Residents of a blighted neighborhood north of downtown Medford have been waiting more than two decades for a park.
The wait is almost over, and residents still are mulling over the latest design from the city. Some remain unhappy over the city's small investment in a neighborhood that helped justify the creation of the Medford Urban Renewal District in the first place, while others are happy that the area got anything at all.
"It's pretty disgusting to me," said John Statler, a former city councilor who lives in the area.
He said he's disappointed that the city has put the project on the back burner for years even though the neighborhood was key to creation of the Medford Urban Renewal District when it was formed in 1988.
Residents last weekend looked over the design for the quarter-acre park, which features a lawn, a playground, a restroom, a shelter and some benches, and a tricycle trail.
The park, at the corner of North Bartlett and Maple streets, should be completed by the end of the year using money from Lithia Motors and the city.
Statler, who doesn't have children, said he's not sure how popular the park will be but is confident that children will use it.
"I'm happy for the people who live near there," he said. "I'm disappointed it's not in the center of the neighborhood."
Statler said he was particularly disappointed to learn recently that a "gentleman's agreement" apparently reached between the city and Lithia over the park wasn't spelled out in a written agreement between the city, MURA and Lithia. The agreement was part of the downtown redevelopment project called The Commons, which includes Lithia's new headquarters.
"A gentleman's agreement — what kind of government is that?" he said. "That's like saying, 'Yeah, we do backroom deals all the time.' "
Despite years of controversy over the park, many residents in the neighborhood who have children see it as an asset.
"I'm stoked," said Cory Huntsman, a 29-year-old who has lived next door to the vacant lots for two years. "The kids will love it."
Huntsman's only concern is the bathroom, which he worries will attract transients sleeping overnight.
Brian Sjothun, director of city parks, said the bathroom will feature doors that automatically lock at the 10 p.m. closing time. Anyone who is inside can get out by pushing a button. Maintenance crews also will swing by the bathrooms at night for cleaning.
Huntsman said his 3-year-old son, Kai, is looking forward to playing in the park. He said the playground and grassy area that will replace two vacant lots also will enhance his property value.
But Bob Shand, who has become an unofficial spokesman for the neighborhood, said he's still not happy with the location of the park, which is at the southern end of the neighborhood.
Concerns have been raised about the homeless taking over the park, he said. "We will need the cooperation of the neighborhood with any pocket park to ensure it remains a safe place," he said.
Rich Hansen, a member of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, predicted the park will be popular and well-used.
"I'm really happy that we're this close," he said.
Hansen said he was sorry to see the water feature taken out of the park plan. It was removed because of concerns it would cost too much to maintain.
"I could have made a big fuss, but you've got to weigh things," he said.
Ultimately, Hansen said, the city concluded the park was too small to justify a water feature, noting the new park blocks next to the Lithia Motors headquarters several blocks away will have a water feature.
Hansen said the latest park proposal was discussed at a January meeting of the parks commission that was poorly attended.
In meetings last year with residents, the parks commission generally received mostly favorable comments about the park proposal, Hansen said.
He said years of searching for a suitable property finally yielded the two lots at the corner of Bartlett and Maple, he said.
"I'm satisfied we bought the optimum property, and we will build the optimum park on it," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.