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Going Postal 

Highest compliment

That was the funniest goddamn thing I've read in ages (Arts, "The many phases of Jane," March 31). You have officially made my fuckin' day. I will be quoting you for weeks.

Wish I'd written it. Which, by the way, is my highest compliment.

- Topher Payne, Atlanta

Piedmont Parking Flak

Thanks for the cover story on the Piedmont Park Parking Deck (March 24). I've lived in inner-city ATL for 12 years, and I disagree with the deck's proposed location and design.

I'm also unhappy with the anti-social and secretive way in which the process was conducted. I hope articles like this can improve the process, government's responsiveness and this issue's outcome.

- Louis Garrett, Atlanta

We are encouraged that Michael Wall's article, "Welcome to Piedmont Parking Deck," ends up supporting the plan to include a parking garage in the 53-acre expansion of Piedmont Park.

Unfortunately, it takes several readings to figure that out because Wall's grudging conclusion that the conservancy and the garden "have come up with a plan that could improve Piedmont Park" is buried under much negative language and hidden behind a barrage of prejudicial characterizations of plan proponents.

From the first paragraphs, Wall's yearning for a "perfect world" park planning process misleads the reader because it implies that no such planning took place. In fact, over an 18-month period, the conservancy conducted a planning and public input process that was remarkably close to what Wall describes as ideal.

Here and there, however, Wall does report the benefits of the park expansion plan. He also accurately notes that, contrary to opponents' claims, "There is nothing special about the slope" where we propose to hide the garage, and even recognizes that what fuels much of the opposition is more of "a visceral reaction someplace down inside" to the idea of a parking garage in the park rather than a reasoned response to the facts about this particular garage in this particular site.

Finally, Wall erroneously assigns more power to the conservancy than it really has when he questions whether such "a private organization ... [should] be given as much sway as it has over the park?" The truth is that the conservancy has no independent power to make major decisions affecting the park. It can only propose plans and actions for City Council to consider and decide one way or another, as will be the case with the prolonged and exhaustive park expansion plan we are working through.

The 53-acre expansion of Piedmont Park and the issues surrounding it should continue to be thoroughly and objectively discussed. Regrettably, Michael Wall's article did not contribute to this beneficial dialogue as much as it could have since his rhetoric often clouded the very facts he reported and at times confused rather than clarified the issues

- John Izard,
president, Piedmont Park Conservancy

Your article on the Piedmont Parking Deck did a great job in exposing the sham of "citizen input" that has been occurring on this issue.

Deck supporters invariably pitch this as a package deal: agree to the deck, and you get the extra 50 acres of parkland. That sounds like a reasonable trade. But there are at least two problems with that "deal."

The first is that construction of the deck is fully funded - but the development of the North Woods is not. The conservancy's own talking points state that they have merely "committed to raising" the more than $30 million it will take to develop the new land. And its website states that, in 15 years of existence, the conservancy has raised less than $20 million.

Even assuming that 100 percent of future fundraising went to North Woods development, it could still take decades for it to be fully funded.

The conservancy has never committed to a timetable for opening the North Woods, but its master plan timetable has construction of the parking deck as the very first step. What is to prevent the deck from being built, and it taking yet another 20 years for the North Woods?

The second is that the North Woods have already been slated for development for the last 10 years. There is nothing magical about this parking deck that suddenly allows it to be developed.

Finally, the six-story deck, while bringing a huge volume of cars into the park, will make hardly a dent in peak parking needs. And the "safety" issue of pedestrians and cars at Park Drive could be solved with the construction of a separate bridge and/or barriers at a tiny fraction of the $16 million cost of the deck.

I don't begrudge the residents of Ansley and the supporters of the Garden from getting what they want - until their wants infringe on the enjoyment and experiences of hundreds of thousands of other residents of this city. There are better solutions to this problem.

- Don Nutt, Atlanta

I take exception to Michael Wall's article "Welcome to Piedmont Parking Deck." While the issue of our parks, master plans, parking and maintenance is indeed the subject of public policy and, as such, should be part of public debate, Mr. Wall's comments on public/private partnerships are misguided. The article asks the following questions:

"Should a private organization like the conservancy be given as much sway as it has over the park?" The conservancy is a 501 C-3 nonprofit organization that has a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the city. The terms of that MOU call for the conservancy to develop a master plan, which the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, the Urban Design Commission, City Council and the mayor must approve. It also calls for the conservancy to raise the funds to implement the master plan and to provide any maintenance above the city's standard maintenance. At all times, however, any work done in a public park requires the direct oversight of the DPRCA.

"If the conservancy does get that much sway, shouldn't the city ensure that conservancy officials do a better job of authentically soliciting public input?" The conservancy held over 40 public meetings during the development of the plan. These meetings were posted on the main page of the city's official website. The public, press and city officials were all welcomed to attend.

"And can private groups like the conservancy and the garden really be counted on to look out for everyone's interests - taxpayers, park users, the environment - as opposed to their own interests?"

Mr. Wall did not choose to contact me prior to writing this article. If he had, I would have assured him of the value of public/private partnerships such as the Piedmont Park Conservancy.

- Dianne Harnell Cohen
commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, city of Atlanta

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