The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Planning Commission approves Sankey plan


June 20, 2018

DAHLENBURG BRIDGE, center, is one of the focuses of the city's plans for Sankey Park, which got approval from the Planning Commission Monday night, June 18.

The Sweet Home Planning Commission gave its nod to the city's plans for Sankey Park Monday evening following a public hearing.

The commission voted 7-0 to approve a conditional use permit for a variety of planned improvements that officials expect to expand the number of people using the park.

Present and voting for the permit were Thomas Herb, Greg Stephens, Anay Hausner, Chairman Lance Gatchell, Henry Wolthuis, Eva Jurney and Edie Wilcox.

Two persons testified during the hearing, with a property owner and a tenant criticizing one planned pathway.

Guy Dent of Springfield owns the house closest to Dahlenburg Bridge on the north side of Ames Creek. Sean Howells is his tenant. Both were opposed to re-opening a path along the north side of Ames Creek from the edge of the high school grounds along Ames Creek past the south end of 15th Avenue to 14th Avenue.

They told the commission that it will increase criminal behavior in the area.

Howells said he has lived there for more than 20 years and when the path was open, nothing could be left outside or it would be taken. When the path was gated, the crime stopped.

Both supported other improvements throughout the remainder of the park.

Dent suggested, and Hausner echoed him during discussion among the planning commissioners, that the path should go far enough to reach Dahlenburg Bridge, which is likely to be moved later in the project. In its place would be an overlook.

Two homeowners, Mary Jane Hildreth, a resident of 14th Avenue, and another person who claimed to be a resident of the area but did not identify himself or herself in an email to the city, were concerned that the project was to benefit the Oregon Jamboree, a three-day camping and country music festival held annually in August as a fund-raising tool for Sweet Home Economic Development Group.

"If the proposed projects for Sankey Park are meant to improve the area as the site for the Oregon Jambore, I think the money would be better spent renovating a site for the Jamboree that is not in a residential neighborhood," Hildreth said. "Full-time residents of the Sankey Park area are forced to radically disrupt their lives during the annual Jamboree.

"Any improvements to Sankey Park should be to enhance the family friendliness of this neighborhood park rather than to further turn it into a major entertainment venue."

Kris Latimer, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Greater Santiam, told the board in a letter that she was concerned about the proposed foot bridge connecting Sankey Park, 877 14th Ave., across Ames Creek on the east side of the park to the Jim Riggs Community Center, 880 18th Ave., which houses the Boys and Girls Club and the Senior Center.

"I applaud the city for seeing a diamond in the rough," Latimer said. "The ongoing development of parks in Lebanon have certainly helped in attracting and keeping young families."

The foot bridge would link the park to the Community Center, which houses vulnerable populations, Latimer said. "The populations that traditionally frequent the park are not exactly the populations that I want to have mixing with our kiddos."

She also is concerned that the bridge could add to the homeless camp issue.

"I see the opportunities that the connection to the park will create for the BGCGS specifically so long as proper safeguards are in place to keep the park clear of questionable populations that currently hang out in the area, including evenings and nights," Latimer said. The Cub does not have adequate outdoor play areas for children attending after school or during summer programs, and the foot bridge would allow staff to more easily move children from the Community Center to the park and back without having to walk across the high school's soccer fields.

Community and Economic Development Director Jerry Sorte told the commission in his staff report that the purpose of the improvements may be desirable for Jamboree attendees, but "the purpose of the improvements is to provide park amenities to Sweet Home's residents."

The bridge is intended to enhance park access for residents to the east, he said. "The proposed family friendly improvements are intended to solidify Sankey Park as a neighborhood amenity for its residents."

Staff Engineer Joe Graybill told the commission that the path at the end of 15th Avenue is a low priority and probably years away.

Sorte told The New Era that city staff at the Police Department, Public Works and Community and Economic Development are working on plans to put boots on the ground in the parks. New Code Enforcement Officer Tommy Mull is already regularly visiting and patrolling parks.

"We're trying to take the parks back," Sorte said, and that will come down to management.

In his staff report, he said the improvements "will make the park more desirable to the community. This should increase park usage by community members and act as a positive effort to move the undesirable element out."

At the same time the city is developing the park, Sorte told The New Era, "i think it's also our responsibility to think about management and think about these concerns."

Although he voted to approve the conditional use permit, Herb echoed neighbors' concerns about whether the project is intended to benefit the Oregon Jamboree.

He told the commission it should move to a larger venue where it can grow.

"Making this park a way better upgrade than it is will do nothing but help," Stephens said.

Hausner said she understands the concerns and supported shortening the pathway near 15th Avenue.

Gatchell said it's a good plan, but he wanted city staff to make sure the concerns are addressed.

Wolthuis said he supported redesigning the path, but said that a number of possibilities exist, such as a vegetation barrier, to address the concerns around 15th Avenue.

Jurney imagined looking back to this point after 10 years.

She wondered whether it would be a nice park or be just the way it is today "because nobody wanted to do anything about it because of these problems. I look at this as a risk versus benefit. There's certainly risks. Maybe the benefits seem a little less tangible because it's easy to focus on the negative.'

But she is willing to take the risk, she said. She is not as concerned about the particular placement of features but rather that the design matches the vision.

The city has been cleaning up the park, removing trees and taking steps to reduce suspicious activity in the park, Wilcox said. She said that restrooms can be locked at night, and other steps, like more lighting, which is in the plan, will help address concerns.

The plan, which arises from a parks master plan completed in 2014, and a conceptual plan for Sankey Park adopted by the City Council in November 2016, increases the number of amenities in the 17-acre park, Sorte said.

Planned Sankey Park Improvements

"We're just at the beginning stages of developing everything over there," Graybill said. The emphasis right now is on the foot bridge, replacement of the existing restrooms, a new gazebo building and more parking, increasing from 25 spaces to 38.

Ongoing, the city will develop the park's trail system, Graybill said. "Overall, it's more a pedestrian friendly use of our primary park. It's meant for the community as a whole to make better use of the facility."

Among features, the long-term project also includes playground renovations, new picnic areas, new signage, maintenance of existing structures and irrigation. The plan calls for the city to register historic elements of the park.

For more information about the plan, call the Community and Economic Development Department at (541) 367-8113.


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