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Phoenix needs more parks, study suggests

PHOENIX — A parks master plan recommends the city consider investing more than $1 million in current parks and acquire another 69 acres of parkland to serve a population expected to grow by nearly 40 percent over the next 20 years.

The Phoenix City Council will hold a public hearing on the plan and consider its adoption as part of the comprehensive plan at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 7, at 1000 S. B St. The Planning Commission recommended adoption of the plan at its June 12 meeting.

Community Service Center, part of the University of Oregon, prepared the plan and held sessions with community members, the Parks and Greenway Commission, Planning Commission and City Council. The city received a $35,000 state Parks and Recreation Department grant and provided $15,000 as a match to update that part of the comprehensive plan. Work started in early 2016.

“There was a significant amount of community input,” said Planning Director Evan McKenzie at the July 19 council meeting. “This is a living document. It is a guiding plan and it is not 'the' plan. Nothing in it is set in stone. Just because something is in here doesn’t mean it will happen, and because something isn’t in the plan doesn’t mean it won’t.”

The current comprehensive parks plan, last amended in 2008, contains none of the inventory, needs analysis, operations considerations, expansion and change proposals or access considerations that are in the proposed addendum, said McKenzie.

Because the city has a higher percentage of disabled citizens than Jackson County or the state, accessibility at parks will require investment, the report said. Demographics also showed a higher percentage of citizens, about half, live in multifamily or trailer housing with limited green space, making residents more dependent on parks.

Phoenix has the 7-acre Blue Heron Community Park, 5-acre Colver Road Neighborhood Park and the half-acre Otto Casters Park. A wetlands park will be developed as part of urban renewal in the area of the Community Center. The Bear Creek Greenway, which the city maintains, is considered part of the city’s open space, which totals 30 acres, including parks.

All the parks are located in the southern portion of town. The report notes that areas east of Interstate 5 and north of Fern Valley Road lack parks that are within a half-mile of residents.

A need for 69 acres of park land is projected over the next 20 years. A community park of up to 20 acres is foreseen to serve areas north of the current city limits and east of I-5, where more than 400 acres are expected to be annexed for development.

Neighborhood parks in Phoenix Hills, east of the freeway and north Phoenix, and up to five pocket parks of one-half acre or less are proposed. An open space west of the railroad tracks is also recommended.

A redesign concept that was developed over six months is included for Blue Heron Park. Upgrades would be expected to take 10 or more years, the report says. Costs for improvements are estimated at $770,000. Goals for Blue Heron Park include connection between the park and Bear Creek, creation of outdoor education programming, increased parking and access, playground improvements and wetlands restoration.

The study also looks at parks staffing, maintenance and recreation program possibilities. Cost to acquire additional acreage is estimated to range from $50,000 to $150,000 per acre.

Suggestions for funding parks operations, improvements and acquisitions include a park fee added to city utility bills, devoting a percentage of cannabis-tax revenue to parks, grants, and formation of a parks and recreation district.

A wetlands mitigation banking strategy is also suggested. Under the mechanism, conservation areas would be preserved by the city, and developers needing to obtain offset mitigation for projects affecting riparian areas would pay the city.

Roseburg has used wetlands mitigation banking and established a 15-acre wetland. After setup, maintenance costs have averaged $5,000 annually, but conservation credits are being sold for $85,000 to $100,000 per acre.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.