At a recently held community input meeting regarding the proposed acquisition of the Parker Meadows property by the county to construct a new recreation complex, Macon County residents were able to ask questions and give feedback.
Although the informal gathering started out with a split audience of those for and against the project, after being given more information, many residents left in favor of the development.
The information meeting followed the Macon County Board of Commissioners’ November decision to more forward with plans to purchase the 48-acre lot on the old Patton Road with the intention of developing a recreation complex to house new baseball and softball fields. After identifying a need in the community and a way to bring economic advancement to Macon County, the board of commissioners unanimously approved pursuing the purchase of the former golf course at a cost of $550,000, half of which is anticipated to be paid for out of state monies such as the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF).
According to Seth Adams, Parks and Rec Director for the county, the current Macon County recreation park was first developed in 1973 and hasn't seen any significant improvements in more than 30 years.
With the news of the rec park making local headlines in mid-November, some members of the community felt the decision to purchase the property was a hasty one, made without input from Macon County residents.
“I had heard for months that negotiations were under way to sell the property, previously being developed as a 160 unit RV park, to an undisclosed buyer. The person who told me about these negotiations, evidently the only resident of the three area subdivisions ‘in the know,’ told me he was not authorized to disclose the plans for this property until an agreement was reached,” wrote Parker Farm Estate Owner in a recent letter to the editor. “Imagine my surprise when I read that the commission meeting room, when the purchase was unanimously approved, was filled with ball coaches in support of the purchase and plans. Obviously, no commissioner or other county employee was concerned about the quality of life of the residents in the area surrounding the property. If they had been, residents would have been notified and encouraged to provide their input.”
Adams explained that while some may think the idea of a new rec park was a sudden decision, since he first began with the county nearly 10 years ago, he has been tasked with researching property in the county for a possible expansion project. “Since I first started working for the county I have been looking for property big enough and with a respectable price range to develop the fields,” explained Adams during the meeting. “As an already developed property, the Parker Meadows area is an ideal location for the county's intention and comes at a cost that will not require any sort of tax increase on residents of the county.”
County Commissioner Ronnie Beale attended the meeting to listen to residents and agreed with Adams, explaining while the project just recently made it to papers, county employees have been diligently researching and evaluating an assortment of properties for a new rec park for some time.
Many of the community’s concerns were shared by those who attended the meeting. In addition to feeling blind-sided by the proposed purchase, residents in Parker Farm Estates voiced concern about being affected by the development because of the close proximity the proposed park would have to their homes.
“Baseball and softball games, including 24- team tournaments mentioned at the meeting, are not exactly quiet activities,” wrote Walker. “The noise from the fans, coaches, and players, as well as the constant ‘daylight’ provided by lights that will inevitably be installed, will negatively impact all of the residents of the nice, quiet neighborhoods that border this property.”
Parents of children that would utilize the new facility spoke to concerns about noise and informed nay-sayers that while in theory it may seem like a lot of noise, baseball and softball games are not like football games that involve constant action and cheering or like basketball games which reverberates sound within a gym, but instead has sporadic intermittent cheering that can seldom be heard by players in the fields.
“The loudest noise the speakers play during games is when we play the national anthem or announce the teams, and even then, we get complaints from people that the speakers are not loud enough to translate the sound,” explained one rec park worker.
Another significant concern with the development would be the impact the lights used during night games would have on houses surrounding the park. Residents voiced concern about how lights used to illuminate the fields during late-night tournaments would pour into their bedrooms.
With improvements to the current field being more than 30 years ago, the lights used can clearly be seen from the Georgia Road late into the night, explained Adams. “The lights at the current park are mounted on power poles and are just designed to light up the entire area,” he said. “Technology has come a long way, and at the new park we would utilize LED lighting that would be directional and intended for the sole purpose of lighting up the fields. The lights we would use are specially designed to prevent what is called ‘light pollution’ which is essentially lighting anywhere other than the intended target.”
The other major concern regarding the construction of the rec park is the amount of traffic it would create for the residential area surrounding the proposed location. The Parker Meadows property sits on Maxwell Home Road and currently has two entrances, one on Patton Road and a secondary entrance onto Maxwell Home Road. Residents asked Adams and Mike LoVoy, an engineer with Alliance Consulting, the firm heading the project, about what impact the park would have on the traffic flow of the residential neighborhood. LoVoy and Adams explained that the project is currently in the due diligence phase of evaluating the property and traffic patterns have yet to be considered.
Beale noted that traffic concerns would first have to be addressed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, as they are charged with the management of traffic flow onto state maintained roads.
Adams explained that current plans would utilize the Patton Road entrance as the main entrance into the park, allowing the Maxwell Home Road to be used only as an emergency exit if needed. “Ball fields do not provide traffic problems like other sporting events because even with a total of eight fields, only 16, 12-member teams can be playing at one time,” explained Adams. “It isn't like a football game with a set time for one game and crowds of people all at once. It is a constant flow of in and out. The current park doesn't cause congestion to the Georgia Road, and we don't anticipate a new park would for this area either.”
For every resident present with concerns of an adverse impact of the proposed facility, the meeting had a resident in full support of the commissioners’ effort to invest in the youth of Macon County. Ben Utley, who attended the meeting to gather more information and voice initial concerns of the project’s sustainability, supported the county's initiative to provide recreational facilities for the community's youth programs. Utley, who was skeptical of the project’s feasibility due to a portion of the Parker Meadows property being located in the floodplain, said he would rather see the county invest in the property and provide a public park than to lose it to a developer interested in depleting the property’s resources for an R.V. Park.
As a little league coach, Byron McClure fully supports the county's plan to move forward with the project and believes a new facility will fill a void while providing economic advancement for the community. “This is a great investment in our youth,” said McClure. “Field space has been limited for years and has placed a lot of pressure on parents, coaches, and those that schedule these fields for use. As a parent, coach, and Little League Board member I am ecstatic about having more space to spread these kids out. As a taxpayer I am proud of this investment too. The only thing this property would be good for is recreation. We kill two birds with one stone – citizens get a great public park and we avoid unsafe development in the floodplain.”
Adams also used the information session as an opportunity to explain phase one of the proposed project. According to Adams, the initial development of the property would be at least one four-leaf clover ball field, providing immediate access to four fields that can be used for little league or expanding for adult play. The first development of the property will also include a walking track comparable to the Greenway that will outline the Parker Meadows property.
Small projects that require little funding and can be built into the general operating budget of the county's park and recreational budget include a multi-purpose field that can be used for activities such as soccer, croquet, and pickleball.
As funding allows, the eventual evolution of the park includes a disc golf course, splash pad, playgrounds and picnic areas spread throughout the park.
Adams explained that the entire project is considered a low impact operation, meaning the natural vegetation and ground layout will be disturbed as little as possible, and instead of changing those things, the park will be formed by incorporating the already existing plant life and ground layout. “We are going to make this park as nice as we can and it is going to be a place that all of us will be proud to claim and say this is in Macon County,” said Adams. Beale said on Tuesday that he believes the overall mood of the meeting was positive. “The purpose of the meeting was an information session, and I think it served its purpose,” he said. “We listened to the concerns of residents who live near the property and after talking and answering their questions, I believe that we made progress. I am confident that if we move forward with this project, you will see the community's input implemented in the facility's plans because those residents will be affected by this development and we want them to be affected in a positive way.
Still in the due diligence phase, the county is working with Alliance Consulting to determine if the property can be utilized for its intended purpose. If the county believes the park can be built without being adversely affected by the floodplain and with the support of the surrounding community, the county can expect to close on the project by mid January, with the fields completed and ready for play by summer of 2013.