Coon Rapids council to develop parks task force

A task force will be set up to guide the process of updating the city of Coon Rapids’ parks, open space and trails master plan.

Lack of funding for a planned $1.5 million upgrade to Riverview Park was the impetus for the Coon Rapids City Council to order an update to its park master plan to detail needs in the city and provide recommendations on how to fund improvements. Courtesy of City of Coon Rapids

Lack of funding for a planned $1.5 million upgrade to Riverview Park was the impetus for the Coon Rapids City Council to order an update to its park master plan to detail needs in the city and provide recommendations on how to fund improvements. Courtesy of City of Coon Rapids

The Coon Rapids City Council has retained the consulting firm of Brauer & Associates to prepare the plan update and it has started work.

The purpose of the task force, which will comprise a cross-section of user groups and members of the public, will not only lead the process, but also provide broad-based input, according to Steve Gatlin, city public services director.

The task force will meet periodically with the consultant and staff, attend public open houses and be a liaison with the Coon Rapids Parks and Recreation Commission.

The task force is expected to comprise 17 people.

It will include two members of Parks and Recreation Commission; one each from the city’s sustainability, planning and arts commissions; two from the Anoka-Hennepin School District (one from the athletics side and the other from building/grounds maintenance); two from the business community; one from the athletic associations; six citizens (one from each ward plus an-large member); and a member of the city council.

According to Gatlin, rather than have a representative from each athletic association on the task force, Brauer will, early in the planning process, interview each athletic association to determine their needs and interests.

Possibly a committee of athletic association representatives will be formed with this group naming one of its members to the task force, Gatlin said.

To gather public input, two open houses will be scheduled early in the process (mid-April to mid-June).

According to Gatlin, these would take place in two separate geographic locations to provide opportunities for public input.

Prior to completing the plan in the fall, there will be another public open house (Sept. 1-Oct. 15 time frame) and a council workshop to hear the draft proposal and provide comments, Gatlin said.

The final plan is anticipated to be sent to the council for approval in October.

As part of the park master plan update, the consultant and staff have been discussing the possibility of splitting up the city into geographic park service areas, which would generally be based on areas separated by physical barriers such as railroad tracks, corporate boundaries and major roadways, according to Gatlin.

Under the concept, these geographic service area boundaries, which would be close to ward boundaries, would each have a regional park facility located in them to ensure that each area had a gathering place, such as a larger shelter and other more regional amenities, Gatlin said.

Brauer’s initial work on the plan update has been to gather background information including mapping, demographics, past community surveys and other planning studies.

Based in Minneapolis, Brauer was the firm that prepared the city’s original parks, open space and trail systems plan in 2001.

The master plan update was authorized by the council after it halted a project to reconstruct Riverview Park last year because of lack of funds.

In the past decade, the council has upgraded one of the city’s parks annually, but the last park to be renovated was Moor Park two years ago.

Originally, the council’s plans were to start the Riverview Park reconstruction work in the fall of 2011 and complete the project this summer.

But at a council work session June 27, 2011 Gatlin told the council that one of the sources of funding for the estimated $1.2 million to $1.5 million cost of the project did not have the revenues available for construction.

Plans were to finance the project over a two- to three-year period, Gatlin said.

But a staff-anticipated $525,000 infusion into the park improvement fund last year from park dedication fees from an approved apartment project did not occur because the housing development has not gone ahead as had been expected, he said.

In fact, the park improvement fund, which has derived its revenues from park dedication fees paid by developers of housing projects in the city, has pretty much dried up since the city has become fully developed and new housing projects are few and far between.

“The city can’t afford to levy the amounts needed for park renovation projects,” Gatlin said.

The master plan update is intended to identify the needs of the parks system, according to Gatlin.

For example, one area that the master plan update will examine are the needs at the Sand Creek Park athletic complex, Gatlin said.

Brauer will also be asked to recommend ways to finance the capital improvements projects proposed in the plan, he said.

According to City Manager Matt Fulton, one option the council has been discussing is a park bond referendum, possibly at a special election in the spring of 2013.

The city has some 40 parks, which include athletic fields, ice rinks, sliding hills, play areas and skate parks, and more than 20 miles of trails covering nearly 900 acres. Development of the park system began in 1959 when Coon Rapids became a city and natural areas were set aside as public space for residents.

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

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