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Neighbors oppose softball fields at former Austin Elementary site

  • Updated

DUNWOODY, Ga. – A group of residents whose homes lie near a proposed park on Roberts Drive stand opposed to some of the elements planned for its build-out – especially the installation of a softball field.

Darby Christopher, who lives on Holly Bank Circle next to the proposed 10-acre park, said the neighbors do not want a softball field on the property. The land is the former site of Austin Elementary School.

“Beauty, imagination and serenity are all available now at the park. These are all human needs and human values that tend to get overlooked and undervalued,” Christopher said. “It doesn’t make sense to serve the interests of a few (girls’ softball) in this particular space at the expense of the many.”

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Darby said neighbors are particularly concerned about the impact of installing lights on the field and the additional traffic that a softball field would bring to the neighborhood.

“We are concerned about lighting and parking and how it will affect our community,” Christopher said. “We believe that the uses that are being proposed will turn it from a ‘community’ park into a ‘commuter’ park.”

Christopher said her neighbors have had a series of meetings regarding the proposed amenities at the park and are against any kind of softball fields there.

Dunwoody Parks and Recreation Department officials have been soliciting feedback for several months regarding the Roberts Drive parcel and another recently purchased 9-acre plot on Vermack Road.

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The former school site plans had two possible scenarios – one with two softball fields and another with one. After gathering feedback at a fall session and one held Dec. 6, modifications were made, according to the city’s website. The latest changes include:

Roberts Drive park plans

The latest plans for a park on Roberts Drive include a softball field, but some residents on Holly Bank Circle oppose the idea.

• The parking areas were consolidated to form one 128-stall lot;

• The basketball courts were reduced to two half-courts;

• The walking loop/nature trail was realigned to provide a 0.41-mile path around the site. A direct connection was provided to the path that connects to the Withmere neighborhood. Residents of the neighborhood would have a streamlined walking route to Roberts Drive.

• The ingress/egress for cars was modified to provide a main, two-way entrance at the existing signalized intersection on Roberts Drive, and an exit-only drive on the northern portion of the site. The plan also added a vehicular drop-off along the park’s main entrance;

• The sports fields were consolidated into one adult softball field and batting cages were added.

In a statement to the Crier, Dunwoody Parks and Recreation Director Brent Walker said the department is continuing to solicit feedback regarding the park’s final look.

“The master planning process for the parks on Roberts Drive and Vermack Road is working as we hoped by engaging residents from across the city,” Walker said. “We heard important input during our open house on Dec. 6, and we continue to gather feedback through our interactive map online.”

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Walker called the plans “a work in progress” and added that “across our park system, we have a deficiency in athletic facilities for a variety of sports. As we plan our parks and programs, our goal is to address those deficiencies while taking into consideration the needs and desires of all our residents.”

Darby said the neighbors are comfortable with the park the way it is – with open space for free play, rather than organized activities.

“We need to think back to when we were kids and how we felt walking out onto an open field, how our imagination was engaged, and suddenly we wanted to run and jump and play,” she said. “We will trade beauty and serenity for traffic, a chain link fence around a softball field and night lights.”

City officials have said that the Roberts Drive land would be developed sooner than the Vermack property, and several council members have expressed support for a parks bond to fast-track its development. Dunwoody citizens would have to approve the bond in a referendum.

Changes have also been made to the proposed Vermack Road land, including:

• Repositioning the tennis/pickleball courts;

• Eliminating junior/senior league softball field, which has been replaced with an open play field to allow for picnicking and general uses such as pick-up games;

• Consolidating the older and younger children’s playgrounds into one contiguous playground area;

• Reducing the size of the splash pad to 50 feet in diameter;

• Adding a restroom near the entry plaza and realigning the concession stand to be adjacent to the softball field;

• The plazas were consolidated into one entry plaza.

Residents can continue to offer feedback about the proposed parks on the city’s website, dunwoodyga.gov/government/projects/park-construction.