New parks pegged as revitalization tool

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County is rolling out a new type of park.

They'll be smaller and geared toward older, more urbanized parts of the county that have an abundance of homes and businesses but a shortage of park space, said county Community Services Director Phil Hoskins.

Known in county parlance as "special purpose neighborhood parks," they will act as a pick-me-up for unincorporated sections of Gwinnett that might need revitalization, Hoskins said.

"It's a new park category for us," said Hoskins, who oversees the county Parks and Recreation Department.

The first neighborhood park will go on Club Drive near Duluth and Interstate 85.

County commissioners recently voted to pay $1.5 million for a 6.7 acres at the corner of Club Drive and Rolling Ridge Road. Their move pre-empted a developer's plans for filling the heavily wooded tract with 53 townhomes.

The land is wedged between two county parcels that will be incorporated into the park, bringing its total size to about 25 acres.

"It's in one of the areas of the county that is highly developed and we don't have a lot of park land right there," Hoskins said.

County Commissioner Lorraine Green, whose district holds the land, was unavailable for comment.

Last month she said, "This area is in desperate need of some park space and some recreational amenities for the residents, so I think this would serve the community."

In coming months the county will host meetings with residents to find out what type of amenities that would like the park to have. The county will then work with citizens into the fall to form a master plan for the park land.

Construction should begin sometime in 2007, Hoskins said. One of the county parcels holds a vacant fire station.

A lake is in the rear of the land, and county officials envision a park with lake views, trails, picnic areas, restrooms, a playground and open lawn areas.

Gwinnett Chairman Charles Bannister said funds from the county's Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax will pay for the park land.

"I'm especially pleased that we are able to provide a new park in a well-established area of the county. I hope it will help revitalize the whole community," he said in a prepared statement issued by the county.

Until recently, the county's philosophy has been to concentrate on building large community parks, Hoskins said.

The new neighborhood park category was added to the county's comprehensive growth plan because big tracts of land are scarce in urbanized parts of the county, and those that do exist are expensive.

"The reality is we cannot afford to do this kind of park everywhere because of the high cost," Hoskins said.

"There was also a realization that there are certain parts of the county that need revitalization, and there just aren't large tracts of land available," Hoskins said.

The park on Club Drive is a pilot project, he said. County plans call for another neighborhood park somewhere near Beaver Ruin Road in the Norcross area.

"There's no funding, but that would probably be the next priority," Hoskins said.