During an Avondale Estates work session Wednesday, Mayor Jonathan Elmore announced his intention to change the language posted on the rules markers at Lake Avondale and Willis Park.
Both parks list five rules with the sub heading, “Restricted Use Premises.” Elmore wants to rewrite the first three rules with special focus on the first, particularly the section reading, “This park is ‘for exclusive use of the residents of the city of Avondale Estates, their children and guests …’ “
“I think these rules are dangerous,” Elmore declared. “These are public parks and have been for years. Language like this could hurt our chances of getting a grant. Our [city] attorneys have told us that these kinds of rules don’t hold up in court. They’ve told us the chances are slim that the George Willis family will come back and re-claim it.”
Patent medicine salesman George Willis purchased the dairy farm community of Ingleside in 1924, turning it into Avondale Estates, often considered the southeast’s first planned city.
He donated the park and man-dug lake to the city under conditions it could revert back to his or his family’s ownership upon any dissatisfaction with its use or care. Willis died in 1932, but his portrait still hangs in city hall and he remains a revered figure.
This was borne out by several public comments during Wednesday’s meeting.
“If we change those rules,” one resident said, “we’re gonna have a lot more people from the outside coming in. I’d like to see the city do an on-line survey, I’d like to make sure we’re not going against the wishes of Mr. Willis.”
“We’ve got to be ironclad sure before we change this language,” another said, “that nobody will take this property away from us. Mr. Willis gave a huge gift to the city.”
After the meeting Elmore told the AJC he wasn’t sure of his next step, but vowed to change the language in both the rules and the related city ordinance.
“Believe me,” he said, “an overwhelming majority of our residents want that language to go away. From everything I’ve heard, they feel it’s hurting us, that it’s an embarrassment.”