The normally congenial park board showed another side tonight when presented with a substantially changed, enlarged and accelerated construction plan for the Exceptional Foundation. At the end of more than an hour’s debate with Brasfield & Gorrie VP Robbie Hayes –and some stern words for Foundation Director Tricia Kirk–the board agreed to let construction begin on the Oct. 13 conditioned on several substantial concessions and a rewritten shared parking agreement.
The current parking arrangement had been hastily put in writing earlier this year when the Foundation’s expansion plans were first made public. Public Services Director Berkley Squires said he wasn’t expecting construction to begin for “several years,” based on the Foundation’s previous fundraising timeline. Instead, the facility has reached its $4 million goal and is ready to move dirt. Also unexpected was the Foundation’s plan to add a basement–more than doubling the addition’s original square footage and requiring 12 Rec Center parking spaces be temporarily used for excavated dirt and construction staging. Those spaces will actually be excised from the ground and replaced and restriped by the June 3, 2015, construction deadline, according to Hayes, possibly sooner.
The Foundation’s latest plan also eliminates the controversial Oxmoor Road entryway, which satisfies some neighborhood concerns but will force more traffic through the two facilities’ shared parking area.
Officially, the Foundation’s request was made to comply with the current shared use agreement, which demands board approval before any activity requiring extraordinary parking. Parks staff and board members, however, made clear that they had been blindsided by all of the changes, which were first shown to Mr. Squires just a week ago, and to the board’s Facilities Committee on Tuesday.
Board chairman Chris Meeks and members Tom Walker and Marjorie Trimm were especially vocal, with the usually reserved Keith Stansell calling the last-minute request “irresponsible.” Neither Mr. Hayes nor Ms. Kirk was able to pinpoint when the plan had been changed so substantially, or how a building permit was acquired without notice given to the park board. “Where was the City Council?” Mr. Walker asked. To their objections were added those of neighbor Brian Thompson, who said the promised 20-foot buffer between the expansion and his house had been reduced to 10-feet, with a fence running virtually “along my property line.” Mr. Hayes, who offered on-the-spot to make several concessions that became part of the board’s final motion, did not budge on this matter, however. He also countered several complaints by offering to restore the plan’s original, and very unpopular, entry drive from Oxmoor Road.
Ultimately, the vote passed with one abstention from relatively new member Tyler Vail, who said he didn’t know enough about the plan to vote. Ms. Smalley was absent.
Among the agreed-to concessions, subject to a new shared use agreement:
- Demolish a concrete enclosure and relocate a Dumpster now in the parking lot that would jut dangerously into the new parking lot traffic pattern;
- Remove a planned gate that would have blocked rec center patron access to the new Foundation parking spaces, i.e. creating more shared spaces.
- Give the park board a two-year work guarantee on the asphalt replacement.
Among matters discussed and informally accepted:
- Better and timely communications are needed from both parties regarding special events that affect parking and traffic. Ms. Kirk repeatedly noted that the communication needed to be mutual.
- That Brasfield and Gorrie will hire, at its own expense, a third-party contractor to handle the asphalt removal and replacement.
- That the building expansion and increased square footage does not signal a planned increase in enrollment, although Ms. Kirk said enrollment will increase naturally because of longer life expectancy in the special needs client population.
- Board member Becky Morton, who also objected strenuously to the Foundation’s timing and lack of advance notice, reminded the board that the temporary loss of 12 spaces would be followed by a net gain of 14 spaces.
Members present: Chris Meeks, chairman, Becky Morton, Keith Stansell, Tom Walker, Marjorie Trimm, Tom Blake, Michael Murray, and Tyler Vail.
Members absent: Paula Smalley. Also absent was council liaison Richard Laws.
Staff present: Berkley Squires, public service director, Rusty Holley, park and recreation superintendent, Dianne Rice, board secretary, Jakob Stephenson, athletic director.
Audience attendance: 5
In other business, the park board,
Approved several events: Approved were the Cr0hn’s and Colitis Foundation Walk and the Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation 5K, dates TBA.
Accepted the council-approved FY2014-15 budget:
Adopted were the council-approved budget of $3,899,121 for park operations, a $91,000 reduction over the board’s proposal and obtained by reducing two of three requested positions.
For capital projects, the council approved a budget of $171,122, a substantial reduction of $121,000 reached by reducing the purchase of a ball field “reel” mower, pool cover for West Homewood Park and a shade cover for the Patriot Park playground. The board’s request to design a new park entryway at the corner of Oxmoor and Central Avenue was postponed until next year, at the mayor’s request.
—Ms. Trimm left the meeting at this point.
Approved the purchase of a 2015 Dodge pickup truck: The board voted to approve a $29,300 purchase of a truck using funds from a cell tower lease previously earmarked for fleet replacement.
There being no further business, the board adjourned at shortly before 7:30 p.m.