A Proposal for Dean Gardens Property
First, Dean Gardens could provide a park for a significantly underserved area of Johns Creek. In the current land use plan, this property was identified as a “distinctive area.” Indeed, one of the primary goals for this “distinctive area” was to use the Metropolitan River Protection Act to investigate measures to protect the Chattahoochee River as an important resource. That document envisioned improvements being made to the Old Alabama Road corridor, with additional multi-use trails and sidewalks connecting adjacent neighborhoods to parks (including the Autrey Mill Nature Preserve), and creating a multi-trail network along the river that residents could enjoy. In short, this property could be an important part of a future greenway plan for the residents in lower Johns Creek.
Newtown Park is terribly overused. Dean Gardens parkland could provide relief to the fast-paced Newtown scene. Residents who might prefer a more passive park for walking, biking, or simply enjoying an afternoon read along the Chattahoochee River would have a wonderful option in a pastoral setting.
When Lennar-Atlanta requested rezoning of the property to allow for 70 single-family houses, there was considerable pushback from neighbors and efforts to improve the plan, but there was no legal rationale for the city to deny this zoning; sadly destruction of the considerable assets that made Dean Gardens truly remarkable was almost immediate. While the property has been stripped of these amenities, it still is a 58-acre property along the Chattahoochee River – a true value in its own right. With an eye to dynamic park development, Dean Gardens could once again become a jewel for Johns Creek.
So how can the City afford to purchase Dean Gardens? One option is to use park bond money. Of the five parks recommended by staff – all are north of State Bridge Road. Why not potentially develop these five green spaces more slowly or less intensely. Do the voting citizens who live south of State Bridge Road really want all the park bond money directed north of State Bridge Road? Do the citizens who live south of State Bridge Road in the lower half of Johns Creek deserve green space?
Cauley Creek, the intended target for a large portion of the recently approved park bond money, could still be developed; as the present parks bond currently has millions set aside for future park acquisition (http://www.johnscreekga.gov/parksbond) or if necessary the suggested plans for Cauley Creek could be scaled down (it is currently slated for roughly 900 parking spots and a competitive athletic facility – is that what the citizens truly want – see the plan the city has developed for this parkland at: http://www.johnscreekga.gov/JCGA/Media/PDF-Parks/Cauley-Creek-Park-Prelim-php.pdf) If this parkland is made less intense it could allow for the purchase of this riverfront resource in Area 3 along the Old Alabama Road corridor where no parkland currently exists. This wise use of park bond money would result in parks for both the north and south quadrants of the City, thereby impacting more citizens with the park bond money. Furthermore, to help drive down the purchase price, Johns Creek might apply for a conservation easement on much of the property; this would prohibit development on much of the property that is currently impeded by impervious restrictions. Certainly Lennar-Atlanta could either donate or drastically reduce the asking price on behalf of the city thus allowing a significant tax advantage to their corporation. In addition, the City could pursue federal and state grants for the protection of land on the river.