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Cool Spring Parks demise divides board, Hall residents
Land was donated in 2009, deeded to Hall County last September
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A gift is not always as simple as it seems.

When developer Cool Springs LLC gave Hall County 75 acres off Cool Springs Road, the Board of Commissioners voted to use funds from sales taxes and impact fees to develop the land into a park.

But the park has proved to be a polarizing subject for county officials.

Last month, commissioners voted 3-2 to suspend work on the park, believing the county could continue work in a few years when the economy improves.

But Commissioner Billy Powell, a champion for the would-be park in his district, has asked the commission to at least consider building ballfields on the property with the funds that have been collected through the special purpose local option sales tax. Originally the park plans also called for a skate park and playground.

The status of the park now is up in the air.

"Such is the case in the political arena," said Larry Poole, chairman of the Hall County Parks and Leisure Board, an advisory group on parks issues. "It wasn't originally part of the master plan we had prepared, which is based on studies of the demographics of the area, populations, trends and where facilities would be needed. Then you have to throw in the aspect of property that's donated to you and can it be effectively incorporated into the parks system."

The Cool Springs park property, located in the northwestern corner of the county, is largely rural and encircled by Lake Lanier.

Though somewhat isolated, the area is not unpopulated.
Data from the Hall County Tax Assessors shows there are 8,093 households within a five-mile radius of the Cool Springs property. The number is more significant because that doesn't include half of the radius, which lies outside the Hall County line.

Draw a similar five-mile circle around the North Hall Park under construction on Nopone Road and there are 7,664 housing units.

Within five miles of the Cool Springs park site is the Sardis Sports Complex and the Murrayville Park. Healans Mill, Laurel Park and Clarks Bridge Park are within five miles of the North Hall Park.

Both areas have significant lake frontage with several parks run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which are typically passive parks including picnic tables, camping areas and lake access.

Geoff Chaffin, a resident in the Cool Springs community, said he was thrilled to hear that a park with a playground, ballfields and walking trails was coming to his area of the county, which he thinks has been largely neglected over the years.

"The biggest thing in my mind is there is not any place for this community to recreate," Chaffin said. "I think it's unfortunate that there's been some decisions made to suspend it."

He is hopeful the county will continue development on the park in the future.

"I don't know if building practice fields would be the best option. I almost could see it as an insult, saying we'll continue to build these elaborate parks on different ends of the county but we'll give you a couple practice fields without lights," Chaffin said.

Poole said while there is certainly a need for more sports facilities in that area, the Cool Springs park was prioritized by the board for county funding.

"I don't know that would be the highest priority in terms of where we need to be allocating dollars that are available right now," Poole said. "My personal opinion is that would be more of a long-term location ... We really need to consider some priorities on the funding and take first things first."

Poole said the East Hall Community Center still isn't fully developed and the southside of Gainesville is in dire need of a recreational facility. He said there's also a passive park property in South Hall called Cherokee Bluff that has yet to be opened for the public.

Poole said another challenge with planning parks is making sure they are located where they are accessible to the greatest number of people.

"(Cool Springs) is so close to the county line, that probably if you brought that in you'd be serving county residents in a much greater population," Poole said.

"You'd want it to be centered in the county you're trying to serve. You want them to serve the majority of county residents."

Matt Stowers, a Chestatee High School coach, said the Cool Springs park would have brought much-needed sports facilities to the area. He said baseball, football, basketball and wrestling programs are constantly competing for use of fields and gym space.

His own 7-year-old son plays baseball on a makeshift field behind an elementary school that Stowers says is not safe.

"There were times last year I was picking out pine cones and sticks and we were playing around mudholes," Stowers said.

Commissioners voted to halt work on the Cool Springs park out of concern for funding and a belief the area did not yet have the population growth to warrant a new park.

But backers of the park say the population is there and the area deserves to have the type of facilities that have been built in other areas of the county.

Regardless of whether the park is developed, the county still will have to stabilize the property to prevent erosion and build a road to provide access to a boat storage area for the nearby Marina Bay subdivision that was blocked during construction.

The land for the park was set aside in 2003 as part of zoning approval for Marina Bay. It was donated in 2009 and officially deeded to Hall County in September 2010.

To date, $875,713 has been spent developing the park. By halting construction work now, the county will save approximately $140,000.

Poole said there are many areas in need of new recreational facilities.

"We had the master plan put together at a cost, and (from) my perspective as the taxpayer representative, I think you need to use the best judgement and information available when you allocate your limited funding for facilities like park and rec and, too, the ongoing issue that is of concern is the ongoing operation cost," Poole said. "You get down to the question of how many can you fund?"

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