New controversy emerges over Bobby Jones golf course redevelopment

By Maria Saporta

The environmental destruction surrounding the redevelopment of the Bobby Jones Golf Course continues.

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is strongly opposing a plan by the Bobby Jones Golf Foundation to encroach within the stream buffers of Tanyard Creek and Peachtree Creek.

The Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation is asking the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for a variance to disturb land within the state-mandated 25-foot stream buffer. The foundation would severely impact 93,531 square feet and 5,445 linear feet – about a mile – along the creek beds.

Tanyard Creek

The foundation is proposing to remove all the vegetation from this stable section of Tanyard Creek and regrade both sides of the stream banks (Photo by Jason Ulseth)

The foundation intends to cut down even more trees that border the streams – in addition to the estimated 800 trees it has already razed for the redevelopment of the Bobby Jones Golf Course.

To recap: the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia did a land swap where the state gained ownership of the golf course, and the city got control of a state-owned parking deck needed for the Underground Atlanta redevelopment.

The state, in turn, entered into a lease with the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, which has been redeveloping the golf course. The foundation has argued that since it is now state-owned property, it doesn’t have to comply with city laws, such as the tree ordinance or protecting a 75-foot buffer along the creek beds.

But residents have said the foundation already has begun encroaching on the state-mandated 25-foot buffer, and it is seeking a variance to further disturb the land within those 25 feet.

Jason Ulseth, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, has written a six-page letter strongly urging the Environmental Protection Division to deny the foundation’s application.

Ulseth writes that the applicants have failed to consider ways to avoid or minimize the negative impact along the creek beds.

Tanyard Creek

The foundation’s proposal completely ignores an adjacent area of Tanyard Creek that is in need of restoration (Photo by Jason Ulseth)

“In fact, the proposed work razes all existing trees and vegetation, essentially maximizing disturbances within the buffer zone,” Ulseth wrote.

Undisturbed buffers along water ways minimize soil erosion, help prevent flooding and provide a safe zone for plant and animal life.

But the foundation is proposing to clear cut trees and vegetation as well as conduct severe grading within the buffers.

“The applicants’ project does not include restoration or mitigation that adheres to the relevant EPD guidance,” Ulseth wrote. “The Applicants cannot eliminate all trees and vegetation from a buffer for the exclusive purpose of clearing a path for golf ball flight.”

Martin “Marty” Elgison, president of the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, said he is “carefully reviewing and considering Riverkeeper’s comments on the proposed state stream buffer variance” application.

“Our objective is to provide a new home for golf in Georgia, with public facilities worthy of the Bobby Jones name,” Elgison wrote in an email. “We are proud of what we are accomplishing.  Among other improvements, our plans will increase the overall current floodwater storage capacity by over 15,000 cubic yards and will remove over four acres of impervious surface from the flood plain.

Bobby Jones golf course

An area near the creek that already has been significantly disturbed as part of the redo of the golf course (Photo by Craig Pedergrast)

Elgison went on to say that the foundation believes that “some of the Riverkeeper’s comments are misguided or based on inaccurate assumptions. The State steam buffer variance we seek would authorize activities designed to improve water quality and stream bank stability, in light of tree removal within the buffer that must occur as part of the golf course redesign.  In light of Riverkeeper’s comments, we are assessing whether some changes to proposed buffer activities might have additional environmental benefits.”

Elgison, who provided a five-page statement outlining the foundation’s plans, said he and fellow foundation members “are sorry to learn that Riverkeeper does not, at this time, support the issuance of the variance, but we remain committed to working with their organization and the local community.  We note that Riverkeeper has visited the site on several occasions at the Foundation’s invitation and that we are meeting with the Riverkeeper this week to discuss their comments.”

When asked how many trees would be removed to implement their plans as outlined in the foundation’s application, Eglison responded: “As to your question, we’d rather wait until our plans are finalized to get you a specific count.”

Bobby Jones golf course

More land disturbance due to the Bobby Jones golf course renovation (Photo by Craig Pendergrast)

While the foundation states that the functions of the buffer will not change during and after construction, the Riverkeeper disputes that claim because of the foundation’s proposal to “clear-cut hundreds of trees, remove nearly all existing vegetative cover, severely re-slope the stream bank grades – and replace existing trees and vegetation only with grass.”

Replanting the area with grass “does not provide any of the required mitigation” and it will not replace the functions that the current buffer provides.

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (CRK) also is concerned that the project will add to storm water and sewage overflows during major rain events. The letter also states that “CRK believes this project will ultimately result in drastically increased erosion rates within the streambanks of Tanyard Creek.”

The most damaging part of the letter said the foundation is misrepresenting the project by calling it the Bobby Jones Golf Course Streambank Stabilization.

“The impacts on Tanyard Creek are clearly mean for improving golf ball passage for the golf course and not to stabilize the stream banks,” Ulseth wrote. “This project proposed to clear the most heavily vegetated and stable streambank sections of Tanyard Creek while ignoring other sections that are currently denuded of vegetation and severely eroded.”

flood conditions

This photo was taken on Dec. 24, 2015 behind Overlook Drive and shows the Bitsy Grant Connector Trail totally underwater. Residents are concerned that removing more trees will only add to the flooding (Photo by Trina Jackson)

Ulseth closed his letter by saying the proposed project only will worsen the condition of the streams.

“These streams are already impaired and do not support their designated uses for fishing.,” he wrote. “The applicants’ proposal will further jeopardize the health of these creeks and the Chattahoochee River.”

Several neighborhood leaders have wondered how much more damage the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation will do to their community, and they are doing all they can to prevent more destruction from taking place.

There is even a move afoot to challenge the foundation’s stance that it does not have to comply with city ordinances.

“There’s really a sense of frustration among neighborhood residents,” said Katharine Montgomery, co-president of the Collier Hills Civic Association. “With enough money and enough influence, the laws don’t seem to count.”

A photo of one of the areas that the foundation proposes removing trees and vegetation and replacing with grass (Photo by Katharine Montgomery)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

19 replies
  1. Bob Schreiber says:

    MARIA: according to the CRK letter (p4), “Tanyard CSS control facility…discharges large volumes of combined stormwater and sewage…”.

    But according to the CSO Quarterly Reports, there haven’t been any overflows at Tanyard for at least 1.5 years – that is, if you dare to believe the Quarterly Reports.

    It’s time for the Seydels (CRK) and Gil Rogers (SELC) to “come clean”. Atlanta’s discharge permits are so deficient that Fed. Reg. 122.4(a) prohibits them from even being issued.

    To CRK: Remaining silent and/or withholding material information deprives others of necessary information to make informed decisions.

    LINK TO FED. REG. 122.4(a) – https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?type=simple;c=ecfr;cc=ecfr;rgn=div5;idno=40;q1=122.2;sid=f733bdee898692b798e007b2e50158d6;view=text;node=40%3A22.0.1.1.12#se40.24.122_14Report

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  2. shirley says:

    Thanks for this update. It is very strange to read about the possibility the state might ignore the very mandates it insisted on as party to the federal suit against the City of Atlanta nearly 2 decades ago. I guess what’s good the goose is not good for the gander in this case. Whether the state is obligated to follow the city’s adopted guidelines or not is not the point. Best practice standards of stream bank preservation and management are necessary to protect our streams and rivers and our streets and neighborhoods from flooding. It would be a shame for the Foundation or the state to turn back the clock to a time when the city was not protecting its streams and rivers. It is ludicrous the state would take a view that contradicts their adamant insistence the city meet every standard in the federal Consent Decree at great expense to city residents, businesses and water users.Report

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  3. Alan O Toney says:

    This very disappointing, I wonder if companies like Amazon and Mercedes will still have an interest in Georgia in the future if we ignore our environmental laws. The State of Georgia seems to be in a race to the bottom where the ugliest State’s in the Union live. Bobby Jones must be rolling in his grave to have his name associated with this really bad idea.Report

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  4. Dianne says:

    Excellent reporting. Thank you. This project was and is a disaster. I originally believed the proposal was based on a desire by some folks to put their own stamp on what is a great historic recreation area rather than adhering to their titled position of protecting what Bobby Jones created; and, nor do they indicate a respect for his contribution to our State. Now, it may also be about greed and political maneuvers, especially since the backers are in cahoots with our former Mayor who we now know has crazy ideas about his powers and responsibilities while in office.Report

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  5. K Maier says:

    Why would anyone want to spoil a beautiful spot —more than its already been spoiled?! PLEASE leave it ALONE. We enjoy nature in this city and take pride in our park.
    K MaierReport

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  6. Michael Lewin says:

    Thank you so much for reporting on this. Over the last several years, many of the local news sources just repeated the talking points of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy and its offshoot, Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation. It’s refreshing to see real reporting on some of the issues affecting the neighborhoods located next to this construction project. I’ve added “Destruction of stream buffer vegetation” to what is becoming a long list of important issues:

    Avoiding City of Atlanta ordinances and codes
    Avoiding community engagement/accountability process
    Destruction of tree canopy
    Destruction of stream buffer vegetation
    Displacement of wildlife
    Placement of light and noise generating activities next to homes
    Placement of parking deck next to homes
    Removal/excavation of entire hilltops
    Shifting traffic and parking burden from one community to anotherReport

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    • Dianne says:

      Well put. The SJC reporting was frustrating especially for those of us who saw in advance the lack of consideration for our neighborhood.Report

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  7. Jeff K says:

    C’mon folks, we are talking about a high profile development project here. No rules apply for the State or the City. Same thing as every time I used to read about Kasim blaming the Beltline and APS about their business and “Affordable Housing”. Funny thing, he never bothered to get his hands dirty in the process. How many affordable housing restrictions have been imposed on Tyler Perry/McPherson/Reed’s proxy and that little sweetheart deal.Report

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  8. James t Mcdonald jr says:

    The whole purpose of the project has already been accomplished. To quote a member of the Peachtree Battle Alliance the “…..golf course operation has been a real burden on the surrounding neighbors…” hence the plan that eliminates use of the old club house and any land north and east of the Creek for golf course purposes. I am afraid the folks who are rightfully complaining now , and too late, actually believed what they were told at the several meetings conducted by the city and those working to free Woodward Way of the “ day long activity”which had taken place their since the 1930’s when the course opened. Too little too late. That place looks like a war zone, and will for time to come.Report

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  9. Betty Doyle says:

    While I am a golfer, and look forward to playing locally again, I also often enjoy walking along the Tanyard Creek trails. This proposal would seem to destroy the natural beauty of this section of the Beltline along Tanyard Creek. Count my voice in with those who are resisting the efforts to denude this beautiful, natural location in our neighborhood.Report

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  10. Herbert McKoy says:

    Having once lived in Atlanta (for 40 years) and constantly battling commercial developers encroaching into old existing neighborhoods, I was immediately suspicious when I attended the “ very first” meeting at the old Northside High School in June 2013 for a discussion of improvements to the Bobby Jones Golf Course. This meeting was very organized with table captains and a scripted agenda. The tenor of the discussion was less on public golfing and more on a complete redevelopment of the land. As the program leader stated…. we are here to take a white sheet of paper and to develope a Plan for this area. So the pastoral golf course built in 1932 with old water oaks was officially put in play for redevelopment. Now five years later as the project nears completion the residents of the area can decide if this Plan has been a success or has it allowed a commercial enterprise to sneak into their neighborhood.Report

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    • bryangrant4 says:

      I would imagine that Bobby Jones is rolling over in his grave about all of this, never mind that it is no longer 18 holes. There were plenty of places over near Chattahoochee that could have provided a driving range. What a minute.. someone built a world class, for profit, driving range on Chattahoochee. 😉

      In any event, the golf course would now make an amazing motocross park.

      Here is a video of the golf course totally flooded. It looks like a lake. Taking down all those trees will only make matters worse.


      Report

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    • Maria Saporta
      Maria Saporta says:

      Readers are allowed to put a comment in moderation to be reviewed. Your comment has been approved and is back on the site. And your comment was greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading and supporting our efforts to provide civic journalism in metro Atlanta.Report

      Reply
  11. bryangrant4 says:

    I took these videos of the 2009 flood. Bobby Jones is one large bathtub, literally a lake, all the way across the golf course. I apologize for the music.. Youtube would not let me use the originally intended music.. When the Levee Breaks, and I had to pick from their allowed music selections.


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  12. Craig Pendergrast says:

    City laws apply to this project, even if they are being disregarded. The Georgia Constitution of 1983 delegates legislative, land use, and police power to local governments as to all persons, companies, entities, and properties within their boundaries except to the extent that such power is expressly restricted by the General Assembly on a state wide basis. This developer should be treated like any other developer in the City and should comply with all applicable City laws. As to stream buffer and stream protection, both City and State laws apply and they should be adhered to. Thanks to the Riverkeeper and others for working on that piece of the puzzle. As to tree replacement and recompense requirements, the City tree ordinance policies and provisions should apply. As to other aspects of the development and its operation, the City’s special land use permitting process should apply to place reasonable conditions on the project.

    While many trees are gone and a lot of earth has been moved, there is time to have these laws and processes (including genuine community engagement and land use processes as applied to detailed development plans) be applied to make sure that the remaining development activities and operations are as compatible with the surrounding communities and good environmental practices as possible. Thanks to a lot of interested people in those communities like those making comments to Maria’s articles, some progress alone these lines is being made, but more remains to be made.Report

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