Park plan proposed in Prairie Township

By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer
Prairie Township resident Michele Viant said she wanted to keep an open mind when she heard there was an interest to build a neighborhood park at the corner of Dellinger and Hubbard roads.
Although she believed there were better locations in the township for a new park – after all, the site where the proposed park would be is prone to flooding and the streets that surround the site of the proposed park are prone to motorists who disobey the posted speed limit – she said she felt she owed it to the local officials to hear their ideas for development before making a judgement call.
“They don’t always get things right, in my opinion, but they do try to find ways to improve the quality of life here,” said the 37-year resident of the township.
This past spring, Viant was in attendance as township officials hosted its first open house to unveil a conceptual design of what the proposed 5.48-acre neighborhood park could look like.
She said she was not “too thrilled” by what she saw.
In addition to feeling as if the programmatic elements like the playground and basketball and volleyball courts were bundled too close together, she was alarmed by the lack of safety features around the park site.
“There are no safe walking paths on Dellinger and Hubbard, which we would have to access to get to the park from the residential areas,” she said. “These roads can be quite dangerous because motorists just fly down there so I thought sidewalks should be necessary there.”
The concept she did like, however, were the walking paths that looped around the site, especially the portion that intersected with an abundant tree canopy.
Last week, township officials and architects with the consulting firm DLZ hosted its second open house to unveil an updated conceptual design of what the proposed neighborhood park could look like.
Although Viant said she liked this rendering “much better” than the original, she still has reservations about the project. Other residents in attendance said they did as well – a few even stated they did not want a park there at all – while some said they could not wait for the proposed park to start its construction phase.
“I am 100 percent for this,” said Dana Murray.
The updated conceptual design features several safety features for pedestrians. It includes two proposed pedestrian crossings at Canoe Drive and Hubbard Road for safer passage into the park and it also includes a sidewalk that would extend from Prairie Road, located just off Dellinger Road, to Westpoint Drive, located just off Hubbard Road.
There would be two access points into the park – one on Dellinger Road; the other on Hubbard Road – and there would be a fencing barrier of undetermined length with additional mounding that would border the park. The fencing barrier and additional mounding would be implemented to mitigate the impact of park noise to the residents nearby and also provide an added layer of privacy to homeowners whose properties share a boundary with the proposed park.
“One of the things we were told back in March and also through comments that have been submitted since our last open house was to make sure that there would be no pass throughs,” said Karen Juricic, an architect with DLZ, referring to concerns that park goers would cut through private property.
The park itself would feature 27 parking spaces for visitors, an inclusive playground, a pavilion, a restroom facility, multiple park benches and possibly a tennis or pickleball court near the Dellinger Road entrance.
The proposed park would feature a quarter-mile walking path with intersecting loops, allowing joggers, runners, strollers, or walkers to decide whether they want to access the exterior boundaries of the park or utilize a pathway through the middle of the site.
Juricic said they intend to preserve as many trees and shrubs that are currently on the site as possible. They also plan to bring in additional trees and plants to surround the interior path as a way to create a “relaxing oasis.”
The exterior pathways and the open green space would be supplemented with select additional plantings including tall grasses, trees and shrubs. The creation of a small wetland was also discussed but residents nixed the idea, stating that there were too many mosquitoes that emanate from the area.
After looking at the conceptual design and listening to the architects and township officials, Viant said she does not think she is completely on board with the project.
She said while she likes that sidewalks have been added for pedestrian safety and is a proponent of the new walking path, she still does not feel this site is the right place to build a park.
“Drainage is a big issue here,” said Viant. “They say they fixed it before they built all these homes but people are losing their backyards. It’s like a big ravine now and it can be quite dangerous. I just don’t know that building a neighborhood park here would be the best solution to the problem.”
Residents Tammy Gahm, Ben Westland, and Lorie Yount all live in homes that abut the boundary of the proposed park. Like Viant, they say they too have reservations about the project.
Yount said her biggest concern is with the design of the park. She said she worried that young children or teenagers will see the mounding near the fence line and use it as a catapult for their bikes. She said she is also concerned that the park could be used as a location for individuals to either use illegal substances or deal illegal substances as it is located within close proximity to two busy roads.
Westland said he also has concerns about the design of the proposed park, in particular the number of cars that would be allowed in the parking area.
“It is way too much,” he said. “This is not a Walmart.”
Gahm said she is just against the idea of a park there in general.
“It is just not a good idea to me,” she said, noting that she has concerns about safety as well and the maintenance of the park.
Township Road Superintendent Dave McAninch tried to allay some of the concerns that were addressed at the open house.
According to McAninch, the road department would provide maintenance to the park, mowing once a week in the spring and summer; the employees would be at the park at least once a week to remove trash from the receptacles and pick up the litter that may have fallen on the ground.
He also said that there would likely be security cameras installed on the premises and that the public restroom facilities would come equipped with timed locks. Several of the residents at the meeting voiced concerns about the amenity, stating they believed it would be used as a public restroom around the clock.
“People will not be able to access the bathrooms outside of regular park hours,” he said.
McAninch added that they would request more patrols from local law enforcement agencies in the area. He also encouraged residents to tell the township if they do not feel local law enforcement agencies are responding to complaints in an adequate amount of time.
As for the drainage issues, DLZ director of architecture Greg Galieti said newly installed pipes underneath the park would allow any excessive water to be slowly released into the outlet. Any drainage permits would have to be approved by the Big Darby Accord Panel.
The timeline for the proposed park at Dellinger and Hubbard roads is as follows: The township and the park planners will continue to collect public comments via the township website or Facebook page. They estimate they will enter into a final design phase sometime next year.
If the township board of trustees approves the plan and allocates funding for the project – they will also seek grants for the proposed park – the construction phase will begin in 2025. McAninch said he believes it will be a “phased” construction project, meaning it will be broken down into two or three segments before it is completed.
As one of the residents who were strongly in favor of the proposed park, Dana Murray said what he liked most about the conceptual design that was presented was the inclusive playground and the restroom facility nearby.
“I have two small children so I think having a restroom there is fantastic,” he said. “With that there, I won’t have to haul them back home quickly and that is a good thing from my perspective.”
He reiterated that he cannot wait for the project to begin.
“We are already using the open space as a park right now anyway,” he said. “So I think we might as well truly make it one.”
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