Parking deck decision coming to a head 

To add 50 acres to Piedmont Park, the group that oversees the park doesn't have to allow the construction of a mammoth parking deck after all.

At first, the argument for the controversial deck was based on a land swap. The Atlanta Botanical Garden would get one acre of park land to build a six-story, 800-car parking deck, and in exchange, the Piedmont Park Conservancy, which manages the park, would get several acres of Storza Woods, which the Botanical Garden controls. Storza Woods would then serve as a bridge to a 50-acre, city-owned plot that the conservancy is hoping to turn into soccer fields, basketball courts, a playground and a skate park, according to Debbie McCown, Piedmont Park Conservancy executive director.

But as it turns out, the conservancy already is legally entitled to about an acre of Storza Woods -- and can get it without having to give the Botanical Garden any land on which to build a parking deck.

In 1982, the Botanical Garden granted the conservancy the right to put a jogging trail through Storza Woods. The acre that the garden promised the park is enough land to link the park to the city's 50 acres, making the land swap unnecessary. For opponents of the parking deck, that's good news.

In light of that revelation, McCown says, "We were very glad that [the garden] agreed they should provide an access." But she says it's still not exactly what she was hoping for.

McCown wants more of Storza Woods for trails so people can walk directly from Piedmont Avenue into the park. "It would be a more complete experience" to get the three-plus acres of Storza Woods, she says. She also says getting more of Storza Woods is worth having to give up land to the Botanical Garden for a parking deck.

McCown is dangling yet another carrot that may persuade the public to push for the parking deck. She says there's a chance that if the parking deck is built, the conservancy will rip up one of the park's 170-space asphalt parking lots and replace it with greenspace. The Botanical Garden may also replace a 120-space parking lot with greenspace if the deck is built.

In short, the parking deck plan is still very much alive.

"What I think needs to happen now is that the deck needs to be discussed on its own merit," McCown says. In the past, McCown described one of the deck's merits as the parking fees it would generate; those fees would go to the conservancy and be spent on park improvements.

Parking deck opponents say they'll continue to fight its construction. They say that a large, concrete box built for cars has no place in the middle of what's arguably the city's most pristine park.

"We are just vehemently opposed to taking any of the greenspace out of Piedmont Park," says Susan Abramson, a member of the advisory committee and secretary of the staunchly anti-parking deck Friends of Piedmont Park. "We're going to take that land, and we're going to manage the Storza Woods in a way the Botanical Garden has never managed it. But they're not getting their parking deck."

Friends of Piedmont Park was planning to present its ideas for the park at a conservancy advisory committee meeting Aug. 18 (after CL went to press). The group's plan calls for converting the area where the parking deck may go into a greenspace overlooking the park. The group also wants the gardens and the conservancy to rely on existing parking spaces surrounding the park, in conjunction with a trolley system, rather than add a parking deck.

The advisory committee also was scheduled to hear the results of a traffic study that could support or thwart the notion that a deck is needed to meet parking needs.

McCown says the committee will decide by the end of October whether the deck will get a green light.

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