Saturday, November 01, 2014

City buys potential park space for $1

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 5/21/2014

A vacant lot in a modest neighborhood on the east side of Ottawa probably wouldn’t draw a second look from most passers-by, Wynndee Lee said.

“This piece of land probably wouldn’t generate much excitement for most people, but I’m excited about this particular property,” Lee, the city’s director of planning and codes, told city commissioners during their regular meeting Wednesday at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa.

A vacant lot in a modest neighborhood on the east side of Ottawa probably wouldn’t draw a second look from most passers-by, Wynndee Lee said.

“This piece of land probably wouldn’t generate much excitement for most people, but I’m excited about this particular property,” Lee, the city’s director of planning and codes, told city commissioners during their regular meeting Wednesday at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa.

The vacant lot at 822 E. Walton St., adjacent to a small church on the city’s east side, could be developed into a neighborhood park, Lee said.

Before an Ottawa delegation attended the 2013 Playful City USA Leaders Summit: Investing in Children Through Play, the community — which is a Playful City USA designee — was selected for an in-depth map study of parks, playgrounds and other areas where kids can play in Ottawa, Lee said.

The map identified areas of the city that were not being served by a playground within a short walking distance, Lee said.

“We found we had some areas that were in high need [of a park],” Lee said. “This parcel happens to land smack dab in the middle of one of these ‘play desert’ areas. The location is in an area that really has no close [park] amenities. This was the No. 1 highest need area that we had [according to the Playful City USA map].”

City officials were pleased to find out that when Franklin County went through a recent tax sale, the vacant lot at 822 E. Walton St. happened to be one of the parcels the county had reclaimed for nonpayment of property taxes.

“For $1, you can be the proud owners of a new possible neighborhood park,” Lee told commissioners. “We’re really excited about this opportunity to meet the needs of the community, particularly a neighborhood that is well short of an accessible amenity.”

Linda Reed, Ottawa mayor, said purchasing the vacant lot would be in stride with the city’s plans for more parks.

“In our long-term strategic plan, we’ve talked about in our vision that everybody have access within walking distance to a park, so this just adds one more step to that,” Reed said.

The purchase of the vacant lot would be a smart investment for the city, Sara Caylor, city commissioner, said.

“There’s no reason that any child in our community should have to take a long hike to find somewhere to play,” Caylor said.

“So I think that $1 is a great deal ... in fact I’m willing to finance that,” she said to laughter from the audience. “We appreciate our partners at the county for offering that [parcel] to us to [offer] better quality of life for our citizens on the east side of town.”

Development of a neighborhood park on Walton Street would serve a vital need for youths of the area, Shawn Dickinson, city commissioner, said.

“It’s important to me because I happen to live in this neighborhood,” Dickinson said. “I’m excited to see a better use for [the lot] than to just be vacant.”

If the lot is purchased, the city’s Play Task Force would look at the site to see what amenities could be installed and over what time frame, Lee said in a recent memo to Richard Nienstedt, city manager.

“This is another opportunity for us to talk with [residents in] the neighborhood and find out what the neighborhood and community want to see in a neighborhood park,” Nienstedt said Wednesday morning.

The commission voted 5-0 to purchase the lot for $1 from the county.

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