Jimmy Carter won a narrow victory today when the Atlanta City Council approved a controversial plan to transform 219 acres of kudzu, a hairy perennial vine, into an urban park featuring a four-lane highway to his proposed presidential library.
The 11-to-8 vote came on a sweltering afternoon with hot tempers to match. If the tea leaves said anything, it was that a former president is not totally without clout in his own backyard.
The vote was a major victory for Mayor Andrew Young, U.N. ambassador under Carter. Young marshaled an influential army, ranging from downtown business leaders to black ministers, to fight a band of urban pioneers who opposed the four-lane road through their neighborhood of old homes.
Earlier in their public careers, Young and Carter opposed a similar road through the same northeast Atlanta neighborhood.
This time, Young said the $110 million plan's projected benefits--thousands of jobs, housing for 700 families and paths for jogging and biking--overshadow the wishes of preservationists who feared the road would destroy their neighborhood.
The plan would cost city taxpayers nothing. No homes would be destroyed since the park is to be built on state-owned land condemned for interstate highways never built.
Carter has sought a fitting repository for his memoirs and picked a campsite of Union Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, an irony not lost on hundreds of angry residents who flocked to city hall today sporting signs that urged, "Save, Don't Pave."
"Sherman was our first urban developer," said Billie Selman, a real estate agent who refurbished an old home in the neighborhood. She likened Carter to the Yankee general who once torched this town, saying "We got sold down the road by Jimmy Carter and 'good-old-boyism.' "
"If Jimmy Carter were a Christian man, he'd give up building his library in my neighborhood," shouted an elderly woman who was gaveled to silence in the council chambers.
Others predicted an exodus of young white professionals to the suburbs if the road is built. First, however, state highway officials must approve the design, and local officials must gain National Park Service agreement to maintain the park in an era of dwindling funds.
Attorney Sally Dorn, president of Atlanta Great Park Planning, Inc., an umbrella organization created by the city to oppose the land-use plan, said, "We haven't begun to fight" the road. Opponents are said to have raised $100,000 to finance their campaign.
Some council members accused Young of turning the issue into a fight between white residents and blacks.
"It's unfortunate when these things get out of hand," Young said after the vote. "But it's all part of democratic enthusiasm."