Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Deadline Nov. 22 for new round of public comment!

The Lents Park Master Plan is in the final round of public involvement. Deadline is Monday, November 22 at 5:00 p.m. This is it! This is your final chance to have input into the redesign of the park before the Project Advisory Committee votes on a final map.

Once the PAC adops a final map and Master Plan, the plan will go to the Parks Director and Commissioner Fish, and from there to the City Council. While you will be able to share your opinions with all of these folks, you will not get another chance to have direct input on the details of the map. Don't miss this deadline!

Visit the Portland Parks website to view the map and fill out the comment form online.

You can also view paper maps and fill out a hard copy comment form at the Lents Commons Coffeehouse, SE 92nd and Foster, open Mon-Fri 6:30 am to 7 pm and Sat-Sun from 8 am to 7 pm. Parks staff will be at Lents Commons Saturday, November 20 from 9to 11 am to answer questions in person.

The remainder of this post is a "voters guide" prepared by Kathleen Juergens de Ponce, Steering Committee member for Friends of Lents Park, who is also FLP's representative to the Master Plan Project Advisory Committee. Kathleen has done her best to give you an overview of your options, without telling you how to vote. However, you should keep in mind that all of this represents one person's analysis. Keep an open mind, and decide for yourself!

So what will you be looking at, when you view the latest round of maps? First of all, you can forget all about most of what you saw on maps A, B and C from the last round. The proposals that were decisively rejected by the community in the last round (moving the gazebo down into a corner, moving the community garden up onto a hill, cutting lots of trees, eliminating tennis) have been removed from the maps. YOUR comments have been listened to and have made a difference!

This time around you will be looking at two maps, dubbed Alternatives A and B. If you picture the park as being divided into three sections, the north and south sections are the same in both maps. Only the central section is different.

Last time around, we had to respond to a lot of ideas that were generated by an outside consultant, some of which the City admitted were thrown at us just to see how we'd react. This time around, you will be seeing ideas that may be new to you, including ideas that were not included in the last round of maps. The difference is that this time the new ideas were generated by people from THIS community: your neighbors, friends, local representatives, including other FLP members. If the public involvement process had been structured differently, you would have seen these ideas sooner. But better late than never!

This time you also have the benefit of being able to hear what your neighbors had to say about some of these ideas, before you have to weigh in yourself. Three "listening sessions" were held the week of October 25. If you were not able to attend, please see the following posts for my notes on what was discussed. Again, it would have been a whole lot better to have these discussions happen 6 months ago, but we do not have the luxury of undoing the past. Let's make the best of what we have, and make sure your voice is included!

The following analysis makes reference to the results from the last round of public comment. The City has finally posted these results in a publicly available format. Check out this link to see what your neighbors said.

North third of the park:

Both maps are the same for this section, and almost all of what you see is the result of what the public said they wanted. The public overwhelmingly supported keeping Vavrek Field (the north side football/soccer field) where it is. There was clear majority support for improving Walker Stadium and converting to synthetic turf to make it multi-use. The adult basketball court is moved to north of the parking lot, which was the most preferred location. (Moving the basketball court makes possible the development of the natural area along the park's east side, which was also favored by the public.)

None of these decisions are likely to be revisited by the PAC, since they were the result of clear direction from the public.

The Lents Little League facilities are left alone, which was a condition of this Master Plan from the beginning. (The PDC just spent millions to relocate these facilities, so it would not make much sense to undo this decision.)

The most controversial aspect of this north section is the skate spot, which is shown on both maps along Holgate, next to Lents Little League. This was the most preferred of the three locations that were shown on the last round of maps....but it wasn't preferred by very much. There is no clear community consensus in favor of this location. Some concerns expressed are how close this location is to houses, and fly balls from the little league.

The listening session on "Active Recreation," held October 25, was the first chance the public really got to weigh in on where the skate park might be located. Three alternate locations were suggested. Check out my notes from this session (see following posts) and see what you think. If you favor one of these alternate locations, say so on your comment form!

South third of the park:

This section is also the same in both maps. Again, most of what you see is based on results from the last round of public comment. Clear majorities supported keeping the dog park where it is, expanding the community garden and adding a shelter (but without destroying the heritage chestnut tree!), keeping the tennis court and children's play areas where they are but with improvements, adding a spray feature to replace the wading pool, and adding a natural planting area along SE 92nd Avenue.

The Project Advisory Committee discussed the dog park at our last meeting and voted to add a water hookup and a bench. (Normally these are “details” that would not go into a master plan, but dog park users have been promised these improvements for a long time.) Left unresolved was the question of fencing. There are strong pros and cons for both fenced and unfenced dog parks, and the public has not yet been asked which they prefer. The PAC is leaning towards a series of partial barriers, while the discussion at the Oct. 28 listening session favored a partial fence. Check out my notes, and indicate on your comment form which you prefer!

In the last round of maps, the public was given the choice as to which corner of the park would be best for a “grand entrance.” The public favored the SE corner, but the question was not specific as to what a “grand entrance” might look like. This round of maps shows the “grand entrance” as involving lawns and garden in the SE bowl area, leading to a staircase up the hill, which leads to the natural area along 92nd. Not everybody is thrilled with the idea of a staircase, and some people have other ideas as to how that SE bowl area might be used. Check out the comments from the listening sessions, and say what you think!

Central section of the park:

This round of maps shows two alternatives for the park's central section.

ALTERNATIVE A: This alternative reduces the soccer fields to one, allowing for the space from the other field to be re-programmed for natural garden-type plantings. This is an idea which has been extensively discussed in the community over the past few months and has rapidly gained popularity, including with many FLP members. Many community members would like to see the central area of the park be less sports-dominated and more conducive to passive recreation. If the public involvement process had been differently structured, there would have been time for much more in-depth discussion and evaluation of this idea at an earlier stage, but we need to make the best of how things are.

The Park Director and Commissioner have set a condition on the Master Plan process that there must not be any net reduction of playable field hours. (Some of us, including me, support this condition, while others think it is unfair; regardless, this is the situation we have to work with.) In order to comply with this condition while still reducing the number of soccer fields to one, it will be necessary for the remaining field to convert to synthetic turf. This is because of the “down time” required by natural grass fields, while synthetic fields can take many more hours of use.

So in this scenario, in order for the public to get something that many people have said they want (more gardens and natural plantings) it will be necessary to accept something that the majority has said they don't want (synthetic turf on a central park field). This is a tough call. Your neighbors have had thoughtful things to say at all three listening sessions, so check out their comments and then make up your own mind.

The PAC has also voted to reorient the synthetic field northward, in order to provide for the largest possible continuous swath of natural plantings. This would require moving the gazebo, an idea which has not proven popular in the listening sessions.

Reorientation of the field would require removal of approximately 6 trees, but the increased plantings in this scenario might include as many as 60 (!) new trees. Some folks are thrilled with this, while others do not necessarily think more is better. What is going to happen to natural light and open space under this scenario? Where will people sit when the park holds concerts? Check out your neighbors' comments, and let us know what you think.

ALTERNATIVE B: This scenario keeps the park much closer to how it is now. The gazebo stays in its current location. A new picnic shelter and additional pathways are added, both of which the public favored in the last round of comments. The only change to the soccer fields is that one would stay a permitted field, while the other would become an open space available to the community (and would likely be used for soccer and other pickup games). Every few years the fields would “flip” to give the permitted field a chance to recover. This scenario for the soccer fields was the most favored option from the last round of public comment.

City's comment form:

Over my objections, the City has chosen to use a comment form that gives the public almost no options for weighing in on specific park features. Check out the comment form here.

People are asked to choose Alternative A or B for the central fields, say why, and then comment on a range of guiding principles. Although the form does not say so, the City has clarified that you are supposed to evaluate how well the alternative you favor embodies these principles. I.e., if you chose Alternative A, you are saying how well Alternative A “provides a variety of active and passive recreational opportunities”.....etc.

Does this sound confusing? Yeah. You are not given any boxes to check that ask you what you think about the different elements of the central fields scenario (reorienting the field, synthetic turf, moving the gazebo, increased plantings, 60 new trees, etc.) You are not asked what you think about the “grand entrance,” which is a new design element. You are not asked whether you favor fencing the dog park, a question that the PAC specific voted to refer to the public. You are not asked anything at all about the skate spot, a matter on which the City knows there is substantial concern.

As regards Alternative A vs. B, you are only given the choice between these two alternatives, with no defined option for anything in between.

Fortunately, our members are not known for allowing our options to be so easily limited. Write it in anyway! Use the lines at the end of the form to let the City know just what you think about the new elements of these maps. If you wholeheartedly favor either Alternative A or B, by all means say so, but if you favor some combination of elements or something in between, let them know!

The most important thing people should understand about this form is that just saying “none of the above” is not going to be a helpful answer, unless you give detailed feedback about what you'd like to see instead. This is the next-to-final map. At the PAC's next meeting, we are expected to vote to adopt the final map. There is no time to go back to the drawing board.

Your comments have already had a huge impact. We have already saved the park's trees and prevented some of the worst ideas from going forward. We have demanded - and gotten - a chance to have more meaningful discussions about the park's future. Your park needs one more effort from you to bring this process to a good conclusion. As always, thank you so much for your engagement on behalf of your park.

Kathleen Juergens de Ponce

P.S. If you would like to see a vision of the park that is dramatically different from the current maps, visit Facebook and search “Lents Park Non-A, B, C Master Plan.” This map was produced by Lents Creative, one of the stakeholder groups in our neighborhood. Whether or not you share this vision, it may spark some great ideas for your own comments.

1 comment:

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