County, cities working with Greenspace

By Justin Reedy

Clayton County officials are working steadily on using state "greenspace" grants to preserve natural lands, but a state budget crunch could lead to cuts in future funding for the program.

The Georgia Community Greenspace Program was created by the state legislature three years ago to help communities protect greenspace, or preserved natural areas such as parks, trails and undeveloped land. Keeping such land helps protect water quality and wildlife, state officials say, as well as make surrounding land more valuable.

The county government and the cities of Forest Park and Riverdale have received more than $1 million in grants for greenspace acquisition since the program started. By the end of the last fiscal year, 254 acres of greenspace had been set aside in Clayton County, leaving it well short of the 20 percent of county land, or 18,886 acres, recommended by the state.

Despite the fact that the county's greenspace numbers don't look good on paper, county Board of Commissioners Chairman Crandle Bray has said that Clayton County is actually doing well in protecting natural land. The county Water Authority has about 5,000 acres of forested land set aside where it sprays treated sewage over the land as a final water filtration process, instead of discharging directly into a river or creek.

"That (land) doesn't count towards our greenspace total, but it serves the same purpose," Bray said. "We're really ahead of the game in that area."

In addition, the county government has several parcels of land that it has appraised and is close to purchasing, Bray said, which will increase its total greenspace acreage even more.

Like their counterparts with the county government, the city of Forest Park is hoping to take advantage of the state greenspace grants in the future, according to city manager Bill Werner. The city has received about $112,000 so far in two grant allocations from the state as part of the greenspace program, but hasn't used that money for acquiring any property just yet.

As the city continues to plan for its Main Street and Transit Village redevelopment efforts, Werner said, the mayor and council hope to set aside some of the land in that redevelopment area as future greenspace.

"The city council has enacted a tree preservation ordinance, and is certainly committed to promoting parks and other natural recreation areas," Werner said. "The greenspace program fits in with that philosophy."

But in the case of Forest Park, Werner said, it's likely that most of the urban community's greenspace efforts will concentrate on developed land that can be converted to parks or other natural-use land, instead of acquisition and protection of undeveloped land. The Main Street redevelopment program will probably be the focus of the city's greenspace program, Werner said, but that could change if the council wants to go in another direction. Forest Park officials hope to hear soon whether the city will receive a $300,000 grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission to fund planning and design for the Main Street transit village project.

The county as a whole is projected to receive about $700,000 in greenspace grants during the current fiscal year, according to the yearly report published by the Georgia Community Greenspace Program. But that might be all the county gets for quite some time during the state's budget crisis.

In the current draft of the state's 2004 fiscal year budget, the state program stands to lose all of its $30 million yearly funding, but would gain $15 million that would go toward expanding the number of participating governments. The state legislature is set to approve its final budget this week.

"I don't know what the state's going to do with the program," said Bray, who is also chairman of the ARC. "We've got the opportunity to do some great things with the Greenspace Program is the state will just stay with us."