Piedmont Park board approves deck -- in public

Opposition to parking deck remains strong

For the first time in plain view of the public, the Piedmont Park Conservancy voted Dec. 21 in favor of building a six-level, 800-space parking deck on one of the tallest hills in Piedmont Park.

The board originally approved the parking deck in a secret meeting Nov. 18. But under pressure from anti-deck activists, Atlanta City Council, and the state attorney general's office, the Conservancy agreed to reconvene and revote at a public meeting.

The meeting was intense, and — with the exception of a confidential e-mail leaked to CL — opposition to the parking deck was civil.

About 15 protesters against the deck and six supporters for the deck carried signs outside Piedmont Park's Magnolia Hall, where the meeting took place.

The Conservancy's vote also includes park-wide renovations, a possible 53-acre expansion, and the construction of new playgrounds, fields, wetlands and a skate park.

But the majority of more than 100 people in attendance were there to talk about the parking deck, which has become one of Atlanta's biggest not-in-my-back-yard controversies in a decade. Yard signs opposing the deck have popped up as far away as Grant Park.

Opponents of the deck, led by state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, had hoped that a public vote would pressure the Conservancy board to vote against the deck. But the opposite happened — more members voted for the deck Dec. 21 (the vote was 21-2, with two abstentions) than did in the private meeting (18-3, with 3 abstentions).

But at least this time, the board allowed members of the public to speak at the meeting before they voted.

By coin toss, eight anti-deck folks spoke first. Doug Abramson, representing Friends of Piedmont Park, said the parking deck would serve an elite group — patrons of the Atlanta Botanical Garden — to the detriment of the rest of the population using the public park.

"The fact remains that from day one, this deck and its location was predetermined," Abramson said.

Former City Councilman Derrick Boazman followed. "Thank you for this re-enactment," he said sarcastically of the vote.

The pro-deck crowd, visible by the green "Yes" stickers they wore, praised the Conservancy for holding open meetings and asked them to build the deck to make the park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden easier to access by car.

"It will increase entrance into the park," said Kathryn Kenith. "This plan offers a lot of new growth."

Anne Townsley, a volunteer at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, said she's heard people gripe about finding a parking space.

"Visitors repeatedly complain that it's hard to park," she said. "I think good parking makes good neighbors."

An hour-and-a-half after the meeting started, the board voted, and the meeting was adjourned. Abramson and Fort vowed to fight the deck as it makes its way through neighborhood groups and City Hall, whose approval is needed for it to be built.

While the last of the attendees were making their exit from Magnolia Hall, a confidential e-mail regarding the parking deck was forwarded to CL by an anonymous source.

The e-mail had been sent that morning to Piedmont Park Conservancy Executive Director Debbie McCown from George Dusenbury, executive director of the nonprofit Park Pride, a group whose opinion could influence City Council's vote on the deck.

In the e-mail, Dusenbury shares with McCown his personal views on the construction of the deck, including its pros and cons. The last sentence says, "I say this so that you know where I am coming from and why I would really appreciate you keeping this memo confidential."

Dusenbury hit send on the e-mail to McCown at 9:59 a.m. CL received the e-mail 37 minutes later.

"I guess you can say I was angry and disappointed," Dusenbury says. "This is emblematic of the level to which the debate over this issue has descended."

McCown says she never received Dusenbury's e-mail, and has asked EarthLink for help in tracking who sent it.

"We're still trying to figure out what happened," she says. "It's sad that someone can stoop to stealing e-mails."