4 Important Project Updates

It’s been a while since we’ve reported on our progress in making Boulevard Woods a reality. But a lot has been happening behind the scenes, including these four developments.

1.  Maintenance costs covered. 

Thanks to efforts from Commissioners Kelly Girtz and Kathy Hoard, there is now support from the commission for ACC to cover the ongoing maintenance costs of Boulevard Woods.

This means that Boulevard Neighborhood Association, Inc. will not have to raise funds for ongoing maintenance of the park (which could have amounted to $4000 annually), and instead those expenses will be covered by the ACC General Fund.

2. $99,999 limit.

ACC has now suggested we limit the cost of Boulevard Woods to less than $100,000. Doing so will allow ACC to arrange to have the park built by a third party without triggering an expensive, time-consuming bidding process.

State law allows local governments to forgo a more elaborate bidding process for some public works projects that cost less than $100,000. If the project cost more, then the normal requirements would kick back in whether a third-party is involved or not.

This means we may have to make some changes to our original plans to reduce costs, but we’ll still be able to build able to build a safe, distinctive and graceful neighborhood park.

3. Athens Land Trust, Inc. offers more help. 

ALT is willing to sign an agreement with ACC to lease the park site for a dollar for construction purposes. When construction is complete, ALT will turn the park back to ACC to maintain as a public park.

Boulevard Neighborhood Association, Inc. and its volunteers will have a role in helping ACC maintain the park, but having a professional, insured organization like ALT take on the responsibilities of overseeing the construction of the park is a big relief.

The construction of the park will be funded by money raised by the Boulevard Neighborhood Association, Inc. and held in an earmarked account at ALT. Thank you, Athens Land Trust!

4. $14,063 left to raise.

To pay for as much of our original plan as possible and yet remain under the $99,999 limit imposed by state law, we’ll need to raise $14,063 as of this writing. Had we still been aiming for our original target of $125,000, we’d be about $35,000 short. We’re so close now! Watch for the announcement of our final fundraising push soon, but if you can’t wait, you can contribute now right here.

 

New Website Coming Soon

Boulevard Woods logoThe Boulevard Woods park project will be getting a new website soon.

As we gear up to finalize our plans, move them through ACC’s plans review process and raise some more needed money, we figure it’s a good time to build a site that’s better suited to accomplishing those tasks.

Krysia Haag, a member of our original design team and now coordinating our efforts to incorporate community art projects into Boulevard Woods, will be designing the new site. Thanks Krysia!

M&C Likely to Vote on Boulevard Woods July 3

Our Boulevard Woods proposal will likely be voted on at the Tuesday, July 3 regular session meeting of the Mayor and Commission, according to Pam Reidy, Director of Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department.

In April, Mayor Nancy Denson and Commissioner Jared Bailey asked Athens-Clarke County staff to review our Boulevard Woods proposal "expeditiously" and make recommendations to the Mayor and Commission. It looks like that review is being completed now. ACC Manager Alan Reddish must sign-off on the review before it's officially presented to the Mayor and Commission, but all indications are that this will happen.  

While this is definitely progress, it's worth noting that we haven't yet seen a draft of the review or recommendations. There may be challenges that will need to be addressed before we can shift into the fundraising and construction phase of the project. And, of course, we'll have to work hard in a short amount of time to educate many of the commissioners about the project before the vote. 

Stay tuned for appeals to speak in support of Boulevard Woods before the Mayor and Commission and for help with outreach to commissioners.

 

Request to M&C for Follow-Up Action

Here’s an email sent earlier today to Mayor Denson and a handful of Commissioners requesting timely follow-up action from ACC staff on Boulevard Woods:

Dear Mayor Denson and Commissioners:

At tomorrow night’s Regular Session meeting, those of us involved with the “Boulevard Woods” effort would very much appreciate a request for staff to work on assessing the “Boulevard Woods” as expeditiously as possible. If its deemed appropriate to develop a county policy to evaluate and administer proposals for neighborhood “green spaces” or “pocket parks” like “Boulevard Woods,” then we’d also really appreciate a request for staff to develop such a policy soon.

As you know, we’ve done a lot of work on our proposal and on the “Boulevard Woods” site itself. We are definitely ready and able to move forward now.  We are keenly interested in learning more details about the review process and its anticipated timeline.

We understand that the staff review can not be completed overnight, but we do hope that any reviews, assessments or policy development can start now, if it hasn’t already.

We believe all the questions that Leisure Services Director Pam Reidy and Deputy Manager Bobby Snipes mentioned as examples of the kinds of considerations that the Commission should weigh when evaluating whether to approve a public/private partnership to create a neighborhood park are readily answerable.

Please know that we–the park organizers–will make ourselves available to answer any questions that staff may have, and to conduct any research that may be helpful to staff for us to undertake.

Thanks again for your interest in this. It’s heartening to see our local government responding in such a positive and helpful way to what I think we have a right to think of as a thoughtfully conceived and responsible proposal by neighborhood residents.

Sincerely,
Dan Lorentz, Chairperson
Boulevard Neighborhood Association

This email was sent to:

Nancy.B.Denson@athensclarkecounty.com,
Kelly Girtz <kelly.girtz@athensclarkecounty.com>,
Jared Bailey <jared.bailey@athensclarkecounty.com>,
Mike Hamby <mike.hamby@athensclarkecounty.com>,
George Maxwell <george.maxwell@athensclarkecounty.com>,
Kathy Hoard <kathy.hoard@athensclarkecounty.com>,
Alice Kinman <alice.kinman@athensclarkecounty.com>

 

Update: M&C Action on Boulevard Woods

During a March 13 Mayor and Commission work session meeting, Mayor Nancy Denson asked staff to prepare a review of the Boulevard Woods proposal. This is an important step forward because it gives ACC staff a clear signal that the Mayor and Commission are interested in our proposal.

Thank you Mayor Denson!

We weren't surprised by Denson's helpful request. But the meeting was interesting for other reasons.

The Mayor's request on our behalf came during a presentation by Leisure Services Director Pam Reidy about future goals and strategies for her department.

Reidy announced that Leisure Services future resources would go first to maintaining and repairing ACC's existing network of parks. This makes sense in a time of tight finances. But she also announced that as a general strategy going forward Leisure Services would continue to prefer larger, multi-use parks located on the outskirts of town and continue to de-emphasize smaller neighborhood parks.

There is a logic behind taking this approach: fewer larger parks are easier and therefore cheaper to maintain than lots of little parks.

But Reidy, who has been very helpful with Boulevard Woods to date, acknowledged that there was lively interest in neighborhood parks, and pointed to Boulevard Woods as an example. Because of this interest and because Leisure Service's strategy will be focused on maintenance and larger parks, she and Deputy Manager Bobby Snipes recommended that a review process be established to evaluate proposals for neighborhood parks.

From a county-wide policymaking perspective, this makes sense, too. No one wants to have parks in places that conflict with better uses for the land; nor in neighborhoods that don't want them; nor ones that will be costly to maintain.

We're confident that Boulevard Woods will pass any reasonable review process: we're located on a parcel that would be hard to use any other way; it's a convenient location serving at least three neighborhoods; it's popular; it's low-cost; it's well-designed and it won't cost ACC very much at all. In short, we've done a pretty thorough review process ourselves already. We're ready and eager to move forward now.

There is a lot of support for Boulevard Woods on the commission. Mayor Denson seems very intrigued by the project. Commissioners Kelly Girtz, Mike Hamby, Jared Bailey and Kathy Hoard are all strong supporters. Others Commissioners also seemed impressed with our work so far.

With their help and yours, we'll be pushing for timely action on Boulevard Woods.

Nature Trail is Looking Good

trailhead

                       The head of the nature trail that loops through the site.

After a small volunteer crew removed some brush and hauled and spread many wheelbarrows full of mulch Saturday, the nature trail that loops around the Boulevard Woods site is looking good. Mulching is not quite finished and the trail has a few places where we need to put in steps or do some grading work, but for the most part the trail is highly walkable and very pleasant.

Please come for a stroll. Be careful, but enjoy!

Volunteers included: Carole Holmes, Alex White, Jim Okey and Dan Lorentz.

We owe special thanks to: Ida Mae Griffin for the use of her driveway, and to Stacy Smith at the Keep Athens Clarke County Beautiful program for supplying tools on a last minute request.

More views of the trail:

lookingup

 

interior

nearwell

February 2012

After a very productive meeting last week with our Athens Clarke County Leisure Services liaisons, we decided that our goal will be to officially ask ACC to approve our Boulevard Woods park plan no later than February 2012–which is just a little more than six months from now.

On Aug. 10, we–Allen Stovall, Marci White and I (Dan Lorentz)–had a wide-ranging and practical discussion about how to move the Boulevard Woods project forward with Pam Reidy, director of ACC’s Leisure Services; Dan Magee, Park Services Division Administrator and Mel Cochran, Greenways manager.  We met them at the site first for a tour, and then continued our discussion at Allen’s house.

Here’s a summary of key points from the discussion:

  • Their role: As our liaisons, Leisure Services will help us put together a plan for a park at the site that they would then present before the Mayor and Commission for their approval, modification or rejection. (One possibility is that M&C could approve a plan for the park contingent on us raising a certain amount of funds and donated labor by a certain date.)
  • Timeframe: We and they agreed that we should aim to have the plan ready to propose to the commission for a work session briefing and then a vote in February 2012.
  • Who is paying for what: While they are clearly expecting us to pay for the overwhelming majority of park costs–including construction, installation and maintenance–they also recognized that the Mayor and Commission could, if they chose to do so, agree to fund more of it than they are currently envisioning. Our plan, after careful consideration of what financial burdens can be realistically borne by us and ACC, will have to detail who’s paying for what and how and when.
  • Limited resources: They emphasized that the budget for Leisure Services is already stretched very thin and that, currently, there’s no money budgeted for small neighborhood parks.
  • Estimating costs: We agreed that we’ll do most of the leg-work in getting cost estimates building and maintaining the park. They agreed to help us develop estimates if we encounter difficulties and to make sure those numbers are credible estimates.
  • Costs to factor-in: In addition to estimating the costs of park amenities like the front fence, or the canopy walk or benches and routine maintenance, they said our plan should also include estimates for ongoing tree maintenance, invasive plant control, dog waste collection (providing waste bags and receptacles) and pedestrian safety crossing improvements.
  • Pedestrian crossing safety: They warned us not to assume that ACC will have readily available funds to pay for making desired pedestrian safety enhancements at the intersection of Boulevard and Barber. But because such improvements are key to making the park safe, identifying a source of funds for this will be critical. (ACC may in fact be able to fund this, we and they just don’t know at this point.)
  • Phasing: They strongly recommended that we present a plan for a park that can be built in manageable phases that allow use to continue while finances rebuild for subsequent phases.
  • Importance of formal agreements: They said that formal agreements (memorandums of understanding) detailing responsibilities for fundraising and maintenance between ACC and a stable, officially organized  neighborhood group will likely prove to be critical to assuring ACC that the county won’t get stuck with costs that the neighborhood has promised to bear.
  • Fundraising: They liked the fact that Athens Land Trust has indicated that they will serve as the administrator for our fundraising: it shows we’re being serious, and likely to be well-organized about raising funds. They urged us to be creative and energetic about fund raising efforts.
  • Neighborhood park program: They mentioned the possibility that ACC might be interested in creating neighborhood park program sometime in the future. If so, and if the program is funded, then there’d be a chance that our project might qualify for some funding. (There’s no such proposal on the table yet to our knowledge, however.)

This summary makes it clear that we’ve got lots of work yet to do. But now we’ve got a deadline to motivate us and to finally make Boulevard Woods a reality.

Park Design Charrette Generates Lots of Feedback

kwcharrette

Kevan Williams, a member of the Barber St. Park Project Design Team, gives neighborhood residents a quick orientation to four alternative park concepts at the start of a neighborhood feedback meeting held at the ATHICA gallery space. 

About 35 people participated in our neighborhood charrette last Monday at the ATHICA gallery space in the Tracy St. warehouses.

A charrette (pronounced shuh-ret) is a meeting or conference devoted to a concerted effort to solve a design problem or plan something. And that’s exactly what neighborhood residents did: they helped our design team to figure out the best plan for a potential park at the East end of Boulevard at Barber St.

Neighborhood residents listened to design team members explain their concepts, and then we gathered lots of feedback on the four alternative concepts that were presented.

Take a look at the concepts and other context materials here. It’s not too late to comment.

In the next step, the design team will digest the feedback on the concepts and develop a single proposal. Once that’s done, we’ll take it to the Athens-Clarke County Commission and seek approval to build our park at this site. At this stage, we may have to modify our plans, but we’re flexible. Of course, there will be lots of work to do after that, too. But we’ll take this one step at a time.

Stay tuned for more updates.

 

onlookers1

One participant at the charrette writes a comment while others look on. 

***

onlookers2

Taking in the four park concepts.

Early Feedback Questionnaire: Most Common Responses

Here’s what people are thinking about the Barber St. site:

1. Favorite things about the site are…

  • Trees (33)
  • Natural, woodsy feel (21)
  • Easy access (19)
  • Terrain/terraces/topography (17)
  • Shade (10)
  • Open space/natural rooms (6)

2. Major concerns about the site are…

  • Slope steepness (10)
  • Safety of pedestrian crossing (9)
  • Loitering/prostitutes (8)
  • Containing playing kids (8)
  • Invasive plants (6)
  • Safety from crime (5)

3. People want…

  • Play area for kids (17)
  • Walking trails (17)
  • Dog walk area (17)
  • Places to sit (16)
  • Picnic area (16)
  • Neighborhood activity area (15)

4. People don’t want…

  • Off-leash dogs/dog poop (16)
  • Grilling (6)
  • Smoking (6)
  • Crime (5)
  • Noise (5)

These results come from our Barber St. Early Feedback Questionnaire, which asked people about what they thought about the site and what they’d like to see there.

Fifty-two people responded to the online survey.

The results were generated by categorizing the responses and then counting them. All questions were open-ended–which is to say people responded in their own words and didn’t have to pick predetermined responses.

Many people included multiple items in their responses to questions. Only those items mentioned five times or more are highlighted here. The response count is the number in parenthesis.

The survey was conducted via Survey Monkey from March 17 to April 14.  You can view all the responses here.

The purpose of the questionnaire was to give our design team something concrete to work with in developing a design concept for the site. That work has begun. We should have a few alternative concepts ready to show to the neighborhood very soon. We’ll be organizing a neighborhood-wide “charette” to gather input from everyone in the next few weeks.

There’s still lots of work to be done after that, though, including finalizing a design concept, getting an official green light from the county to use the site as a park/green space and a whole bunch of fundraising…but we’re making steady progress.

Tree Inventory and Health Assessment Underway

Englishivy

Trees are a great asset to any park site, and they are a vital component of the Barber Street site. But the lack of good pruning care and prevalence of invasive vines strangling the trunks and branches undermines the health of the trees.  As anyone who has walked through the Barber Street parcel can see, the trees there are certainly being challenged by invasive vines. (Above, trees wrapped by English Ivy vines.)

But help is on the way.

Lindsey Hutchison (pictured in photo below) and Allison Dublinski are conducting an inventory and health assessment of the trees on the upper part of the site–the space where a future park is most likely to be situated. Petersen and Dublinski are second-year students in UGA's Masters of Landscape Architecture program and currently enrolled in an Urban Tree Management course through the Forestry School.

Treehollow "Through our tree inventory and health assessment, we hope to provide the information and guidance needed to ensure the vitality of the trees in any implemented design as well as safeguard the park visitors," Petersen and Dublinski say.

The tree inventory is a project for the course the students are taking. They expect to complete the project by the end of April. When it's done, the Barber Street Park Project Volunteers will be given a report including a map of tree locations and accompanying data describing each significant tree (diameter 15" or greater) and recommendations for care.

Treebranches
Broken branches hanging from vines.

[Photos by Lindsey Petersen and Allison Dublinski]