Birrell’s $34.7 million 15 percent list, which is set aside for county commissioners and city officials to determine a use for within their districts, includes $2 million for a 1,500-foot entrance road and trails at Mabry Park, a 26.5-acre site that currently isn’t accessible without crossing private property. The park, located off Wesley Chapel Road, south of Sandy Plains Road, is not open to the public except for occasional preview days.
“Even though I don’t support the TSPLOST, if it passes we need to have a good list,” Birrell said.
Birrell said she called Georgia Department of Transportation officials to make sure the Mabry Park improvements were permissible under the 15 percent list and was given the go-ahead. She said GDOT has less stringent requirements for projects on the local list as opposed to the regional list, which insists that projects have a regional transportation benefit.
Birrell compares the improvements at Mabry Park to sidewalks, which each of the commissioners are setting aside a portion of their project lists to fund.
“I understand how it can be perceived as not being transportation for major roads or access, that’s why it’s a discretionary list,” she said.
County Chairman Tim Lee said the road, as well as a parking lot, would, in fact, be transportation projects.
“Mabry Park needs significant upgrades in order to get a driveway into that beautiful park,” he said.
But one of Lee’s opponents in today’s Republican Primary said the park improvements are clearly not transportation projects.
“The 15 percent list is almost as bad as the TSPLOST itself,” retired east Cobb businessman Larry Savage said. “The TSPLOST itself is worthy of rejection, and the 15 percent list does not make me feel any better about it.”
While he said he admires Birrell and the public-private partnership being used to build Mabry Park, retired Marine Col. Mike Boyce declined to comment until after the election because of the “sensitivity of the issue.”
Former Chairman Bill Byrne, the fourth contestant in the primary, could not be reached for comment.
Lee Berg, president of Friends of Mabry Park, a nonprofit group of residents seeking $4 million to build out the park, said Birrell committed to seeing Mabry Park built in her first term while running for office in 2010.
“Until there is a road to the park, the park doesn’t exist,” Berg said. “It’s a landlocked piece of property.”
Berg said the Friends group has raised about $30,000 so far for the park and is trying to bring in corporate money. The build-out of Mabry Park took a hit when funding for it was removed from the 2011 SPLOST package when it was reduced from a proposed six years to four.
The Friends organization doesn’t take a position on today’s TSPLOST vote, which would add a 1 percent sales tax to raise $7.2 billion in a 10-county metro Atlanta area. While Cobb County had $984 million in projects determined by a 21-member regional roundtable of mayors and county leaders, another $208.5 million is divvied up between district commissioners and the county’s six cities.
“We really want to build a park,” Berg said. “We don’t want to get entangled in the foray the TSPLOST has become. What we want is a park that will last for future generations, well beyond any TSPLOST.”
Birrell said that while the main project list cannot be changed, local officials can go back and adjust the 15 percent lists after the election.
Birrell admitted that if the TSPLOST doesn’t pass, it could be difficult to land public money for Mabry Park, which was purchased using funds from the $40 million in parks bonds approved by voters in 2006, before her term expires in 2014. She said the site is intended to be the only large passive park in northeast Cobb, with walking trails, pavilions, a community garden, playground and pond.
“Mabry Park is beautiful, open space,” she said. “This would be a great asset for northeast Cobb.”