On one side of Dunwoody near Sandy Springs along Mt. Vernon Road, a city construction project is underway to install 5-foot bike lanes, some sidewalks and to narrow the travel lane to 11 feet. It’s a project some citizens have spoken out against due to perceived dangers of a narrow travel lane.
On another side of Dunwoody in Brook Run Park, a city construction project is underway to install a 12-foot-wide concrete path through a forested area behind the existing dog park. It too is a project that some citizens have expressed concerns about due to existing drainage and flooding issues in that area.
As trees are being marked in Brook Run Park to make way for the new multi-use trail, some citizens are asking when and why the construction plans changed from a trail comprised of asphalt to one of concrete. Furthermore, when and why did the city’s plans for the trail change from a width of 8 feet to 12 feet?
Beverly Armento, Dunwoody homeowner, has long advocated for Brook Run Park and its wealth of mature, hardwood trees and is very much in favor of a trail system. Armento is concerned, however, about the environmental impact of a large, impervious trail in an area that already has many trees with exposed roots. She is also concerned about several communities downstream from the park which experience flooding after heavy rains.
“I am not trying to squelch the idea of a trail,” said Armento. “I just want to talk about the advocacy of Brook Run Park from a sustainability perspective and the process we use for making decisions.”
If the city is going to make a proposal and then change it, what should be the process to make those changes, said Armento.
“Who’s involved and how are they involved,” asked Armento. “Should the public be involved in that or should only the city staff be involved?”
When public meetings were held to plan the parks, said Armento, there was general talk about a trail, but no specifics about how wide, how long and where it was going to go.
“All of the consequences and unintended consequences need to be anticipated before you do something,” said Armento. “When Nancy Creek starts flooding to everybody downstream, it’s too late.”
Armento said contractors asked about using a detention/retention pond in their proposals for the trail, but that the city did not ask the bidders to address that issue. The city’s response was that “post construction storm water treatment will be addressed in future park development projects.”
The trail is being funded, in part, by the Department of Natural Resources. The city applied for a grant in November 2010 and was later awarded the $100,000 grant for design and construction of the trail. No money has been given to the city yet as this is a reimbursement grant which means that the city must first provide receipts to the DNR.
According to the grant application, the plan was to build a trail system using a combination of asphalt, mulch and boardwalk surfaces. The boardwalk was to be built over West Nancy Creek. The application also detailed construction costs of the trail amounting to $130,810.
The new construction plan, which was awarded to Lewallen Construction Company and Lose Associates Incorporated, is to build a wider concrete, multi-use trail at a cost of over $400,000. The plans also include the installation of benches and trash receptacles along the trail and to ultimately link the trail to commercial and residential areas.
Warren Hutmacher, city manager, said that the DNR grant was written by city staff in 2010 and that was before the city had a parks master plan, a transportation plan and before the debut of Project Renaissance.
Hutmacher said that the plan for the trail has gone through multiple iterations since the DNR application was written. A lot of the changes were made to reduce cost, reduce environmental impact, to save trees and to answer some residents’ concerns, said Hutmacher.
The city’s parks and recreation manager, Brent Walker said that as time passed, plans progressed, and the city started Project Renaissance, there was an opportunity to build a multi-use trail in the park and use it as a connector trail from the park all the way to the Georgetown area. The original plan, said Walker, was to build loop trails through the park.
“As things progressed over time, we started seeing opportunities to save money in the long run,” said Walker. “So instead of putting loop trails in the park and going back years from now and building a multi-use trail along the road on Peeler, or Barclay, we could combine the two projects. We would still have a nice trail through the park that fit the requirements of the DNR grant and still be within the route of the original grant application, and it would be that connector trail.”
Hutmacher said that the parks master plan also specified that a trail going through Brook Run Park could be 12 feet wide and be appropriate.
In addressing the material change from asphalt to concrete, Walker said that concrete is a better material for longstanding multi-use trails.
“It’s going to be a material that’s not going to buckle as much as asphalt would in a treed area,” said Walker.
Hutmacher said the contractor that won the bid quoted a better price for concrete than for asphalt. This was, in part because Lewallen is a concrete company, said Hutmacher.
When asked about using a pervious material where water would percolate through the trail, Walker said pervious material would not be a good application for the project due to high maintenance.
“After a few years, debris clogs up the pores in the material,” said Walker. “You have to vacuum it or pressure wash the trail it to keep it pervious.”
Hutmacher said the contractor did not recommend pervious material because the area where the trail would be installed was not really suitable for pervious concrete.
Walker said the water is going to percolate within 6 feet of the planned concrete trail.
“There is just not a reason to have pervious material in this area because the water is not going to go past the six feet off the trail,” said Walker.
When asked about why the public wasn’t involved in the decision process regarding the trail material, Hutmacher said he didn’t understand why a large scale discussion was needed.
“This is a detail issue,” said Hutmahcer. “It’s not something that we would necessarily bring to the public to ask if they were okay with us using concrete instead of asphalt. They are both impervious. It’s just a difference between cost and look. We’ve hired an expert in Brent Walker to handle those details.”
As for the width of the trail, Hutmacher said that the benefit is being able to comfortably fit end users on the trail and that it is safer because there is more room to maneuver.
“People are going to be thrilled with this,” said Hutmacher. “This is a fantastic project for the city that we’re very excited about it.”
When the DNR application was initially submitted, the Dunwoody Nature Center wrote a letter supporting the project. Alan Mothner, current executive director of the DNC, did not draft that letter but did speak in favor of the trail provided the city studied the impact.
“I am in favor of increasing the opportunity for people to experience the outdoors and in favor of having a linked trail system throughout the park,” said Mothner. “I would hope that the city is doing their due diligence to study the impact of any changes and if they feel that the impacts are negligible, then I think that the system would be an improvement to our parks, certainly better than what is there now.”