the grassroots group that successfully pushed the referendum); and attorney Gary Wolovick, an Emory Law School classmate of Olens and a leader of the Kolb Farm Coalition, which helped save four acres to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park that had been slated for development.

Northeastern District Commissioner Tim Lee selected east Cobb homeowner Debbie D'Aurelio, Cobb NAACP president Deanne Bonner and retired accountant Doug Reed, who was recommended by the Northeast Cobb Homeowners Association.

Commissioner Annette Kesting of southwest Cobb appointed attorney LaRonda Barnes, who also will serve on the Cobb Board of Tax Assessors; Shoupade savior Rhonda Cook of the Johnston's River Line Historic Area; and Connie Taylor a loan-processing manager and real estate broker for the City of Atlanta.

Commissioner Joe Lee Thompson of southeast Cobb appointed Roger Buerki of the Cobb Parks Coalition, who has spent 35 years working to save greenspace along the Chattahoochee River; Joni Cope, who has been instrumental in trying to save the historic Hyde Farm in east Cobb; and Chris Dusack, a Bank of America employee and member of the Cobb Parks Coalition.

And Commissioner Goreham selected Heidelberg USA manager Jim Dugan, banker Jimmy Durham and Wendy Friberg of the Cobb Parks Coalition, who also was active in the Kolb Farm effort a few years back.

As noted above, the panel will make recommendations to the commission about which tracts to focus on for acquisition, as the referendum question did not specify which land might be bought. Although much speculation has centered on the huge Bullard Farm on Dallas Highway in west Cobb, that tract is tied up in a lawsuit regarding the county's refusal to allow it to be rezoned for a massive development that would play havoc with roads and schools in that area.

And while that site certainly has not been ruled out as a potential park, word has it the county may have as its initial focus the acquisition of a small Civil War-related parcel in south Cobb, not only in order to preserve it but in order to quickly be able to show results to the public. Indeed, it makes sense for the panel to cut its teeth on the acquisition of smaller, simpler-to-obtain properties rather than trying to tackle large, complicated purchases right off the bat.

At any rate, the commissioners appear to have chosen well as they selected their panel members. Now, it's time for them to get to work, and we hope their enthusiasm for their task remains unabated.

Commissioners appoint parks advisory panel

From the Marietta Daily Journal on Wednesday, November 29, 2006, by MDJ staff writer Amanda Casciaro

MARIETTA - Cobb commissioners on Tuesday announced appointments to a 15-member committee to advise the board on land buys using a $40 million parks bond voters approved in November.

The appointments, which include three at-large members from Chairman Sam Olens, reflect a diverse pool of residents that vary in race, gender, occupation and community involvement.

As promised when commissioners agreed to send the referendum to voters in April, Olens chose members of the Cobb Parks Coalition, which has been credited for the bond's success in garnering more than 70 percent of the vote.

Carol Brown, chairwoman of the Canton Road Neighbors Inc.; Gary Wolovick, a former vice president of west Cobb's People Looking After Neighborhoods and a classmate of Olens' from Emory School of Law; and John Pape, Jr., staff counsel for Allstate Insurance Company and a leader in the Kolb Farm Coalition, will serve as at-large committee members.

After receiving several e-mail requests from residents, Commissioner Tim Lee decided to appoint Deanne Bonner, president of the Cobb NAACP; Debbie D'Aurelio, an east Cobb homemaker who came recommended from "at least a dozen" other community activists; and Doug Reed, a retired accountant the Northeast Cobb Homeowners Association recommended.

Commissioner Annette Kesting, who represents south Cobb, chose Georgia Supreme Court attorney LaRonda Barnes, who also serves as her appointment to the Cobb County Board of Tax Assessors; Roberta Cook, a well-known community activist who helped the Cobb Parks Coalition drum up support for the bond early on; and Connie Taylor, a loan processing manager and real estate broker for the City of Atlanta.

Commissioner Joe Lee Thompson appointed Joni Cope, an east Cobb activist who has worked "for years" to preserve the Hyatt farm; Roger Buerki, a member of the Cobb Parks Coalition and the West Vinings Civic Association who has worked for the past 35 years to preserve greenspace including property along the Chattahoochee River; and Chris Dusack, a Bank of America employee and member of the Cobb Parks Coalition.

Commissioner Helen Goreham, who did not attend Tuesday's meeting because she was out of town, is expected to appoint Jim Dugan, a west Cobb activist employed with Heidelberg; Wendy Friberg, who worked with the Kolb Farm Coalition; and Jimmy Durham, an employee with Northwest Bank and Trust.

Although Olens announced Ms. Goreham's appointments Tuesday, the board will not approve members until its Dec. 12 commission meeting when she is present.

The 15-member committee will serve for about 18 months or until the bond expires and will not be paid for its service.

Paul Paulson, leader of the Cobb Parks Coalition and an integral part of the Five Families Farm battle in west Cobb, declined to participate on the committee, citing his busy schedule.

Although he won't serve as a permanent member, Paulson has said he will advise the board if members need help choosing tracts of land for park use.

The committee will follow Georgia's Sunshine Laws.

"We want to give it transparency so that people can see what's going on with it," Paulson said in a recent interview.

Members will begin meeting in January to discuss future purchases. Olens said the group would elect its own chairman soon after.

"This has been a great experiment, a successful experiment in grassroots organization," Olens said. "We look forward to the next step."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sunshine laws apply to citizen committee

From the Marietta Daily Journal's Around Town column on Tuesday, November 21, 2006, by MDJ associate editor Bill Kinney

WITH PASSAGE of the $40 million referendum for parkland acquisition safely in the rear view mirror as of Nov. 7, its backers now have moved to the next phase of the process, which is selecting the 15 members of the committee that will recommend various tracts for acquisition.

Parks proponents met at the Ruth Ellis Dance Studio on Marietta Square on Sunday afternoon to discuss the next steps. And with the way the Atlanta Falcons have been playing as of late, it was no big deal for them to give up an afternoon of watching the NFL to do so.

It was the same location at which Parks Coalition members had met throughout the summer to discuss strategy, but Sunday's meeting turned out to be the biggest yet, with 50 attendees, 20 of them first-timers.

"That reminds me of the old expression, 'Success has a thousand fathers, but failure only one,'" said Coalition head Paul Paulson afterward with a smile.

Among those on hand - all of whom were big backers of the referendum from the outset - were Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Sam Olens and Commissioners Helen Goreham and Tim Lee. Others included county Properties Manager Bob Ash and county Planning Commissioner Bob Ott.

The advisory board will have 15 members, but Paulson will not be one of them, by his choice, citing his busy schedule.

Each commissioner will appoint three members to the body, which then will look at properties available, at the county's needs, and then make recommendations to the board of commissioners, which will have final say on what land to try to buy.

Two likely members as Olens' appointees to the advisory board have already surfaced. They are local attorney John Pape, treasurer of the Coalition, and attorney Gary Wolovick, an Emory Law School classmate of Olens' who also was active in the successful effort to add four acres to the Kolb's Farm portion of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park a few years ago.

Paulson stressed that the advisory committee will fall under the state's Sunshine Laws.

"We want to give it transparency so that people can see what's going on with it," he told the MDJ's Joe Kirby on Monday.

Meanwhile, Paulson is consulting with representatives from the national Trust for Public Land and the Georgia Conservancy to see what processes those not-for-profits use to determine how specific tracts of land are worth saving. The group may also look to see what steps were followed in DeKalb and Carroll counties, which passed park-acquisition referendums in recent years.

"There's no need for us to try and reinvent the wheel if we don't have to," Paulson said.

There's also the possibility that the Trust could hold an educational seminar for board members, he added.

Paulson said that the Cobb Parks Coalition, the loose-knit group he assembled to lobby voters to back the referendum, will stay in existence for the time being and have its next meeting sometime after Christmas. Other major figures in that group are retired Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park Superintendent John Cissell, communications director Diane Quammen, Joni Cope, and Marietta businessman Larry Ceminsky.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Parkland advisory panel formed

From the Marietta Daily Journal on Wednesday, November 15, 2006, by MDJ staff writer Amanda Casciaro

MARIETTA - Cobb commissioners Tuesday took the first step to implement a plan to buy more parkland in the county, creating an advisory committee that will examine how to spend $40 million.

Voters last week approved the general obligation bond package by a nearly 3-1 margin.

Each county commissioner will appoint three people to the committee, which will be named at the board's Nov. 28 meeting.

The 15-member voluntary committee will offer input to the board on potential land buys before Cobb buys land for future parks, Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens said.

Olens estimates Cobb will secure the bond money after Jan. 1.

Public input will be considered on potential tracts from January to February and the commission will begin land buys in March or April at the earliest, Olens said.

Cobb residents who want to participate can contact their commissioner or attend a question-and-answer session from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dance Conservatory on the Marietta Square.

Cobb Parks Coalition, which led an effort to educate voters before the election, has organized the forum so residents can share their opinions and come forward to participate.

Paul Paulson, leader of the grassroots effort, has said he does not want to serve on the committee because of his demanding schedule.

The buying price of land in Cobb County is between $100,000 and $300,000 an acre, which totals about 133 to 400 acres eligible for purchase.

Although the 112-acre Bullard Farm property in west Cobb has been tied up in litigation between the county and Florida-based Goodman Co. since March, other tracts have been discussed as potential sites for "pocket parks."

"We referenced some other tracts such as Wylene Tritt's property, 54 acres right next to East Cobb Park, and the Hyde Farm property," Olens said in a recent interview. "I'd love to be able to buy a pocket park in Vinings and maybe a property in the Oakdale area that contains the (Civil Ware) Shoupades. I'd like to buy properties throughout the county, and it's important we do a thorough search so we're in a position to make the best decisions with that money."

The bond issue avoids a tax increase by using debt now occupied by a 1993 bond to build the Cobb County Jail.

In other business....

This article continues with other business conducted during the meeting by the Commissioners.

Pro-parks vote got needed attention

From the Marietta Daily Journal on Wednesday, November 15, 2006, by MDJ columnist Don McKee

The leadership of the Cobb Parks Coalition represents a formidable force in local politics and is a factor to be reckoned with in future elections.

Thanks to the hard work of the coalition, the ballot proposal for a $40 million bond issue to buy parklands won an overwhelming 72 percent of the vote in last week's referendum.

Credit coalition leaders Paul Paulson, John Cissell and their colleagues. They made it happen with unrelenting efforts, enlisting volunteers to contact and inform voters in various ways from yard signs to telephone calls and drumming up solid support from conservation organizations to the chamber of commerce.

The core issue, Paulson pointed out in answer to my question, was the rapid, wholesale development of the county.

"I think we had such a significant showing because people are sick and tired of seeing the trees, the fields, the farms, the beauty of Cobb County being consumed by unimaginative development," he said.

"This bond referendum was as much anti-development as it was pro-parks," he said, citing comments by many of the more than 1,000 people who signed the coalition's online petition in support of the bonds.

"It is a wake-up call," he added. "There was an undercurrent of frustration out there" over what in the past was a "develop-at-all-costs mentality." Now, he said, "We are living with the results of that shortsightedness."

The political support of the pro-bond issue group can prove decisive for candidates to political offices, and the current members of the Cobb Board of Commissioners helped their standing by getting behind the parkland bond proposal.

Now that the people have spoken, the commissioners will have to deliver as promised.

They have agreed that citizens will have a leading part in selecting properties to be purchased by the bond money. You can be sure they will honor the commitment.

The BOC's first order of business is to appoint a citizens committee that will find potential parkland and work with commissioners in acquiring suitable, available tracts.

Each commissioner will appoint three members of the committee to serve for about 18 months. This will be volunteer, unpaid duty by people willing to invest in preserving a little more of the natural resources of Cobb County.

The Cobb Parks Coalition is calling for candidates for the committee to contact their commissioners.

Answers to questions about what's involved will be provided by Commission Chairman Sam Olens at a coalition meeting, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. next Sunday, Nov. 19, at the Georgia Dance Conservatory, 49 West Park Square (upstairs) on the Square downtown.

It is expected that the citizens committee members will be appointed by Nov. 28. They will search out the best available, affordable parkland to help preserve more of Cobb's natural beauty.

"There is still much beauty," Paul Paulson said, "much of the character that drew all of us who call Cobb home here in the first place."

Now it's a question of how much can be preserved. features our victory

Posted on CNN online at 7:57 a.m. EST on Sunday, November 12, 2006 by Jeff Green of

Voters OK greenbacks for green space

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The leaders of any political party would envy the success rate land conservation measures have found in elections across the United States, and this year was no exception.

Voters approved 77 percent of the tax or bond initiatives on the ballot in 23 states in the midterm elections, according to research by the Trust for Public Land, a California-based nonprofit group. Ninety-nine of 128 measures passed.

Those votes will place $5.73 billion in the hands of local and state leaders to help fund land conservation, including $2.25 billion from one California bond resolution alone.

The total was the highest in any election since 1988, the earliest voting analyzed by the trust.

Of the 1,862 initiatives tracked from 1988 to 2005, 1,422 -- or 76 percent -- were approved. In 2002, voters backed 143 of 192 measures, worth about $5.5 billion.

With the nation's population recently surpassing 300 million and land consumption growing, communities are using such initiatives to help cope with sprawling development, said Ernest Cook, director of the trust's conservation finance program.

"It's an investment that pays dividends over and over and over again for future generations," Cook said. "There are community-wide benefits that mean a lot to everyone."

And while the largest sums up for votes this year were in so-called blue states, support for government spending on land conservation isn't unique to Democratic Party strongholds, he said.

In Cobb County, Georgia, a $40 million bond for land conservation passed with 72 percent of the vote. The suburban county is solidly Republican, with GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue taking 66 percent of the vote this year.

"It's a nonpartisan issue," said Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens, a Republican.

"For years, I would go to Cobb Republican Party breakfasts where conservative Republicans were telling me, 'Look, you gotta get this park space before it doesn't exist any more, before the potential doesn't exist any more.'"

In neighboring Paulding County, a $15.2 million parks bond got the same strong support as Perdue -- 71 percent.

Elsewhere, Republican Sen. Conrad Burns' failed re-election effort won 57 percent of the vote in Ravalli County, Montana. The county's first-ever bond to preserve open space, a $10 million initiative, fared slightly better, winning approval with 58 percent of the vote.

In President Bush's home state of Texas, all six city and county measures for parks and land conservation were approved, each of them with more than 61 percent of the vote, according to the trust.

In Dallas, where incumbent GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson took 54 percent of the vote, more than $36 million for land acquisition was approved as part of a bond that had support from 81 percent of voters.

And in Salt Lake County, Utah, a $48 million open space bond passed with 71 percent of the vote. Fifty-four percent of voters there supported incumbent GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Bond pumps up Schwarzenegger
While voters in blue-state California have traditionally been supportive of such initiatives, this year's Proposition 84 was considered a tough call by the trust because it was on the ballot with a separate bond package totaling $37 billion.

With the support of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, all of the bond measures passed. Among them was a $5.4 million bond for water-quality protection and flood control that also included $2.25 billion dedicated to land conservation.

"The reason I think they were successful was because Democrats and Republicans worked together," Schwarzenegger said of the bond measures.

In Nassau County, New York, voters in 2004 approved a $50 million bond to purchase open space and protect water quality. But the Long Island community "found that $50 million in a large urban county didn't go very far," Cook said.

So they doubled it this year, asking voters to support a $100 million initiative.

Before the election, County Executive Thomas Suozzi stressed the urgency of preserving what little open land remains in the area.

"Forty percent of the county's open land has been developed since 1980, and that leaves less than 10 percent of remaining land that we can enjoy," Suozzi said in a written statement.

Voters were receptive to the message, approving the bond with 77 percent support. The effort followed advice that the trust frequently gives to local officials to build confidence among voters.

"We often recommend to towns and counties that are setting up new programs that they start small ... and then let the voters evaluate the kind of job that their government is doing," Cook said. "And if they like it, they can vote to extend the program."

Of the 29 measures that failed in the midterm elections, the largest was in Seminole County, Florida.

By a margin of 51 percent, voters in the suburban Orlando community narrowly rejected a property tax increase that would have provided $70 million over a 10-year period for the purchase of environmentally sensitive land.

Find this article at:

Sunday, November 05, 2006

On Tuesday's parks bond vote, five numbers ...
Tell the Story

From the Marietta Daily Journal on Sunday, November 5, 2006 by MDJ guest columnist Chuck Kaste.

On Tuesday, the last item on Cobb County's ballot will request approval for the county to issue bonds for the purpose of buying parkland. This ballot initiative presents a unique opportunity. We can have county funds earmarked toward something that will have a material and tangible benefit on the quality of life and property values for all Cobb residents. And the news gets even better; no new taxes will be needed to fund this initiative.

Somewhat surprisingly, there's debate about it. But this debate is not about the idea of parks. I have not run into anyone who thinks having more parks in Cobb County would be a bad thing. No one questions the financial, environment and community-building virtues of having more parkland for all of us to enjoy. Instead, this debate is about how we should pay for them.

Some say we should wait until funds can be pulled out of the operating budget or until the county has identified each parcel of land it wants to acquire. I disagree, and I have five numbers that tell me this bond initiative is exactly the right way to go:

* FORTY - as in $40 million is the amount that this initiative sets to be spent on parkland acquisition over the next two years. By law, these funds can only be used to acquire property and the land acquired must be parkland forever. No sidewalks. No right of way. No easements. Only parkland and always parkland.

* TEN - as in 10 years, will not appear on the ballot, but it's an important part of this acquisition plan. It's the term of the bonds that will fund this parkland acquisition. The county government wants to make sure it is being fiscally responsible and will pay these bonds off in just 10 years.

If 10 years seems like a long time, consider that most private sector loans for land acquisition are for 20 to 30 years, not just 10. These parks will not be a liability on future generations. No, they will be purely an asset.

* FOUR AND A QUARTER - as in 4¼ percent, is the interest rate at which Cobb County currently borrows. This rate is important because it is very close to the recent growth rate of real estate prices in the county. Since these rates are so close, this proposed bond initiative will not cost the county any more than if we waited to acquire the parkland over the next 10 years.

At the same time, waiting to buy is fraught with risk. First, if we do wait, the property is not likely to be appropriate or even available for purchase because it will have already been turned into a shopping center or subdivision. Second, many experts are predicting that the metro area's real estate market is going to exceed historic growth rates because of the continued influx of people and corporations into the area. If that happens, waiting to buy the land (if it is still available and undeveloped) will actually cost more than issuing a bond, buying it now and paying interest.

Bottom line, the so-called "pay as you go" approach is not likely to provide any cost benefit, may actually put us at a cost disadvantage, and may prevent us from being able to purchase the land in the first place. As such, buying the land now with the proceeds of a bond issue is the best approach to avoid these risks.

* THREE - as in the three members from each commission district that commissioners will appoint to the advisory committee for the bond. This committee will be composed purely of private citizens. No government officials or staff will serve on it. This committee will oversee the dispersal of funds and the acquisition of properties that they, as a group, select. Your district's three committee members will represent you as properties are nominated, discussed and prioritized. The balance of this committee will ensure that all properties brought into the process receive fair consideration, regardless of where they are in the county.

* ONE - as in how not voting for this initiative is the one way to guarantee that the county will not have the funds to acquire this much parkland over the next two years at today's prices.

We have one opportunity to make sure these funds are earmarked for parkland - and we can do it without raising taxes. The land is out there now at today's prices. But if we wait, it will either be gone or it will cost much more than it does today. Now is the time to act.

What can you do to help?

The first thing is easy. Spread the word. Let your friends, neighbors and family know about the importance of this item on the ballot. Tell them that you will be voting "Yes" and ask them to vote "Yes" too.

The second thing is even easier. On Tuesday, vote "Yes" for the initiative.

With this bond initiative, we have a unique opportunity to leave our county a legacy - a legacy of parks and greenspace. These will be parks that my two boys and your kids can enjoy in their childhood. When they grow up and the parks are paid for, our grandchildren will enjoy them as will our great grandchildren. If we all support this initiative, it can be our gift to them and all future generations - and we can do this without raising taxes.

I hope you will join me.

Chuck Kaste is a management consultant who has made east Cobb his home for the last 15 years. A lifelong Atlantan, he is active in local several parkland and greenspace "Friends" groups and serves as president of his homeowners association.

Let's not add to list of past mistakes on Tuesday

From the Marietta Daily Journal on Sunday, November 5, 2006, by MDJ editorial page editor Joe Kirby.

Cobb County's leaders and people have made some really big blunders through the years that we're still paying the price for today, both economic and psychic. And we may be on the verge of making another this week that will be regretted for generations.

Sure, our past leaders also showed more foresight than most of their Georgia counterparts, doing things like paving the way on the eve of World War II for what is now the Dobbins/Lockheed/NAS complex; pushing for the construction of the Allatoona reservoir in the late 1940s, thus assuring us a reliable source of drinking water; embarking on an ambitious road-paving program in the early 1950s; constructing sewer lines into then-empty east Cobb in the late 1960s; and pouring plenty of money into the two local school systems all along.

But let's also look at some of the gaffs of the past, and think about how much different life here would be today - and at how much more cheaply we could have accomplished various goals. What if:

* The county years ago had bought enough cheap right of way along its major thoroughfares that when the time finally came to widen them, it wouldn't have cost taxpayers so much?

* The feds, state and county had done the same thing in the Interstate 75 corridor through Cobb, so that more lanes and interchanges could be added without having to buy and demolish businesses and houses that now are in the way? And what if they had bought enough land to save room to add a light rail line paralleling the highway, instead of having to shoehorn such a line over the road or in between the lanes - or not build it at all?

* The county had hooked up with MARTA in the 1960s, and that it had gotten popular enough to relieve the need for so much costly road building?

* The county or state had bought Sweat Mountain in east Cobb, Blackjack Mountain in east Marietta and/or Lost Mountain in west Cobb, and turned them into recreational parks, rather than letting them become studded with homes for the rich and richer?

* We had not torn down the beautiful old courthouse on Marietta Square and replaced it with one of the ugliest buildings in Georgia?

* Local leaders, needing no crystal ball to see Cobb's population on the verge of exploding in the 1960s, had planned and built another bridge or two or three across the Chattahoochee River? It's now unlikely another bridge will ever be built.

* After seeing how east Cobb's population boomed in the 1960s and '70s, we had assumed the same would eventually happen in west Cobb, and had decided to be proactive and build additional, wider and more direct roads around (and possibly even through) Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park?

* The federal government in the 1930s and '40s had been more aggressive in purchasing land for the battlefield park? As it was, most of what was purchased was old trench lines, not the land in between that was fought on.

* The feds, state or the county had been more visionary, even as late as the 1980s, in buying the miles and miles of remaining Civil War trenchworks and forts in west Cobb? The county could easily, easily, have wound up with a network of linear parks and trails along the high ground from Lost Mountain in west Cobb, eastward to the battlefield park and then on to Brushy Mountain, just south of Town Center mall. But unfortunately, most of those entrenchments are now history - if you get my drift.

* The county had bought plenty of land for use as future parkland, while it was still empty, plentiful and cheap?

All of the "mistakes" listed above - except the last one - are irreversible? There's no way to reverse those past oversights and failure to use our collective imagination. But there is a step we can take on Tuesday to ensure that we don't let down the next generation of county residents. I'm talking, of course, about the referendum on whether the county should spend $40 million to buy undeveloped land to be converted into county parks.

If you think Cobb needs more parks - and not just more ballfields, but more open land for passive recreational uses like walking and kite-flying - then it's now or never to get it. You've probably noticed that there isn't much empty land left in the county, and that it's going fast. If we drop the ball on Tuesday, another five or 10 years will probably roll around before enough momentum could be built up for another push for parks. And by then, there likely would be no undeveloped tracts left in Cobb large enough to serve as parks. So it's now or never.

Do we want to act now? Or do we want to go down in county history as the generation that ducked when it came our turn to do what's right?

I know how I'm going to vote.

OK for parks bond faces uphill battle

From the Marietta Daily Journal on November 5, 2006, by MDJ staff writer Amanda Casciaro

COBB COUNTY - Supporters and opposition groups of a proposed $40 million parks bond set for the election ballot Tuesday agree the most important task in the next two days will be educating the public before they cast their vote.

Before the measure was approved for the ballot by the Cobb Board of Commissioners in July, residents from across the county united in a grassroots effort called the Cobb Parks Coalition. Led by Paul Paulson, members have teamed with the Cobb Chamber of Commerce to educate voters through signs, push cards and meetings with the local business community.

"People have to make a decision; there's very little of our landscape left," Paulson said. "Most all of us living in Cobb County have benefited in some way from the tremendous growth and development. Now we're getting down to the end run of our available land."

Because the county will be using existing debt, the general obligation bond will not lead to an increase of what residents are already paying.

Rejecting it, however, could save owners of a $200,000 home about $13.60 each year after 2010, said Cobb Communications Director Robert Quigley.

Cobb commissioners can buy parcels using debt now occupied by a $39 million bond approved in 1993 to pay for the existing jail. That bond will expire in 2010, at which time - if voters approve the plan Tuesday - a 10-year parks bond will take effect.

"There is no hidden agenda here," said Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens in a recent interview. "I just reduced the millage (rate) last year. There is no tax (or) fee that's more despised by local governments than millage, and this bond gives us the opportunity for a significant increase in parkland without any additional millage. It's an existing tax."

Opponents of the park bond say officials' insistence that the bond will not increase taxes is misleading, and giving the commission control of parkland purchases institutes an unnecessary, extra layer of government.

"If people want more parks, let them pay for them," said Gary Marcus, a member of the Libertarian-backed Cobb Taxpayers Association. "I'm not opposed to parks, but I don't think I have the right to go up to you or anyone else for that matter and tell them to give me their money so I can build one."

Specific tracts of land have not been identified for purchase, but Olens said he envisions small "pocket parks" in each district. Because land across the county is going for about $100,000 to $300,000 an acre, Olens said the bond would allow commissioners to purchase between 133 to 400 acres of parkland.

Before any land is bought, a committee of residents will be appointed by commissioners to advise them on potential land acquisitions.

"At this point, we can't do too much more except have confidence people will respond positively to it," Paulson said. "I see more good in people than selfishness, so I'm trusting people in Cobb County will do the right thing and vote 'yes' on this."

Cobb owns and leases from the Army Corps of Engineers about 5,075 acres of parkland, of which about 4,251 has been developed into youth sports fields and recreation areas. The undeveloped 823 acres is either floodplain or land reserved for events such as the North Georgia State Fair, Olens said.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

“Land. They ain’t makin’ it anymore.”

From the Marietta Daily Journal on Friday, November 3, 2006, by MDJ guest columnist Patricia Lane.

Park bond’s economics explained

There are people who say we cannot afford to spend $40 million to purchase greenspace in Cobb County. The financing of the parks bond referendum Cobb will vote on Tuesday would involve the reissuing of bonds that are due to be retired, which means that there would be no change in our taxes because of this referendum. Cobb’s credit rating is so good that we are authorized to issue $200 million in bonds if it were necessary, and because we are such a low risk, our interest rate will be low. We will be able to retire these bonds in a mere 10 years. Including interest, that will cost the average household about $4 per year, approximately the cost of one good cup of coffee.

There are people who argue that we should wait until we can finance the purchase of green space with tax revenues alone to avoid paying interest. The price of land in Cobb has not gone down since the Great Depression. Assuming that there would still be land available to purchase, if we wait only one or two more years, the escalating cost of that land would more than negate any savings associated with the lack of interest payments.

There are people who maintain setting aside land for public parks will remove valuable property from the tax tolls, thus decreasing the amount of taxes coming into county coffers. The Trust for Public Land has documented repeatedly that the increased value of property surrounding green space more than offsets pulling forests and agricultural land out of production. Just look at the cost of lots in Anderson Farm and Parkside at Old Mountain adjacent to Kennesaw Mountain battlefield park. The most expensive land on ear4th surrounds Central Park in New York City. Do you think that NYC officials wish they had a Super Wal-Mart there instead?
Some think county government has no business buying land, competing with private developers who want to bulldoze every remaining spot of green in the name of growth. That might play well in North Dakota, but our county commissioners know that in metropolitan areas good schools and an educated work force are no longer enough to attract new people. Parks and walking trails are ranked more important than retail shopping in surveys of homebuyers. Families and businesses seeking to relocate look for green space as an indicator of quality of life and commitment to environmental concerns. Unless significant parkland is set aside, suburbs turn into the gridlock from which people relocate. And in 2000 Cobb had less green space per capita than the city of Atlanta.

We can’t afford to wait to protect what little green space remains in Cobb. It is right for the environment, it is good for the health and well-being of our citizens and it has clear economic benefits. This is our last chance. As Will Rogers said, “Land. They ain’t makin’ it anymore.” And if we do not act responsibly to save our remaining open land, our grandchildren will ask us why.
Vote Tuesday for more greenspacein Cobb. Vote “Yes” on the last item on the ballot.

Veterinarian Patricia Lane is a 20-year resident of Cobb.

MDJ's Bill Kinney asks if bond will pass

From the Marietta Daily Journal's Around Town column on Saturday, November 4, 2006, by MDJ associate editor Bill Kinney

Will parks bond pass Tuesday?

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS for Tuesday's referendum vote on a $40 million bond issue to finance the purchase of land for future Cobb parks? The measure should pass. It's a proposal that will have next to no impact on taxpayers' wallets and will meet a need for more parkland. Spearheading the parks push has been Paul Paulson, head of the Cobb Parks Coalition.

"No one working for our group sees passage of this bond referendum as a given, said Paulson, adding "We know that our message has failed to reach many people."

Backers of the bond say that if the county fails to act and pass the referendum, there will be no vacant land left to buy for parks if the county has to wait another five or 10 years. There seems to be no organized opposition. Passage would relieve overcrowding at existing parks and at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, which drew more than 1.5 million visitors last year, primarily for recreational uses.

The measure could wind up a victim of its timing, of being held in conjunction with a general election rather than as a one-item special election. Special elections usually draw far fewer voters and are easier to manipulate by generating high turnout among selected constituencies. But they're also costly to run, one reason the county commission scheduled the parks vote for a general election, and the fact that a parks bond would seem to be a no-brainer regardless of when it takes place.

Last year's referendum on a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for transportation/jail/courthouse improvements was a standalone election and passed by only 114 votes of 39,771 cast, and was far more controversial than the parks bond has been.

This year's bond question also is unfortunate in that it is the last one on the ballot, when many voters aren't paying much attention.

Cobb voters have been fickle about parks-and-rec referendums. They turned down a $148 million SPLOST for parks on Nov. 7, 2000. The measure would have included $45 million for parkland acquisition. Just think how much parkland could have been acquired with $45 million at 2000 prices.

Voters also turned thumbs down on a $12.8 million general obligation bond in 1993 that would have financed improvements to the county's softball complex in west Cobb in order to host the women's softball competition in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Voters in 1989 rejected a $25 million G.O. bond for recreation.

The county has passed five parks/recreation bonds. The first was in 1965 for $900,000. Next was a $5.25 million bond in 1972, followed by a $3 million bond in 1977. Voters got more generous after that, approving a $21.6 million bond in 1986 and a $30 million bond in 1996. In addition, the county recreation authority passed revenue bonds on three occasions: $1 million in 1958, $1.12 million in 1989 and $7.12 million in 1992.

This year's bond proposal has the full support of all five commissioners and its proceeds will be spent across the county, not just in less-developed west Cobb where there are more and bigger open tracts available.

"Forty million dollars is really not enough at this most urgent juncture," Paulson said. "The Cobb Parks Coalition has been encouraged by national conservation groups that once a local community makes a statement about saving some greenspace through its taxing ability, there is increased opportunity for private foundations and even federal funds to come available. That $40 million could be boosted.

"It may be close, but, I'm betting the farm it will fly," Paulson said. "What's more important? Saving an average $11 a year for 10 years in taxes or permanently protecting maybe 400 acres for your children and theirs? With less than 10 percent of Cobb left unused and development proceeding at a rate of seven acres a day, says a University of Georgia study, we are the last generation privileged to have this choice."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Should Cobb issue bonds to buy parkland?

Two op-ed pieces appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Thursday, November 2, 2006, one on each side of the parkland issue.

Cobb voters will decide Tuesday if the county should issue bonds to generate $40 million to buy parkland.

Commission Chairman Sam Olens said the commission has not decided what property the county might buy, but he said the land predominantly would hold passive parks for nature walks, not ball fields.

Olens said open land ranges in price from $100,000 an acre to more than $300,000. That means the money could buy anywhere from 133 to 400 acres. Olens said he also envisions "pocket parks" in areas that might include east Cobb, Vinings and Oakdale. Today, two Cobb residents, one who supports borrowing the money and one who doesn't, weigh in with guest columns.


Bond would be fiscally smart move for Cobb

There is little undeveloped land in Cobb County.

Of our 217,000 acres of once pristine southern landscape, less than 10 percent remains untouched by the hand of man.

Each day, as the University of Georgia's Department of Ecology's NARSAL group reports, 7 acres of nature's handiwork meets the bulldozer's blade in Cobb County.

Four acres are paved over and 3 acres of tree cover is cut to the quick. That's about 2,400 acres each year. And, as the available land gets scarcer, the prices get scarier.

The amount of parkland has not kept pace with the development across the land.

Sam Olens, chairman of the Cobb County Commission, had an awakening one day this past spring.

The longtime Cobb resident saw an opportunity to secure more land for parks. He knew that if Cobb hesitated, the land could be gone or too costly. So, he asked the county's Finance Department how we could pay for more parkland right now. There was a bond about to be retired which could simply be "rolled over" and reissued. So, the $40 million to buy land for parks would not change the debt millage. There'd be no new taxes.

Who'd oppose that? Well, some, and in a democracy such as ours all sides need be heard before the citizenry can make an informed choice.

Money is an important issue in all our lives. Lately, all taxes have gotten a bad name.

Yet, sometimes it is only government, through reasonable use of its taxing authority, that can accomplish things that would otherwise go undone.

Cobb County has a bond rating that would allow us to borrow the $40 million at a rate of 4 percent for a period of 10 years. The Cobb finance department reports that undeveloped land in Cobb appreciates annually by about 8 percent.

Enough said.

And, our personal contribution would remain the same as today; that's about $11 per year in property taxes on a house valued at $200,000.

It's been said that it is only taxes that separate the people from chaos.

In a democracy such as ours, chaos is a legitimate choice. Or, we can opt for a small personal sacrifice today promising to reap great rewards tomorrow.

Paulson, a small-business owner, lives in Marietta.


Parkland bond idea is blatant money grab

Cobb voters will decide Tuesday if the county should issue bonds to generate $40 million to buy parkland.

Commission Chairman Sam Olens said the commission has not decided what property the county might buy, but he said the land predominantly would hold passive parks for nature walks, not ball fields.

Olens said open land ranges in price from $100,000 an acre to more than $300,000. That means the money could buy anywhere from 133 to 400 acres. Olens said he also envisions "pocket parks" in areas that might include east Cobb, Vinings and Oakdale. Today, two Cobb residents, one who supports borrowing the money and one who doesn't, weigh in with guest columns.

Never let it be said that the current crop of Cobb County commissioners would ever miss an opportunity to raise taxes, increase spending or deny Cobb taxpayers any form of tax relief.

A little over a year ago, the County Commission pushed through a massive billion-dollar tax increase (SPLOST).

Then last month the commissioners unanimously voted in a whopping 19 percent increase in the county's annual budget. And now they are asking voters to approve a bond referendum to buy parkland.

There are many troubling aspects to this proposal. First, if the proposal was not on the ballot, the taxpayers would automatically receive some much needed tax relief. The amount of the measure is not predicated upon needing a specific amount of acreage in specific locations for specific purposes. Olens has said the commission has not decided what property the county might buy.

The amount of the bond measure is in line with the old debt soon to be retired. Therefore, its amount is designed to deny taxpayers any tax relief whatsoever; but since it is equal to the amount of debt to be retired, politicians can smugly claim that there will be no tax increase. If the commissioners were to be honest with the taxpayers, they would call this scheme for what it really is: a money grab. Read: We'll grab the money now, and figure out later how to spend it. This measure represents the height of arrogance and fiscal irresponsibility.

Can you imagine the private sector ever trying to foist something like this on its shareholders?

There are other problems with this so-called parks proposal. There is nothing to prevent the commissioners from using eminent domain to purchase parkland, other than Olens' verbal assurance.

If we knew beforehand where exactly the county plans to purchase the land, then we could make an informed decision as to whether eminent domain could or could not be a threat. Otherwise, it's just another case of politicians saying to taxpayers, "Trust me."

It's time at long last to send this profligate County Commission a message that is long overdue, and that is a NO vote on this parks measure. It's the only language they understand.

Marcus is vice president of the Cobb County Taxpayers Association and the president and founder of the Marcus Consulting Group Inc.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thank our grandparents for their foresight in 1935; we have similar choice

This op-ed piece by Dan Brown, superintendent of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on October 31, 2006. It was accompanied by telling pictures of the mountain in the 1930s and the view from the top toward 41 at Old 41 today.

Look to the past on parks vote

Cobb County's $40 million bond referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot to buy land for county parks is reminiscent of the efforts to create Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

In 1926, congressional legislation was introduced to create a national memorial military park at Kennesaw Mountain. But support for passage took time, and the clock was ticking. The slopes of Kennesaw Mountain had already been laid out in building lots and 130 of those lots had been sold. Investors had plans to build a hotel on the mountain and develop the surrounding real estate. They had even built a rough road up the mountain. When Congress finally authorized the park in 1935, land acquisition generated considerable controversy.

In anticipation of the government's land purchase, some set high valuations on the land, hoping to make good profit. Others expressed concern about spending money for a park so far from Atlanta that few would ever visit. But local citizens urged cooperation because of the potential long-range benefits they saw from the creation of the park. The concerns and the foresight were both true —- only 4,648 visitors came to the park in 1939. But annual visitation today totals nearly 1.5 million, and few could imagine living in Cobb County without Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

For the past two years, Kennesaw Mountain has been listed as one of our country's 10 most endangered battlefields by the Civil War Preservation Trust. More than 1,200 homes have been built around the park in the past 10 years, 160,000 cars a day traverse park roads, and more than 1 million people use the 21-mile trail system each year (by comparison, the Appalachian Trail has only 2 million hikers on its 2,100 miles of trail).

The "Second Battle of Kennesaw Mountain" occurs nearly every weekend —- the battle of trying to find a parking space.

Back in 1935, few could have imagined this. Today this rapid development and ever increasing visitation threatens the integrity of these unique resources at Kennesaw Mountain. Stephen T. Mather, the first director for the National Park Service, consistently urged the creation of state and local parks with natural recreational areas that would act as safety valves to the national parks.

We were in the depth of a Depression in 1935, and Congress was only able to appropriate $125,000 for the 2,884 acres of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. That sounds like a meager sum to us now, but it represented a real sacrifice in 1935.

At today's land prices, that same Kennesaw Mountain acreage would cost more than $500 million. But if the land had been developed, it would not have been available at any price. We thank our grandparents for their foresight back in 1935. Our generation now has a similar choice.

Cobb Opinions: $40 million for parkland?

By David Lariscy, David Musser, Patty Mulholley, Larry Ceminsky, Shirley Devries, Chris Dusack, D.A. King, Tom Crawford, Carolyn Debavadi
For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/26/06

Cobb voters will decide in November if the county should issue bonds to generate $40 million to purchase parkland. Commission Chairman Sam Olens said the commission has not decided what property the county might buy, but he said the land predominantly would hold passive parks for nature walks, not ball fields.

Olens said open land ranges in price from $100,000 an acre to more than $300,000. That means the money could buy anywhere from 133 to 400 acres. Olens said he also envisions "pocket parks" in areas that might include east Cobb, Vinings and Oakdale. Do you plan to vote yes or no?


A vote yes will ensure parkland for Cobb's future generations.

It is imperative that the county preserve a portion of the remaining green space for parkland. It is estimated that only 10 percent, or 220,000 acres, of Cobb County are undeveloped.

With so little green space left, it would be a great benefit to future generations to have more parkland.

Shall we allow developers to cut down the trees, build mega-houses and increase demands on the infrastructure?

I say forbid it by voting for the proposed bond issue.



Added green space will help current residents' quality of life.

I will vote yes for the bond issue to purchase parkland in Cobb County.

The added green space would be good for residents' quality of life, would help property values and would help alleviate flooding. Property is only going to get more expensive, so this should be done as soon as possible.

If land is not set aside for parks, it will be developed, which would most likely add to traffic problems, crowded schools and environmental problems such as flooding.



Lack of information on land to be bought could be scary.

How in the world can you vote on whether to allow the county to issue bonds for $40 million when they are not telling you what and where the land is?

This could be a scary.




Not specifying land keeps costs low; parks lure employers.

When we consider the trade-offs between quality of life and our governmental taxation and spending, there is very strong incentive to vote yes on the bond referendum.

Recent studies indicate that undeveloped property is being developed at the rate of 6-plus acres every day in metro Atlanta. That is more than 2,200 acres of green space developed into residential and commercial developments. That is 2,200 acres that would not be a walking trail, a wildlife preserve, a place for grandchildren to play, or a passive park for our golden years.

Approving the ballot question means that we would give the county the authority to issue 10-year bonded debt of $40 million to acquire land for public parks. These new bonds would be paid for from tax dollars currently being used to retire previous debt and from growth of the Cobb County tax base, NOT from a new additional tax.

Because advance expressed interest in acquiring specific property can inflate asking prices, it is not prudent to identify specific land tracts beforehand. It is part of the plan to acquire property for passive use and for land banking. This plan does not require structures and development for sports activities.

Yes, as land is acquired by the county, it is taken off the tax rolls. But those tax collections are quickly replaced by adjacent rising property values and other developments. Top-of-the-line-employers choose to relocate to Cobb County for the quality of life that our community offers for families. These companies create jobs, new homeowners and taxpayers.

We must protect green space now for the future enjoyment by our grandchildren and their children. A small, wise investment today keeps from becoming a major expense tomorrow.

Please join me in voting YES.



The more green space, the less pavement to cause flooding.

The more land we dedicate to building parks, the less construction and paving will be done.

Areas are being flooded because there is no place for the rain to go. Destroying forests destroys natural habitat for wildlife.



Bonds a cheap way to buy land that will only appreciate.

Cobb County voters should vote in favor of the park bonds. Price appreciation rates for Cobb land is higher than prevailing bond rates. In other words, we can borrow money cheap to buy assets that appreciate.

There are not many large pockets of land left in Cobb.

The medium-sized pockets are being assembled and turned into high-density communities. If the county does not do this now, it might not have the chance in the future.

I see more and more residential and retail [development], but few, if any, new parks. As Cobb continues to grow, residents will require more park space.

Smaller "pocket parks" would increase property values, reduce traffic to larger parks, and promote a better sense of community.

Oh, and this [the bond issue] won't increase taxes. Sounds like a win-win to me.



Time is running out to ensure luxury of having parks in future.

There are still a few areas that do not have strip malls, divided highways and traffic jams. If we don't buy some of these green areas, our children will never see what we do today.

With the U.S at 300 million people and going on half a billion at mid-century, $40 million for park land today will provide the ultimate luxury 20 years from now.

Yes to more parks and nature walks in Cobb.

While we still can.

D.A. KING, Marietta


A no vote is appealing because ballot resembles a blank check.

I am leaning towards a NO vote for the park bond, not because I'm against parks but for the following reasons:

1. County does not specify on the ballot the type of park (More soccer fields?).

2. County does not indicate where the parks would be or how many.

3. County does not say how park development from raw land would be paid for (Afraid to tell us?).

4. County states park bonds are free because other bonds are being paid off (not so, a loss of a tax cut is the same as a tax hike).

Blank checks to politicians should not be an option, re: laptop computers.



Increasing land values support argument for buying it now.

I plan to vote YES. I am 72 years old and have lived in west Marietta since 1966. I have witnessed accelerated growth and development which have taken so much of our green space.

I am for intelligent growth. There is a lot of unnecessary clear cutting that takes too many trees. Unfortunately, the wording on the ballot does not make clear that the passage of this issue would not result in more taxes.

Land values are increasing rapidly. Now is the time to provide money to save green space.