The Andover City Council during an Aug. 28 workshop gave city staff direction to improve lighting at Prairie Knoll Park’s parking lot.
There are currently two security lights at the south parking lot along 146th Lane. The council recommended adding a third light on the east end of the parking lot. A tree blocking some of the middle light may need to be removed, according to Todd Haas, assistant director of public works.
Vehicles entering the dirt parking lot at high rates of speed and doing donuts is another problem that neighboring residents have seen. To curb this from happening, Andover Assistant Director of Public Works Todd Haas said the city will put in some ballards to make it hard for people to enter the south parking lot at a high rate of speed.
Neighborhood residents Katherine McDilda and Gary Aus at the July 19 Andover Park and Recreation Commission meeting asked for additional lighting to make the park safer.
McDilda said “it is kind of creepy going there at night” because of the poor lighting. She frequently sees vehicles coming in and parking in the darkest corners of the lot where neighbors cannot see what is going on.
“To me, lights indicate that an area is getting watched over,” McDilda said at the Aug. 8 council meeting. “If lights aren’t there, it almost feels abandoned.”
At the July 19 commission meeting, North Metro Soccer Association President Barb Anderson recalled being startled when seeing a van with a guy sitting in it parked in a dark corner of the parking lot when she was at the park one night to drop off something in the storage building.
On the other hand, Twila Hauck, a volunteer with the football and lacrosse youth associations, told the commission July 24 that paving the parking lot would be money better spent rather than on lights. Commission chairperson Ted Butler said there is not enough available city funding to pave this parking lot.
McDilda said the middle of the night, well after midnight and when the youth athletic associations are long gone, are the times that concern her the most. She brought photos of the park at night to the Aug. 8 council meeting to show how dark the park gets. The lights on the outside of a building at the park that Hauck said had been out are only good for lighting the sidewalk around the building, McDilda said. Those building lights have since been repaired.
Councilmember Julie Trude asked McDilda if her goal was to have the park be so bright at night that kids could play there.
McDilda said that was not her goal. Her goal is to make the park safer.
“You guys don’t have to live with the blood-curdling scream of a female getting beat,” McDilda said. “You don’t have to replay that every night in your head.”
Aus and McDilda referred to an incident on June 24 in which a man beat up his girlfriend in a portable toilet at the park.
Jamie William Hendrickson of Andover was arrested and originally charged with felony third-degree assault, according to Anoka County District Court records. He pleaded guilty Aug. 14 to a lesser charge of fifth-degree assault, which is a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 78 days in jail, although he was given credit for the 56 days he already served after he was arrested.
Aus told the commission that ever since this incident, his daughter will not go outside at night without him.
“I built my home here thinking it would be safe,” Aus said.
Councilmember Sheri Bukkila lives on the back side of a park, so she understands where these residents are coming from. She asked residents and the youth sports association representatives to call city hall if they notice lights are out. The issues at Prairie Knoll Park are problems residents see at other parks, Bukkila said.
“It is just simply a chronic juvenile problem,” she said. “It’s adopting a feeling of ownership over that park, so call 911. I don’t ever want to see anybody running out there to intervene that isn’t prepared to do so and getting yourself in harm’s way.”
ABC Newspapers requested crime statistics for Prairie Knoll Park, located at 595 146th Lane N.W., from 2010 through the end of July 2012.
According to the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, there were three arrests during that time frame. There was the June 24 assault referenced by the residents, disturbing the peace on Jan. 21 and a theft case on July 7, 2010.
There were 32 other reported calls for service during this same time, including suspicious vehicles, juvenile activity, fireworks, an animal complaint and medical calls. Ten of the 32 incidents that were called in regarded parking complaints.
Neighbors recently argued against a request from the youth football and lacrosse associations to allow parking on the north side of 146th Lane by the park. The council Aug. 8 decided to keep this street posted as a no parking zone.
“The sheriff’s (office) is doing the best job it can,” Aus told the city’s park and recreation commission. “It can’t be out there babysitting that goofy park all the time.”
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org