By Christine Bryant
Nearly every day, a group of neighborhood kids gather at the corner of Mix and Stiles avenues in Prairie Township.
The plot of land has become a place where they can throw the football, run around and take a break from screen time, says Catherine Martinez, who lives nearby and whose 12-year-old son often joins the group.
“Kids will ask, ‘Do you want to go to the field?’” she said. “It’s like their ‘Sandlot.’ It’s their place to just be kids.”
When Prairie Township considered donating the L-shaped piece of land to Homes on the Hill, a non-profit organization that develops affordable housing in southwestern Franklin County, a group of neighbors banded together in an effort to keep that parcel of land undeveloped. They called themselves, “Friends in the Field.”
“Our neighbors really showed up at the (Prairie Township Board of Trustees) meeting and said that we really need a safe place for our children to play,” Martinez said.
At the Sept. 7 board meeting, the trustees voted down giving the parcel to Homes on the Hill after taking into consideration community input.
Although the lot currently remains a greenspace for the kids to gather, Township Administrator James Jewell cautions that the only action that the township has taken with the land so far is stopping the designation to Homes on the Hill.
“We’re back to the drawing board,” he said.
Developing the land into housing would have generated an estimated $52,000 in total annual tax revenue across all agencies, Jewell said.
“We’re kind of in limbo and continue to mull it over and maintain it,” Jewell said.
There may be additional parcels of land nearby that could be converted into a greenspace where neighborhood kids could gather, he said, but Martinez says the lot at the corner of Mix and Stiles avenues is within eyeshot of neighbors’ homes, allowing them to watch their kids while they play.
“We’d like to see a community garden there,” she said. “We can grow our own food, we can teach young kids and get the kids at (Stiles Elementary) involved.”
Martinez said she has been working with the Franklin Park Conservatory and other organizations in the area to learn more about community gardens and creating spaces where neighbors can gather.
“The more involved our community is with our children, the better off they are,” she said.
She also plans to approach township officials to further discuss the possibilities for the land.
In the meantime, Jewell says he encourages any community members or organizations to submit requests for the land or to approach township officials with their ideas.
“We encourage the community to give us some direction on what they would like done with the property,” he said.