On Copen Hill, where Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman pitched his camp to oversee the destruction of Atlanta, former president Jimmy Carter is building a $25 million complex to serve as his memorial library and as a policy center where world leaders can discuss their conflicts in Camp David-like seclusion.
A mile-and-a-half away, amid the dogwood blooms of Shadyside Park, are the symbols of a home-grown conflict that has dogged Carter's center since its inception.
There, a multicolored village of pup tents and anti-Carter signs protests the $21 million, four-lane Presidential Parkway designed to serve the complex. "First Sherman, Now Carter," one sign says. "Stop Carter's Ego Expressway."
The village sprouted Feb. 4, after crews clearing land for the parkway ran headlong into demonstrators from five historic or newly gentrified neighborhoods. The protesters chained themselves to bulldozers or climbed trees in a vain effort to thwart the chain saws. One was plucked from a tree by a crane, and more than 50 were arrested before a court order halted parkway construction.
That court order also set the stage for the latest episode in the three-year controversy. The Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on appeals of the order that temporarily blocked the road.
Parkway supporters asked the court to reinstate the road's main construction contract. The agreement was canceled because the paving contractor, Shepherd Construction Co., had violated conditions stemming from a 1982 bid-rigging conviction. The order that struck down the contract did not affect work on the Carter complex.
Parkway opponents asked the state Supreme Court to set aside the city of Atlanta's transfer to the state of park land for the road. City Council President Marvin Arrington, an Atlanta attorney, participated in the transfer vote while he was minority subcontractor for $891,000 in hauling work on the Presidential Parkway bid. Arrington later withdrew from the contract, but the land transfer was upheld.
The Supreme Court usually issues rulings four to 12 weeks after hearing arguments, but attorneys in the parkway case said they expect a quicker decision and the ruling could be crucial. The state has said that if it has to seek a new contract, delays might increase costs to the point that the road would have to be abandoned. Carter recently told an Emory University journalism class that the center would go forward regardless of the road's fate.
But in a mid-March interview with an Atlanta television station, he said, "The problem is that if the roadway is not built, we don't know of any feasible, legal means by which we could complete the library under present plans."
The question is more than one of access for the 1 million visitors Carter anticipates in the library's first year.
His staff says the library needs the parkway to obtain 27 acres of grounds and parking lots under a $1-a-year lease from the state. That arrangement is possible as long as the grounds legally can be designated a roadside park; Georgia law specifies that the land must be used for a road because it was condemned for a road.
The state transportation department finished acquiring the land while Carter was governor and cleared it for an east-west tollway. More than 500 homes were razed. Then, angry in-town residents organized, capturing the attention of Carter and his highway commissioner, Bert Lance. The tollway was stopped but the land -- an eerie landscape of homeless driveways amid a three-mile skein of kudzu -- remained in state ownership.
Several suggestions for using the land as a park emerged over a decade, but the legislature wasn't buying any.
Reenter Carter, who returned to Georgia in 1981 after his reelection defeat by Ronald Reagan and began looking for a home for his presidential memorabilia. He found a likely site on a vine-covered hill and enlisted local interests.
Tom Moreland, arguably the most powerful transportation commissioner in Georgia's history, believed that an east-west expressway was needed to improve downtown access. Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who was Carter's U.N. ambassador, supported it although he had opposed a road during his election campaign. The business community pitched in.
But they had not reckoned on activists who see themselves as urban Davids battling a political Goliath.
They have filed four lawsuits against the project in the past six months and an unsuccessful environmental challenge that is on appeal.
They have not sued Carter because, they say, they do not object to his library. Nonetheless they have made him their main target. The chief criticism is that Carter has refused to compromise with the neighborhood interests he once espoused as governor and has all but refused to talk to the parkway opponents.
" Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin is coming here . . . this month to sit down, a few blocks up the street, and talk to Jimmy Carter, but we've been trying to get him to sit down and talk about this road for three years," said Phyllis Schwartz, a neighborhood leader.
Schwartz referred to a conference this weekend on arms control, hosted by Carter and former president Gerald R. Ford at Emory with representatives of several European countries and China joining U.S. leaders.
Parkway opponents also plan to be there picketing with multilingual signs.
About 60 of the parkway opponents attended Wednesday's state Supreme Court session.
"We don't give up easily," said Cherry Clements, a retired math teacher. "When you been fighting 25 years, there's a lot of stickability. I live in the path of that expressway. I have a daughter and two grandchildren who live in the path of that expressway. Some families have moved because of this road. We're hellbent on staying."