Neighborhood group decides on Whatley Park improvements

Neighborhood group decides on Whatley Park improvements
Whatley Park as seen on a mural in The Grotto Wine and Tapas Bar on San Marco Square.

When it comes to improving Brown L. Whatley Park, the neighborhood’s residents have finally come to a consensus: building a concrete path through the park is okay as long as it follows a less intrusive route through the park than the proposal originally presented by the San Marco Preservation Society.

During a neighborhood meeting May 11 in Whatley Park, 16 residents gathered to discuss alternatives to the proposed improvements to the park presented by the Society during its Winedown in the Park fundraiser in April.

Many residents had decried the Society’s proposition to have a tree-lined path divide the park, saying it would break up the park’s large grassy expanse and distract from its main focal point, the stream. Instead the residents decided to put forward a plan presented by neighborhood resident Don Halil, which shows a concrete path winding through the park along a different course than had been proposed by the Society.

Halil’s plan calls for the concrete footpath to start at the top of the park near Avoca Place, extend a short distance to a small circular paved seating area before curving toward Broadmoor Lane where it would then hug the side along South Alexandria Place. Midway down the length of the park, the path would cut across and connect with the footbridge. On the north side of the bridge, the path would extend west, winding slightly before hugging the side of North Alexandria Place and extending west to Hendricks Avenue. Two additional small circular seating areas would be placed midway along the path on the south and north sides of the footbridge.

The benches would include a handrail in the middle to prevent transients from sleeping. All other benches would be removed from the park. Pavers and lights used in the three seating areas would look similar to those in Balis Park, and so add continuity within the community.

A rendering of the concrete path according to the plan presented by Don Halil, which was accepted by the Whatley Park neighborhood

A rendering of the concrete path according to the plan presented by Don Halil, which was accepted by the Whatley Park neighborhood

According to Halil’s plan, only three benches and three lampposts would be used and the balance of the money would pay for additional upward lighting of the trees’ canopy.

Unlike the SMPS proposal, Halil’s plan also does not call for any improvements to be made to the railing across the footbridge. The placement of additional trees would be decided as the project proceeds.

During the meeting, Matt Carlucci, who is a neighborhood resident, said the Office of Mayor Alvin Brown is amenable to providing additional funds to make up for any shortfall in funding the improvements.

“The original proposal gave us a start but needed to be tweaked by the neighbors,” said Carlucci. “I am so appreciative of how the neighbors voiced their opinions and how we worked through those opinions to reach a consensus. If the plan is executed, it will be a great enhancement and add great value to our neighborhood and the San Marco community.”

Carlucci also said he and his neighbors appreciate the support District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer and the Preservation Society have given the project.

In addition to the path, the residents also requested that the “side” swale in the northeast corner of the park, which feeds into the concrete creek, be replaced with an underground pipe and covered with grass to add “continuity” and “connectivity” to the grassy areas within the park. The swale is not lined with concrete, and might be considered an additional project for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services or Public Works departments, said Carlucci. “In the long haul, it might save money spent on its constant cleaning and maintenance,” he said.

During the meeting it was also decided that Joe Marks, Don Halil and Mike Saltmarsh would connect with the engineers to oversee the neighborhood’s interests. Shaun Salari agreed to provide communications by coordinating a group list, and Carlucci offered to be a liaison between the group, city council and the mayor’s office.

The original estimate for the Preservation Society proposal was $38,000, said SMPS President Andrew Dickson, noting that he thinks the residents’ plan might cost less than the original proposal.

“We’re thrilled that the neighborhood took ownership of the process. (Don Halil’s) drawing looks fantastic. It ties together parts of the park not in the original proposal. I think it’s a great plan,” Dickson said.

The Society is still accepting donations to cover the cost of commemorative trees and benches at $750 per tree and $1500 per bench.

The May 11 meeting was called as the result of a vote taken during a meeting between Preservation Society officials and neighborhood residents May 4 at Preservation Hall. That meeting had been called to discuss ways to utilize $40,000 in city funds allocated to Whatley Park as well as $7000 raised by the SMPS Winedown event April 18. Because the residents could not come to a consensus about the improvements at that meeting, they voted “to do something” with the money and present the Society with an alternative proposal before May 15.

If the residents had not agreed upon a workable plan for the improvements by June 30, the group risked losing the city funds to another park in the district, said Boyer during the May 4 meeting.

The Preservation Society came by the city funds after they were suddenly forfeited by another project in District 5. They had been allocated to Whatley Park after the Society assured the city it had a “shovel-ready” project that could be completed in a timely way within the dollar limit. The city will control these funds as well as the bidding and construction process, said Dickson.

By Marcia Hodgson
News Editor

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