City Reveals Plans for Possible New Park

The City of Sweet Home opened a meeting to the public May 2 to discuss a proposed park at 42nd Avenue and Osage Street. Nearby residents of the area attended the meeting to express their concerns about what it might mean to have a park in their neighborhood.

Neighborhood residents of a proposed park development look at a map depicting its general design. Photos by Sarah Brown

In the 1990s the city acquired 7.54 acres of property at the north side of Osage Street, between 43rd Avenue and where the north side of 42nd Avenue ends. Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen explained the intent of the property was to have a sort of “business incubator” there, where a business could get their start on the property. There is a building on the property that is currently being used by a business, but there is plenty more space around the building currently occupied by trees.

“We believe there is a lot of potential with the land that can be used beyond that building,” he said.

Most of the park development there would focus on 0.8 acres at the southwest corner of the property, right at the corner of 42nd and Osage, where the city is considering installing a multipurpose sports court, playground, restroom and parking. The city also drew up plans to create a walking path there, and lights and security cameras would also be installed.

“We want this to be a gem that people want to be at,” he said.

According to Terry Lee, who said he’s one of the longest-living residents on the block, they only recently learned about the proposed park and he believes the city should have asked for their input first. Lee cited concerns about increased traffic and current drug-related problems in the area.

Larsen noted that neighborhood parks such as this proposed one are not designed to attract lots of outside visitors.

“It’s intended to be something to serve people who live nearby,” he said. “We want kids to be able to walk to a park. Ideally, you’d be able to walk no more than half a mile and be able to get to a neighborhood park.”

Blair Larsen discusses plan for and addresses concerns about a proposed park development at 42nd and Osage.

He also mentioned that by developing a park, there are more opportunities for the city to get funding that would actually benefit the improvement of the street in the area.

Donna Ward talked to Larsen about how narrow the street in that corner is, and she was concerned about proposed parking for the park there.

Larsen stated the city is currently going through a Parks Master Plan planning process and, on May 15, the Park and Tree Committee will present a draft of the plan to City Council.

“The intent behind (the Parks Master Plan) is to kind of show what parks do we currently have, what park needs do we currently have, and then kind of extend out the next 20 years what improvements we want to see,” he said.

Most city-owned parks, he noted, are on the western part of town, with the park furthest east located on Juniper Street (Ashbrook Park). As such, the city would like to include in the plan the provision of good city-owned parks on the east side of town.

Neighborhood resident Greg Chidsey said he believes the park would decrease his home’s value because of the type of people it would attract.

“This is not going to bring in happy kids and happy families,” he said. “This is going to bring in drug addicts, homeless.”

Other neighbors who attended the meeting alleged there is regular traffic that passes through the street at night to conduct drug purchases. Neighborhood resident Brian Keegan pointed to privately-owned property directly next to where the park would be, noting that he and his neighbors believe addicts and homeless camp out on that property.

Part of the development of the park would include thinning of trees because it is such a heavily-forested area, Larsen said.

“Heavily-forested areas mean increased fire danger and also mean it’s easier for people to hide in there,” he said.

Larsen points to a map of the proposed park development while talking about the city’s plans.

He shared that the city would like the walking path to be wide enough to allow fire crews to access it should they need to fight fires in the area. Larsen also noted that this could allow for police to access the area, which could effectively reduce crime and homeless camps.

The city is currently talking with timber consultants about the best course of action for the trees on the property. Larsen alluded that even if the park is not developed, the city would still thin the trees to decrease fire risk.

Pointing to Sankey Park’s transformation over the past decade, Larsen stated crime and vandalism stops when things are opened up and good things are brought in.

“We put the investment in,” he said about Sankey. “We have nicer bathrooms, we put in the plaza, we have a new playground, we thinned out the trees a lot. That clearing out of the trees has reduced the negative element that we had in that park, drastically. We do not have the same problem that we used to have in that park.”

Tourism and Economic Development Coordinator Angela Clegg noted her personal experience living near Northside Park, stating that since the city made improvements there, she believes crime and vandalism have decreased.

Donna Ward, left, and Blair Larsen point to where park parking and street traffic might be affected.

At the end of the meeting, the neighborhood residents in attendance were asked if they felt any better about the plan after having a chance to discuss their concerns. Some still expressed reservations while others indicated they felt better.

“I think there’s a lot of value in what they say about opening it up and the lighting,” Ward said.

To fund development of the park, the city will look into grants as well as the possibility of selling trees from the property as they thin it out. As such, the park remains in “proposed” mode, but there is no funding yet to move forward.

Larsen admitted he didn’t anticipate anyone being concerned about having a park there but, rather, he expected people to be excited about it.

“Obviously there’s some thoughts and concerns, and I don’t want to discount any of those,” he said.

Through a series of surveys and outreach during city events, the Park and Tree Committee gathered input from the community about what they wanted.

“This is about providing something for the community that we know the community wants,” Larsen said. “The feedback that we’ve heard so far is that people like parks and people want more parks.”