By Angelo Parlove
Saline resident Karen Carrigan, who lives on West Henry Street, is one of many residents living near Peoples’ Park who is concerned about the possible parking lot being discussed by the City of Saline for the area.
“We’ve heard that there is a parking lot coming in to take some of the green space, so we’re trying to say we’d like to find out more about this,” Carrigan told council members during their May 1 regular meeting. “We’re not happy with having that; we’d prefer it to stay green.”
With the 30-unit Fairdene Condominium project headed next door on Monroe Street, the usual on-site parking for Peoples’ Park will be used as part of the property for the new development. Anyone looking to drive to the park will now have to use street parking.
After agreeing to sell the land to High Meadows Development for the condos as part of the 207 Monroe Street property deal in 2015, the City of Saline is in a tough spot. Council Member Jack Ceo summed up the dilemma: “This is not an easy problem to deal with.”
Like Carrigan, many residents want to maintain the green space at the area, which suits many outdoor activities such as jogging, cycling, dog walking and family gathering.
“It’s not a very large park to begin with,” said Cindy Coleman, who resides on Monroe Street. “The additional 30 units of family that are being accommodated with the new condominiums are going to put additional use into the park, which is great, and I think that green space is going to be an added premium under that circumstance.”
However, other community members are concerned that on-street parking may be a dangerous situation when dropping off kids, especially for the youth baseball and softball games at Peoples’ Park.
“I have had a fair number of discussions in the community about this, both from people who want the parking lot because they’re concerned about unloading children at on-street parking, and neighbors – some of whom I don’t think are entirely disinterested – about opposing a parking lot there,” Council Member Christen Mitchell said.
If pursued, the city would put the proposed lot on the south side of the park, which would house about 25 parking spaces. Of course, the city would need to do preliminary design work to determine exactly what’s feasible and would fit in the area, City Superintendent and Engineer Gary Roubal said.
The city has considered developing a parking area in that location since 2006, City Manager Todd Campbell said. “That has been looked at periodically since then, and now the thought has been to utilize and move that forward,” he added.
At the May 1 meeting, Carrigan presented a petition to council with about 40 signatures from nearby residents and other community members who oppose the conversion of the green space into parking spots.
“The removal of the green space to accommodate the parking lot will greatly impact the functioning of the park, the accessibility of activities and thereby reduces the utilization of the existing facilities,” Carrigan said.
The divide in the community boils down to the way people access the park, between those driving to Peoples Park, often for dropping off children for youth baseball and softball games, and the nearby residents who walk to the area.
“That park seems to be more of a neighborhood park that people walk to, other than for the baseball games,” Council Member Janet Dillon said. “I’m not sure having a full-time parking lot is in the best interest of that area.”
Saline resident Tom Beltman, who also lives on Monroe Street, would rather see the city focus on controlling traffic and speeding cars on his road. “If safety is a concern for people who do have to park in the street, maybe some of the resources could be spent on speed control,” he said. “There is a lot of speeding on Monroe Street, so I can feel where people do not feel safe…but maybe we could reduce the speeds on Monroe Street through traffic and speed monitoring.”
At the May 1 meeting, city council determined the issue should be sent over to the parks commission for more deliberation.
“We have appointed over the past several years some really competent, quality people to our parks commission, and they’re sort of our front line as it relates to the promotion, maintenance and future of our parks,” Mayor Brian Marl said. “I think it would be improper to take any formal action without having a robust discussion first at the parks commission.”
The parks commission is expected to discuss the matter at its next meeting on May 16, which is open to the public. City council will then be looking for a formal recommendation from the parks commission in the future, likely in the coming months.
“I think there’s multiple things to think about when we’re talking about access to the park and the green space,” said Council Member Heidi McClelland, who is the council liaison to the parks commission. “The parks commission has been very thoughtful about other parks and how they should function and what’s their impact on the neighborhoods. I see it would be the same for this, taking all of the factors involved and making wise choices.”