Coon Rapids not ready to approve parks master plan

The Coon Rapids City Council is not yet ready to approve the parks, open space and trails master plan update.

Following a public open house at which recommendations from the consultant that prepared the master plan update, Brauer & Associates, and the Coon Rapids Parks and Recreation Commission were unveiled, the council met in a work session to Oct. 23 to discuss the plan and its proposals.

Instead, the council will schedule future five work sessions to focus on specifics areas of the plan.

According to City Manager Steve Gatlin, the first work session is expected to take place Nov. 13 in conjunction with other items.

At this time, no work session has been scheduled by the council for December, which would push the remains workshops on the plan into the new year when there will be at least two new councilmembers on the council.

In developing the updated master plan, Brauer & Associates split the city into five geographic areas defined by physical barriers such as roads and railroad tracks that would pose difficulties for convenient travel for people from where they live to the parks and trails.

In each “service sector,” as the geographic areas are called, there is an anchor “cornerstone” park, a larger park in which a broader range of facilities would be provided and become a focal point for the area, according to the plan.

The “cornerstone” parks identified in the plan and their proposed improvements are Crooked Lake. Pheasant Ridge, Lions Coon Creek, Riverview and Al Flynn.

The plan proposes that the city’s largest park, Sand Creek Athletic Field, become a freestanding facility outside the five “service sectors.”

A full renovation to improve layout, orientation and circulation is proposed for Sand Creek Park plus an improved skate park and tennis courts.

According to the master plan, neighborhood parks will continue to offer a “baseline” level of service to keep them viable and aesthetically pleasing.

The master plan calls for filling in the gaps in the city’s trail system and connections with regional trails with expansion of the trail system a major point of focus.

Recommendations from the Parks and Recreation Commission and a task force of stakeholders that worked with the consultant were divided into three tiers – high priorities, medium priorities and low priorities.

Tier one high priorities are redevelopment of Sand Creek Park and Crooked Lake Park as well as creation of an Evergreen Dog Park with the elimination of the dog park at Trackside Park.

The high priorities also include work on the Coon Creek Regional Trail and Sand Creek Linkage Trail as well as the 85th Avenue trail connection to Kennedy Park.

In addition, the commission and task force have identified as a top priority an increase in the park system maintenance to pre-budget cut levels – which is estimated to be a 15.5 percent increase from $1.2 million to $1.4 million a year, which “will clearly be a challenge in these tough economic times,” according to the plan document.

In the recommendations, Riverview Park was listed in the tier two medium priorities for redevelopment along with trail projects.

Improvements to the city’s other parks have been deemed tier three low priorities.

According to the master plan update, to complete all those projects would cost anywhere from $23.2 million to $28.5 million.

Tier one projects have an estimated price tag ranging from $7.8 million to $9.3 million, tier two from $8.1 million to $9.8 million and tier three from $6.5 to $5.3 million.

Specific issues that the council wants to discuss in the series of work sessions include:

• Cornerstone parks concept and the inclusion of Crooked Lake Park as one of them since it is close to the Andover border and has users from that community.

• Reconfiguration of the staff recreation coordinator position proposal to include not only field scheduling, but also management of the senior center activities and ice arena.

• Sand Creek Park redevelopment proposal as a separate entity.

• Proposal to set up an athletic council, an umbrella organization of local sports associations in the city that would meet on park and recreation-related issues, including shared facilities.

• Funding alternatives and implementation timetable.

According to Gatlin, since 2002-2011 the city has spent about $7 million, or some $700,000 a year, on major park and trails improvement projects paid for by using a combination of park dedication fees, general fund tax levy and grant funds.

“Funding is no longer available to continue this annual improvement program,” Gatlin wrote in a memo to the council for the work session.

At this time, many of the city’s major park and trail facilities have safety concerns, handicap accessibility issues and, for the most part, show normal wear and tear after 20-30 years of use. he wrote.

“Many of our facilities are outdated in terms of current park planning standards and are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain,” Gatlin wrote.

The master plan outlines several potential funding sources – state and federal grants, park usage fees, partnerships, park dedication fees and donations.

But none of these would generate the amount of dollars necessary to implement the proposals in the plan, according to Gatlin.

Even if the city levied $1 million a year for park projects in a fashion similar to its street reconstruction program, it would take 25 years to put in place all the parks/trails projects recommended in the plan, Gatlin said.

That would leave a park bond issue as the alternative for consideration by the council, he said.

“The council needs more time to discuss the master plan,” Gatlin said.

The master plan update was authorized by the council after it halted a project to reconstruct Riverview Park in 2011 because of lack of funds.

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 peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

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