Plan to leave Roswell’s Big Creek Park alone delayed by mayor, council

A rendering of the proposed Angela Krause Tennis, Pickleball and Fitness Center that was planned at Big Creek Park in Roswell. SPECIAL / AJC FILE PHOTO

Combined ShapeCaption
A rendering of the proposed Angela Krause Tennis, Pickleball and Fitness Center that was planned at Big Creek Park in Roswell. SPECIAL / AJC FILE PHOTO

Seven months after residents' protests halted plans for a giant tennis center in Roswell's Big Creek Park, a member of city council has made a formal proposal to leave the park, and its trails, alone.

But the lingering aftertaste of city council’s handling of the tennis proposal last August led Mayor Lori Henry and the council to reject the latest plan for the park. Henry said the city’s failure to properly engage residents regarding the tennis center idea didn’t mean Roswell should again bypass the normal protocol.

She criticized Councilmember Marcelo Zapata for the way he brought the latest plan forward and called him "disingenuous," saying his plan to preserve and protect the park needed to go through the city's normal process for changing a park plan. Zapata wants the city to reconsider its ultimate plan to build an arts center and aquatic center there, in favor of leaving existing trails.

"Two wrongs don't make a right," Henry said. "We have learned from our mistakes and we need to follow the process."

Ultimately, the council agreed with Henry and decided in a 4-2 vote March 11 to defer the matter indefinitely so the parks and recreation commission could determine what the best plan might be.

The mayor and the majority of the council’s sentiments didn’t satisfy many residents and business owners, who questioned elected leaders’ trustworthiness as they asked them to move forward with Zapata’s proposal.

Roswell leaders came under fire last year for pushing through a plan that would have dramatically altered Big Creek Park, a patch of forest and trails that sits off Old Alabama Road. The 60-acre, $50 million tennis center proposal, which included more than 135 courts, was brought forward without involving the public.

Within days of the tennis center idea surfacing, the city withdrew the plan following a revolt by residents angry that a large public space in the city would have been eviscerated.

Shawn Brunner, who owns the Fresh Bikes shop near Big Creek Park, told council members last week that he expected them to stick to their word and preserve the park. Big Creek Park and its trails are a popular destination for mountain bikers and hikers.

“When you stand up in front of your community and you say you’re going to do something, do it,” he said.

In addition to Zapata, Councilmember Michael Palermo said he supported efforts to tell residents the park would be unchanged until a master plan could be completed, a process that could take more than a year. Palermo called the proposal an olive branch to residents who were frustrated by what happened behind the scenes, saying that he did not think the council had earned residents’ trust.

“I feel the city has a black eye … regarding Big Creek,” Palermo said. “There was a mess-up in how that occurred.”

But Councilmember Sean Groer said the solution wasn’t to ram through a new plan.

“I can’t help but point out the irony in the statement that we’re being asked to break a process to regain trust,” he said. “That, to me, just doesn’t seem to work.”