Thursday, April 26, 2012

Parks plan unveiled to council.

Great parks possible at high price.

Courtesy Jonathan Copsey; The Milton Herald

MILTON, Ga. – Consultants have unveiled their recommendations for Milton's Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

"We don't get down into the details, but it will provide some conceptual ideas for the parks," Moreland Altobeli consultant Chris Kingsbury told council April 23. "We're not going to get down to what type field some things may move. This is a working document, but it should give you a good idea of where we're going."

Kingsbury and his partner, David Gjertson, have spent the last several months holding public meetings and poring over previous studies in an effort to create a single, unified document that can serve as a plan for Milton going well into 2030.

The consultants had to sort out, "what you have, what you want and what you need," said Kingsbury. The "haves" is made up largely of Bell Memorial Park, Birmingham Park and a few small parks and properties dotted around the city.

The five public meetings and a needs assessment questionnaire determined what the people want. So all that was left was to figure out just what the city needs, and there are formulae that can be used just for that purpose.

"The quantity of things you need are based on population and demographics," Gjertson said. He said, by 2030, Milton's population is expected to be about 50,000. Currently, the population is about 30,000. To put that in some perspective, the 2030 population is larger than the city of Roswell. The formulae suggest, for instance, one football-sized field per 8,000 in population. Even with Milton's relatively sparse population that means the city needs at least a few more to meet recommended standards.

With 205 acres, Birmingham Park is by far the largest single entity in the city and qualifies as a regional park. Concerns from residents at the public workshops have shown a divide among the populace between those who want a more passive park – such as the equestrian community – and those who want an active park, with sports fields and stands.

Gjertson and Kingsbury struck a compromise, leaving the mountainous, western side of the park largely untouched except for trails, and focusing football and baseball fields on the relatively flat, eastern part of the park.

Bell Memorial Park has already expanded since the review began, with the addition of three acres. To be added will be three more baseball fields, more parking and a small trail system. Should Providence Park ever be completed by Fulton County, it could also add to parkland.

Not included in their recommendations are public-private uses and partnerships with schools and other entities.

At what cost?

The consultants suggest that by 2030, in addition to what it already has, Milton will need two urban parks, four community parks, 13 neighborhood parks, 17 micro parks, six community centers and three family entertainment centers. Their numbers are based on certain units per numbers of people.

If their recommendations are to be fulfilled, the consultants expect Milton to pay quite a pretty penny for a first-rate parks system. Short-term improvements alone would cost almost $6 million. In the mid-term, developments to Birmingham Park and a Village Green in Crabapple would cost about $16.5 million. The long-range plans call for the purchase of about 250 acres of parkland with a purchase price of between $48 and $108 million.

Budget projections put the city far behind that number. At current trends, they expect only about $11.7 million spent on parks in the next 20 years, far below the suggested $70 - $130 million.

"That's a big number," conceded Gjertson. "Surrounding cities have floated bonds to buy and pay for parks in recent years. You'll be able to bite off pieces over time. But is that a number the city can afford? I don't know," he said. "This document gives you the starting point."

Now that the proposal has been made, city staff will look over the suggestions, with the city council expected to view the plan within 30 days. Public suggestions will continue to be accepted during that time.

"This is the beginning of the dialogue," Kingsbury said. "There are challenges, but it's doable."

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