Chatt Hills raises funds for parks — privately
We’ve just completed an election that, at least in some ways, pitted large government against small government. This has been going on since the founding of this country and likely won’t end anytime soon.
And, admittedly or not, while some do not want government intrusion and government control, many do want government (large or small) to solve some of their problems.
But there is a local example showing that the citizens of a community can exert their resolve and accomplish what will not or cannot be accomplished by government. That example is Chattahoochee Hills.
Some of you know this still-new city in south Fulton County. What you may not know is what they did as citizens to help themselves, their neighbors and the city they fought so hard to establish three years ago.
For those of you who don’t know, Chatt Hills is located immediately to the north and west of Palmetto, covers most of the western portion of south Fulton County and also borders much of north Coweta County. Its land mass is huge, yet it is home to fewer than 3,000 people and fewer than 1,000 households.
I got to know many of these folks and their love for their community when I had the good fortune to cover the Chatt Hills area for a few years.
The city was incorporated in December 2007, following an overwhelming vote by residents to solidify the control of their own destiny, especially in terms of maintaining local control of the unique development model that essentially restricts commercial and most residential development to “villages” and “hamlets,” thereby keeping upwards of 80 percent of land inside the city limits permanently green: rolling hills of pastures and woodlands.
One of the goals for cityhood was to secure ownership of Cochran Mill Park, Hutcheson Ferry Park and a large tract of virgin land, all owned and operated by Fulton County. The effort began a few months before the November 2007 vote that established the city.
The idea was to secure the deal being offered by Fulton County to the other new cities that swept into existence in 2006 and 2007 (remember, before the new cities were formed it was Peachtree City that was the state’s most recently formed municipality in 1959).
The price for the parks was a bargain: $100 per acre compared to the estimated $15 million represented by fair market value.
That’s fine if a city has the money, but Chatt Hills was brand new and about to undergo the effects of the recession. So what’s a brand new city with less than a dozen businesses and fewer than 1,000 households to do?
That was easy. The citizens raised the money themselves.
With the “Buy Our Parks Now” campaign led by the Chatt Hills Civic Association and the Chattahoochee Hill Country Conservancy, residents raised more than $250,000 for the purchase of the two parks, additional greenspace and a few years of maintenance costs.
Participating in the effort were 380 contributors. That’s about one out of every three households.
The donations ran the gamut, from contributions of $1 all the way to one for $80,000. And about $30,000 came from the family and friends in memory of Zack Wansley who passed away in Cochran Mill Park in 2008 while training for a Thanksgiving Day marathon.
Today Chatt Hills is in possession of the 780-acre Cochran Mill Park, the 103-acre Hutcheson Ferry Park (one of the Atlanta Symphony’s outdoor venues) and 234 acres of greenspace property that fronts the Chattahoochee River on the city’s west side.
As for the money, it didn’t take long to raise: a couple of months. The 18-month time frame in getting the deed to the property rested with Fulton County. That said, last month the city got the deed and the rest is history. Well, almost.
The residents of Chatt Hills are as diverse a group of people as you’re likely to find anywhere. Multi-generational families whose ancestors were around long before Atlanta made its mark on the nation, newcomers who have only been around 10 or 15 years and the more recent arrivals who discovered the diamond of Fulton County and wanted to be a part of its genesis.
The real story here lies in the background, not the “how” so many people came together to purchase the park properties. It’s the “why” they did it that tells the tale.
The “why” is the sense of community that existed before the city was born in 2007. That sense of community has continued to grow.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things in any city to disagree about. But the bond of community (that also included elected citizens) that exists flowed in part from the realization that it is the community that is responsible for looking out for the community. Their subsequent action flowed from that realization.
That type of tenacious approach to community-based problem solving is sadly absent in many communities today. But for the residents of Chatt Hills, they cared enough to identify the need and accomplish the task. And they believed they could. That’s community.
[Ben Nelms covers Fayetteville, the Fayette County Board of Education and several governments in Coweta County for The Citizen.]