by Jon Gargis
More than 160 properties across the county were nominated earlier this year to become the sites of some of Cobb’s next parks. But it remains to be seen which of those properties will be pursued by the county and how the county will get the funding to buy the land.
The county held a public nomination process from late January through April 15, with 166 properties nominated for purchase by the county to increase green space. The parcels are located in all areas of Cobb and range in size from 0.5 acres to more than 120 acres, said Tom Bills, senior project manager for the county’s parks department.
That nominating process, he said, mirrors the method county officials utilized after two-thirds of voters approved a $40 million parks bond in November 2008. That nomination process followed the vote and went into 2009, resulting in more than 330 nominated properties. Commissioners in late October 2009 were presented by the parks bond citizen advisory committee the list of 29 properties that had been whittled from those that were nominated.
But the bonds approved by voters were never issued by then-county Chairman Sam Olens due to a tanking economy and a tax increase he said would come as a result of the bonds’ issuance.
County officials say they cannot share the list of currently nominated properties as the information “relates to the potential acquisition of real estate,” said Sheri Kell, spokeswoman for the county.
And officials say they cannot reveal if any of the 29 properties recommended in 2009 were among those nominated this year, though Bills said that at the beginning of this year, of those 29, county officials could find no evidence of development activity on 21 of them.
“A key factor in this process is to refrain from publicizing specific information about the nominated properties,” Bills said, adding that the county’s recreation board, which is examining the list of nominations, only discusses specific properties under consideration in closed session.
He added that the board has an Oct. 25 deadline to present its list of recommended properties to the Board of Commissioners. Commissioners are scheduled to meet that day.
Cobb Chairman Tim Lee said that after receiving the list of recommended properties, commissioners will then have the opportunity to propose a path for moving forward on future parks. But Lee said he did not intend to propose any policy that binds the incoming administration. Lee was defeated last month in a runoff by Mike Boyce, a retired Marine colonel.
Boyce, who will take office in January, said he would want to see the commission act on the list before the end of the year.
“I think we need to get started on it now, because there’s no sense kicking the can down the road,” Boyce said, citing the $40 million parks bond that had not been acted upon. “But I have to respect the process, and the process is the budget. I’m very sensitive to the fact that the commissioners and the chairman have a responsibility to meet all of the priorities in the budget, and the parks bond is just one of them. It isn’t the only priority, it’s one of many, and it’s the responsibility of the board to look at the chairman’s proposed budget and see what they’re going to do with it.”
Commissioners differ on bond plans
Commissioner Bob Ott last week told the MDJ that he wanted to see a new $40 million green space referendum on the November ballot as it had been eight years since voters approved the referendum in 2008. He said he would call it a green space initiative rather than a park referendum because the goal is not necessarily to buy property to create more parks but to preserve green space.
[See 5 Letters to the Editor today opposed to Commissioner Ott's new plan to start over]
But Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler said a ballot initiative is not possible this year, as Wednesday was the deadline to place measures on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Commissioner Lisa Cupid said a number of Cobb residents have put in a lot of work pushing for issuance of the 2008 bonds, and that pursuing a new referendum would extend the timeline of getting funding for future parks.
“For us to come up with something new, while I can understand some of the rationale for it, it would have been easier to consider a new approach to this earlier on. Right now, it seems like it would be very difficult — it doesn’t seem palatable, not with all this renewed energy to revising the park bond,” Cupid said.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell said she prefers spending a full $40 million on green space, but said that because there is only $19 million left in the 2008 bond, the county should spend that first, with priority on the original properties identified to be used for that bond. She would then make up the balance of the $40 million with a new bond issuance or by funding it some other way in the county’s budget.
The earliest the county could put forth a new bond referendum is March, according to Eveler, though in comments made to the MDJ last week, Commissioner Bob Weatherford said the $19 million left in the 2008 bond is what the county should issue once commissioners receive the Recreation Board’s recommendations. He also said that he is considering asking for a public safety bond to be added to the March ballot.
But for Jennifer Burke, an east Cobb resident and member of the Cobb Parks Coalition, a do-over parks bond referendum is not acceptable, especially as time is of the essence — she said her organization believes about half the 29 properties recommended in 2009 have been developed or are in threat of being developed.
“Our goal is to have the full funding available as soon as possible because so many of them have been developed. It’s sort of been confusing when the county says a certain amount is available or a certain amount isn’t available when the county connected the park bond money to the Braves funding, which we actually felt that as long as the park bond was paid for first, that wouldn’t be an issue, but they haven’t funded the park bond,” Burke said, referring to the county’s decision to use property taxes to pay for bonds to finance construction of SunTrust Park, the stadium under construction in Cumberland that is set to become the home of the Atlanta Braves next spring.
According to the county, 0.33 mills in property taxes currently pay for outstanding parks bonds, with the last of them to be paid off in 2017 and 2018. The millage will then be shifted to the county’s general fund when the bonds expire to raise an equivalent amount of revenues of $8.67 million. Those monies will be used to pay for bonds to finance SunTrust Park’s construction.
“We can look to future referendums after the board fulfills this mandate the voters have already approved,” Burke said, “but to use the money that the voters approved for the Braves without funding what we voted for is basically misappropriation of funds as far as anybody can see.”
The list of 29 properties that were under consideration for purchase using the 2008 parks bond, published in the Marietta Daily Journal on Oct. 27, 2009. County officials said that of these properties, they could find no evidence of development activity on 21 of them, while the Cobb Parks Coalition believes about half the properties have been developed or are in threat of being developed.
Property Name Acreage
Lost Mountain Property off Dallas Highway 132.8
4750 Dallas Highway 18.81
247 Wigley Road 92.4
East-West Connector at Fontaine* 63.61
2820 Baker Road 54
715 Lost Mountain Road* 149
5151 Brownsville Road 82.8
4957 Township Trace 56
3450 Roswell Road 52.3
2341 Macland Road* 75
3801 Ebenezer Road 50
4570 Old Westside Road 14.6
Holly Springs Road* 31.1
4371 Keheley Drive 25.76
2316 Pinkney Drive* 17.1
3215 Mars Hill Road 2.5
Mars Hill Road 7.6
3285, 3301 Mars Hill Road 2.4
3980 Jim Owens Road 10.01
4150 Jim Owens Road 20.26
3291 / 3941 Bells Ferry Road 46.1
Sandy Plains Road/Mountain Road* 40
Buckner Road 19.5
3340 Stillhouse Road 2.5
Harding Property – Powder Springs Road 10
3140/3150 Robinson Road* 9
756 Kurtz Road 6.8
677/688/698/710 Shady Brooke Drive 3
* Denotes properties the county has determined as developed