Skatepark prompts lawsuit

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Huntwork Gardens lays nestled in a serene glen bordered by Sycamore Creek Park in Pickerington. Although shielded by the tree-lined creek, the apartment residents still hear the clatter emanating from Sycamore’s skatepark.

To end the noise for its tenets, Huntwork Construction filed a lawsuit against the Pickerington Parks and Recreation Department for an unspecified amount in excess of $25,000, according to attorney Marc Landes, who will be defending the city.

Huntwork filed the suit on May 21 claiming the skatepark a "nuisance," Pickerington Law Director Phillip Hartmann said.

Landes plans to ask the Fairfield County Common Pleas Court to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that operating the skatepark is a government function that cannot be sued.

As per the May 1, 2006 Pickerington City Council minutes, Huntwork first approached the city in March of that year to discuss the issue.

Pickerington Parks and Recreation Director Steve Carr told city council that Huntwork did not complain about children yelling, but rather the banging made by the skateboards on the equipment.

During a series of consequent meetings Huntwork suggested either the removal of the skatepark or erecting an enclosure similar to a pole barn around the facilities, Carr said at the Pickerington Parks Committee meeting on July 23.

The city was willing to work with Huntwork, but "what they wanted to have done was too cost prohibitive," Hartmann said.

Pickerington erected the skatepark in response to the death of a child who was hit by a car while skateboarding in the street.

"This is about public safety for us," Landes said. "Skaters and their loved ones are citizens, too. The city heard all sides and acted responsibly on the design and placement of the park."

Jeff Curron, a 2005 graduate of Pickerington North, has been skating at the skatepark for about a year now.

"It’s really nice and the only place in Pickerington," he said.

Curron said he lives about five minutes from the skatepark and without it he would have to drive to Grove City or Reynoldsburg.

Bobby Sarach, also a 2005 graduate of Pickerington North, has been skating at the park "ever since they built it."

Attempts to contact Huntwork to comment on the lawsuit were unsuccessful.

"Hopefully we will prevail in a court of law," Carr said.

Joint park district

Messenger photo by Rachel Scofield
Pickerington resident Jeff Curron coasts through the skatepark at Sycamore Creek Park in Pickerington. The owner of Huntwork Gardens Apartments, located nearby, filed a lawsuit against the city of Pickerington on the grounds that the skatepark was a "nuisance."

At its July 23 meeting, the Pickerington Parks and Recreation Board discussed creating a joint park system with Violet Township and then placing an operating levy on the ballot.

Carr said Violet Township owns two small parks, but the township residents frequently use the Pickerington parks. Funding for Pickerington parks comes from the city’s general fund and impact fees on new developments.

To create a joint park district, the Pickerington Parks committee would ask the Violet Township trustees to pass a resolution combining the township parks with Pickerington’s Parks and Recreation Department to form an independent entity. The parks district, like the school district, would cater to both the township and the city, but would govern itself and seek funding via tax levies.

Carr recommended to the board that they wait until after November to approach the township trustees because there might be "different players" after the election.

"It’s nice to get the support of politicians to have a unified front going to the public," said Carr.

The parks board did not want to move forward on the joint district and its subsequent levy this fall because the Pickerington Local School District will have a levy on the ballot. The park district’s levy, although not yet quantified, would be significantly less than the school levy. Campaigning for the levy would be a grassroots effort involving fundraising and speaking engagements.

"Once you are funded (through a levy) renewals are easy if you do what you say you will do," Carr said.

"The parks are a screaming deal," Parks and Recreation board member Eric Pawlowski said. "Lot’s of bang for the buck not relying on a dedicated fund."

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