Reservoir park plans could take shape in 2015 December 18 2014

Efforts to turn former quarry into massive greenspace and re-open Atlanta Waterworks could make Westside a greenspace goliath

The decade-old dream of turning the Bellwood Quarry into a massive new reservoir and park is moving one step closer to reality. And those efforts are boosting a separate push to reopen a once-popular Westside greenspace.

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond recently formed a planning committee for the future Westside Reservoir Park, which, if built, would become one of the city’s largest parks and include a 45-acre reservoir. He says city officials will probably put out a bid for reservoir construction sometime in 2015.

But wait, there’s more! As a pleasant side effect, the quarry plan is helping to move forward a separate push to reopen Atlanta Waterworks to the public. The existing reservoir and buildings, located near Howell Mill Road and 17th Street, were fenced off due to security concerns related to the 1996 Olympic Games.

Some details are still hazy. But the momentum of several dovetailing efforts is clear. On Nov. 20 the city’s Department of Watershed Management held an open house for potential reservoir construction bidders. According to Bond, the new Bellwood Quarry Redevelopment Review Committee will start meeting in January. And Mayor Kasim Reed’s proposed infrastructure bond, an up-to-$250 million effort to repair roads, sidewalks, and bridges, includes $500,000 for the rehab of Atlanta Waterworks. Voters are to cast ballots on the latter in early 2015.

Reed spokeswoman Anne Torres tells Creative Loafing that “the conversations are moving in a way” that could eventually produce results for both parks. Atlanta Beltline Inc. officials, whose project includes a yet-to-be-built Beltline section smack between both parks, support the progress of both efforts, according to spokeswoman Ericka Davis.

At approximately 350 acres, the quarry site, located off Marietta Boulevard, is nearly twice the size of Piedmont Park, currently the city’s largest park. Former Mayor Shirley Franklin led efforts to buy the site eight years ago from Vulcan Properties and Fulton County for $40 million with the intent of turning the quarry into a reservoir and using the rest of the land as a greenspace that would abut the Beltline. The Emerald Corridor, another greenspace project that calls for cleaning up and building a trail along Proctor Creek, would also pass near the park.

Last October Atlanta City Council approved Bond’s 16-member planning committee. Membership will include residents from local Neighborhood Planning Units and other city officials. Bond says the committee will review “any other existing plans or notions that have ever been floated around that site.” Then it will make recommendations about how to prioritize the best ideas.

The one unchangeable item is the reservoir itself, which is more complicated than just filling up the existing hole and could take a decade to build out. But, Bond says, the surrounding parkland doesn’t have to wait.

“We shouldn’t be passive about waiting a decade to use it,” he says. “The sooner we can do it ... the more amenities we can bring.”

Bond’s personal wish list includes music festivals, an amphitheater, and a new facility to replace the Atlanta Civic Center, which is in the process of being sold and redeveloped. But the reservoir itself will be off-limits due to federal security rules on public drinking water facilities. “That area will not be accessible for our consideration,” Bond says, ruling out boating or swimming.

Similar security concerns forced officials to shut down access to the Atlanta Waterworks, where northwest Atlanta residents once picnicked and jogged around the reservoir. A group called Friends of Atlanta Waterworks has fundraised and advocated to reopen the greenspace and adjacent lodge, a building once used for community events. City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, Atlanta Beltline Inc., and real estate companies behind the nearby Westside Provisions District complex are among the group’s supporters.

The Waterworks and quarry plans are connected, literally, as the new Bellwood Quarry reservoir would link to the Waterworks with pipes and pumps in tunnels. Council last October approved the city’s watershed management budget for planning that infrastructure, as well as for possible renovation of the lodge. If voters approve the infrastructure bond package, Friends of Atlanta Waterworks member Dwight Glover says the Waterworks park would get its own planning process.

Friends of Atlanta Waterworks members and city officials have met to discuss the partial reopening plan, which is being unofficially called the Waterworks Preserve. Glover says they’re using the term “preserve” because DWM technically “cannot own any ‘park’ space, but if we call it something else, they can still own the property and allow it to be used as a public green space.”

Torres couldn’t elaborate on what form the Waterworks planning process might entail. But she says the mayor “appreciates the support” that local residents have shown for the project.