Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Citizens prep for parks project

From the Marietta Daily Journal on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 by Ashley Hungerford, MDJ staff writer

MARIETTA - The nominations have tripled, the public interest has intensified, and now is the best time to make a lasting impact of future generations to come.

This was the scenario laid out before the 15-member 2008 Parks Bond Citizen Advisory Committee during the group's first meeting Monday night.

The committee has been tasked with sifting through 310 nominations of parkland, narrowing it down to about 20 recommended pieces for the Board of Commissioners to consider purchasing with the $40 million parks bond approved by voters in November.

"We've got a lot of work ahead of us," said Bob Ash, public services director.

With the 2006 parks bond, the Board of Commissioners decided to appoint a citizens advisory committee.

Because the parks bond has been citizen-led and driven, Cobb Chairman Sam Olens said it was important to maintain citizen involvement when it came time to choose which properties to purchase.

"You are the interface with the community," Olens said. "The last committee did a fantastic job and we listened to them ... I don't think there is anything the county has done with as much public interface that has been as successful. You're providing joy to future generations."

With the first $40 million parks bond, which was approved by more than 70 percent of voters, the county was able to secure 10 properties, totaling more than 375 acres of green space.

"This is a unique opportunity for you," Ash said to the committee."Most governments don't do it like we do in Cobb. Most do it in-house. You have an opportunity to contribute to the legacy of the park system here in Cobb."

Joni House, a returning member of the committee and District 2 appointee, agrees with Ash.

"This is probably the last generation that can help contribute to conserving green space for parks," she said.

But the amount of work before the committee now has intensified. The first committee only had to consider 94 properties.

"Some of the your first discussions should be how to deal with the large amount of properties," Olens said. "This is not a three-year project."

The goal is to make its 20 recommendations to the board by August, Ash said.

"As bad as the economy is, the benefit to the taxpayer is getting these properties at the best price," Olens said.

With that said, Olens said some properties should be automatically thrown out because the property owner is looking to the county to be a substitute for developers.

"We're there to make the best decisions for the county and the residents," he said. "We're not there to buy property simply because developers are broke. We are there to be good stewards of the residents' tax dollars."

Ash said the county employees are compiling information on each nominated property. The only culling by county staff is finding out if the nominations have willing sellers. The county will only consider property with willing sellers.

The committee members will soon receive on CD data on all the properties including tax assessments, interesting features on the land, typographic and wetlands maps, parcel boundaries, and proximity to other parks.

The information will be kept confidential, Ash said, and any discussions regarding specific property will be done in executive session.

Because there is so much public interest in this process, Ash suggested that the committee consider conducting several meetings specifically for public comment.

"It can be a reasonably lengthy process at times," Ash said. "This way keeps the public involved."

The returning members, like District 3 appointee Debbie D'Aurelio, said they were glad the county decided to once again launch an effort to buy parkland.

"We looked at that last $40 million and thought it would be the last money we had to spend," she said. "I'm thrilled that we get to do this again."

Knowing the task at hand, several returning members offered words of encouragement to new members by discussing the reward at the end of the day - more parks for the county.

"With the first parks bond, it was a lot of work, but extremely satisfying," said John Pape, who is appointed by Olens. "What is also satisfying is that the board actually took and listened to our recommendations."

During Monday's meeting, the commissioners offered encouragement and some advice for criteria when considering parkland.

"The results last time around were wonderful, and I would expect the same results this time around," District 1 Commissioner Helen Goreham said. "I wish you good luck; you have an awful lot of work ahead of you. Wear bug spray."

Both District 2 Commissioner Bob Ott and District 3 Commissioner Tim Lee, who represent the eastern half of the county, appealed for more consideration this time around for smaller, pocket parks.

"Small pocket parks are very much appreciated," Lee said. "The park on Scufflegrit is covered up by people who walk there."

Undeveloped land in east Cobb is not as plentiful as west Cobb, but the residents in east Cobb are just as eager to see new parks in their area, they said.

"An eight- or 10-acre piece of property in east Cobb is just as valuable as a 50 acre piece in west Cobb," Ott said. "And it will mean just as much to the residents."

Goreham also said the committee should look at the potential future uses of the park land, saying some may be considered for active parks in the future.

District 4 Commissioner Woody Thompson echoed Goreham.

"Some day there might be facilities on these parks," he said.
"Facilities that will get kids out of the parking lots and into structured environments."

Olens also told the committee to think countywide when considering parkland.

"There are areas of the county that don't have parkland," he said. "Consider the underserved areas ... this is a county initiative, and we need that broad look."

The returning members of the board are: Durham; House; D'Aurelio; Doug Reed, representing district 3; and Connie Taylor, representing district 4. All three of Olens' appointees - Pape, Larry Ceminsky and Gary Wolovick - are returning members.

New to the committee are: Barbara Savage and Jeff Wood, of district 1; Bruce Hollmuller and Veronica Jones, of district 2; Matthew Phillips, district 3; and Chandon Adams and Barry Yeager, of district 4.

The committee will meet on March 5, March 16 and March 30, followed by the first and third Mondays of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the county training room, 100 Cherokee St. in Marietta.


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