Parents and supporters of youth sports are digging deep and pushing for athletic fields to be built in Dunwoody’s Brook Run Park, a stark contrast to the majority opinion from just five years ago.
An organized effort asking the city to install sports fields for league play in Brook Run Park has been underway for weeks as parents and supporters of bringing sporting events to Dunwoody continue to make their case at City Council meetings.
Eric Oliver, whose son plays football and lacrosse at Dunwoody High School, said it is time for the council to “show up” and build the fields. He says they are badly needed to provide the city’s young athletes with access to playing fields and also will create a new revenue maker for the city.
“We’ve been keeping people in front of the council for a while now, letting them know we want the fields,” said Oliver.
The organized effort is not a specific organization, but rather a group of parents who want their children to be able to play softball, soccer, lacrosse and other sports in their hometown.
“This really is about the future,” Oliver said.
Every weekend, “hundreds and hundreds of kids” and their families are leaving the city to play baseball, football, soccer or lacrosse in sports leagues at Murphey Candler Park in Brookhaven or Morgan Falls Park in Sandy Springs, Oliver said. Those athletes and their families should be able to stay in Dunwoody, while also spending their money in the city.
Parks and Recreation Director Brent Walker believes the city’s attitude toward athletic fields has changed drastically from five years ago. In 2011, voters overwhelmingly rejected referendums to borrow about $66 million to acquire park land and improve city parks, including by adding athletic fields.
And five years ago the city conducted its first parks master plan and athletic fields were not a priority. This year’s parks plan ranks athletic fields as a top priority.
In July, the City Council approved an agreement with the Chiefs Futbol Club to operate a soccer league for children ages 3 to 9 at new Pernoshal Park – a first-of-its- kind sports program in Dunwoody.
City Councilmember Doug Thompson, who has advocated for city sports fields since he was elected to office in 2010, said the Pernoshal Park and Chiefs Futbol Club partnership is the kind of program he has advocated for since Day 1. “I finally won a vote after six years,” he said with a laugh.
Thompson said he is tired of seeing athletic programs leave Dunwoody, and praised the council’s decision to bring the Chiefs Futbol Club on board. “This was long overdue,” Thompson said.
Walker said the cultural shift in this new desire for ball fields that has “bubbled up” in recent months can likely be attributed to younger families with children moving to Dunwoody and a basic maturity of the city as it has grown. Thompson said City Council continues to evolve and more members are amenable to the idea of athletic fields.
Oliver joked that he believes that “C.A.V.E. people” moving out of Dunwoody is also a reason for the shift in demand for sports fields. “That stands for ‘Citizens Against Virtually Everything,” he explained.
Community meetings, or charrettes, for the parks, including Brook Run Park, are part of designing a new parks master plan and are slated to begin this fall, Walker said. A solid draft of the parks master plan is expected by the end of the year.
Oliver and Thompson envision two rectangular fields in the back 38 acres of Brook Run Park, where drone operators now test their skills and some pickup soccer and football games are played. The Dunwoody High School baseball team occasionally practices there, too. The new fields would be for soccer, lacrosse and perhaps some 7-on-7 football tournaments, Oliver said.
Seed money for the fields, said Oliver, can come from the $4 million parks settlement the City Council approved last year with DeKalb County.
That 38 acres of open space, mostly surrounded by trees, abuts 60 single-family homes that make up the Lakeview Oaks community, however, and some residents there have and continue to oppose building athletic fields in that area of the park.
Concerns about noise, traffic, bright lights, and pollution could adversely impact property values, according to the Lakeview Oaks Homeowners Association.
“We do support activities that citizens can use and enjoy. We encourage the development of playing fields that are un-fenced, not lighted, [with] no speaker or sound system, and open for free play or team practice,” the HOA said in a statement. The HOA also opposes cutting trees for fields and paving for parking.
Dunwoody Park has two fields run by the Dunwoody Senior Baseball League, a league that has operated in the city for four decades. But the league’s future, and the future of the baseball fields, are in limbo as the DeKalb County School District eyes their site as the possible future location for a new Austin Elementary School. The city and school district have declined discussing negotiations over the property, saying they don’t talk about real estate matters.
Where could Dunwoody buy land for park space? “That’s a great question,” Walker said. “Dunwoody is pretty much built out.”
When Pernoshal Park opened, the basketball courts were immediately filled with pick-up play every day of the week, Walker said.
“We couldn’t hang the goals quick enough,” he said.
“We need more passive areas, but we also need more active areas and areas for organized play,” Walker said. “We would love … to not have families be forced to drive to Brookhaven and Sandy Springs to play sports, and where they are not paying taxes.”