Coon Rapids park, trails plan update moves to next phase

The next phase of the Coon Rapids parks, open space and trails system master plan update has been given the green light by the Coon Rapids City Council.

The council met with Brauer & Associates, the firm retained by the council to conduct the update, at a work session June 19 prior to the regular work session.

Representatives from Brauer, which had prepared the original parks and trails master plan for the city more than a decade ago, reported on meetings with a task force that was appointed by the council to assist with the project as well as input received from public open houses.

According to a Brauer PowerPoint presentation at the council work session, the public comments showed that quality of the parks had a higher importance than quantity, but it was clear that residents feel that both are important.

Residents indicated they would not want to see a decrease in the number of parks or see any parks decline in quality, the Brauer report stated.

Indeed, the report found that redeveloped parks ranked higher and had noticeable larger attendance than parks that have not received major upgrades.

Overall, Brauer summarizes the public’s view of the city parks and trail system in four points.

• Maintenance/aesthetics of system is important and reflects on the community as a whole.

• Trails and associated recreation and transportation value provide opportunity to a variety of users.

• Environmental aspect of parks – infiltration and natural benefits as well as other opportunities.

• Protection of property values.

Brauer asked for the council’s direction on a three-pronged approach to the next step in the process, according to Steve Gatlin, public service director.

• Divide the city into five or six sectors, defined by physical characteristics of the city, and identify a park for major redevelopment in each sector over time.

• Maintain all neighborhood parks with minimal level of improvements, for example, benches and small play areas.

• Complete connectivity of city’s trail system.

According to Gatlin, the council raised no objections to the process proposed by Bauer.

As part of the process, Brauer will be conducting interviews in July with 15 separate stakeholders, including athletic associations, civic groups and real estate agents, to get their perspective.

The draft report will be completed in August and taken to the Coon Rapids Parks and Recreation Commission and the task force for comment before two more public open house meetings are scheduled in September, Gatlin said.

The final report, with recommendations from the commission and task force, is scheduled to be presented to the council in October, Gatlin said.

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

In the past decade, the council upgraded one of the city’s parks annually, but the last park to be renovated was Moor Park in 2010.

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

But the park dedication fund, 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 after an approved apartment project in the city did not become a reality.

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

Brauer is also being 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.

But in its progress report to the council last week, Brauer cautioned “about assumptions on willingness” to pay for improvements, not only because people are cautious about money in these tough economic times, but also because satisfaction with the present system “is generally high.”

“Industry perspective also reinforces caution when considering purchasing decisions,” the Brauer presentation stated.

“Reality must prove value step-by-step and a plan has to accommodate this.”

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.

A lot of the development took place after voters approved a park bond issue in the 1970s.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]