Lents Park ‘Master Plan’ process begins

Why create a new plan for an existing Portland city park?  Find out why Lents residents are excited that this planning process is now underway …

Portland Parks & Recreation director Zari Santner says she’s delighted that Lents Park will be entering the Master Plan process – as Parks Commissioner Nick Fish listens in.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While many people in the greater metropolitan area hadn’t heard of Lents Park until it was proposed as a potential home for the AAA League Portland Beavers pro baseball team, the 38+ acre park is well-known to folks in outer East Portland.

The park, originally a five-acre gravel quarry, became City-owned Portland Park in 1914, just two years after the Lents community was annexed into the City of Portland. Over the years, the City purchased an additional 32 acres – and in 1953 prepared a plan for the park that included the Charles B. Walker baseball stadium, athletic playing fields, tennis courts, pathways, and parking areas. It now features three softball fields, soccer fields, a gazebo, a stage, and a lighted tennis court.

Commissioner Fish advocates for a ‘Master Plan’
After neighbors scuttled plans to build a Triple-A ball park in Lents, Portland Parks & Recreation’s (PP&R) director Zari Santner, and Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, agreed with neighbors that a Master Plan for the park would provide a vision for maintaining and enhancing the park.

Because Lents Park has been incrementally improved over the decades, PP&R staffmember Sarah Coates Huggins explained that the purpose of the Master Plan was to build upon the core recreational uses of the park, and provide for other community needs.

Sarah Coates Huggins, Assistant Program Specialist at Portland Parks and Recreation, explains the Park Master Plan process.

“Behind the scenes, the first step is to create an intergovernmental agreement with the Portland Development Commission,” Coates Huggins told the group at a meeting on December 21, held at the Reedway Place apartments. “Then, we can actually access the funds that they have agreed to give to the project. After that, we will begin drafting the ‘Requests for Proposals’ from Master Plan consultants.”

By as soon as this May, PP&R’s Coates Huggins said, they anticipate Master Planning process will begin. “They’ll start the process, looking at the opportunities and constraints at the site. We will be starting up a public involvement process that will likely involve a Project advisory committee, made up of diverse community members. We’ll then have public open houses to get widespread public input.”

The Master Plan consultant will then provide a series of concepts, Coates Huggins explained. “The concepts are supposed to represent what we’ve heard from you, the citizens – and incorporate every piece of information we gathered from all sources. Each concept will have associated cost estimates.”

With community input, the consultant will refine the concepts into what the Bureau calls a “preferred” or final concept that becomes the basis for the park’s Master Plan, in what was described as a seven-month process. “We anticipate the plan being done in December, 2010; in January of 2011, we would anticipate taking it to the Portland City Council for approval,” Coates Huggins explained.

Lents Neighborhood chair Damien Chakwin (seated to the right of Coates Huggins), explores facets of the bureau’s Park Master Plan process.

Fish reassures that process will include citizens
With a price tag of $100,000, primarily coming from the PDC’s Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area, Lents Neighborhood Chair Damien Chakwin asked for assurance that the Master Plan process’s ideas would come from area citizens, not from downtown.

“The selection process of a Master Plan consultant involves public input,” Commissioner Nick Fish explained. “We have wonderful folks who have worked on other Park Master Plans for us. All of the planning will be done with community involvement. The consultant will work with our planner, who works with the citizens’ committee, to shape a Master Plan.”

Funding for the park improvements unclear
Asked how the actual improvements outlined in the Master Plan would be funded, Fish responded, “This is interesting timing question that may break our way. We are currently evaluating whether to go to the voters in November, 2010, on a Parks Bond measure.

“Under the best-case scenario, if this [bond measure] went to the voters in November, 2010, enhancing a park we already own will likely be popular with the broader public – instead of a project created from scratch. My guess is that this a winning message during these tough times.”

East Portland News then asked Fish, “What is the worst case scenario?”

Fish responded, “The worst case scenario is that the economy is so tough, and there is so much price sensitivity among voters, that we would prepare, but defer, [a bond measure] for one or two election cycles.”

We asked where the Lents Park improvement program would fall – considering that several City of Portland Park Master Plans have already been completed and approved by City Council.

“You’re right,” Fish responded, “We’ve completed three Master Plans in East Portland this past year – Beach Park, Parklane Park, and Clatsop Park – plus plans for Cathedral Park and also Kelly Park. Funding, as you know, is a combination of resources. We can work with getting grants from the federal government, from the State of Oregon, and from Portland Service Development Charges (SDC), which accumulate for new construction.”

Lents SDC fees may not cover Lents Park improvements
Chakwin observed, “There’s been a lot of construction in Lents. My understanding is that there is a certain percentage that a developer has to pay when developing a property here in this neighborhood, and that is targeted for Lents Park.”

Santner agreed, “There’s a certain amount of money that developers do have to pay in SDC’s; they go for water, sewer, transportation, and parks. And then, based on where the majority of growth is happening within the city, we focus on using that money that has been generated for either acquisition or development within those areas.”

“System development charges” do not pay for 100%of the cost of acquisition and development, Santner went on to say. “They pay for about 75%. We’re trying to focus primarily in acquiring land in areas where there is growth – and not enough park land.”

Chakwin asked for clarification: “So, even though ‘system development charge’ funds are accruing, because of development in Lents, the funds may be used in another area ‘within the zone’ to acquire property?”

Fish said that a public process determines the Bureau’s spending priorities.  “We also have backup sources of funding for these things. We have many, many different tools.”

Pointing to Director Park in downtown Portland, Fish said that 60% of the cost for that park was paid for by the private sector. “There are of a variety of ways that we can fund [park improvements]. During tough financial times, we will do them in phases.”

Commissioner Fish says the Parks Bureau uses a variety of funding sources to make park improvements.

Master Plan said necessary to obtain funding
Santner said that, regardless of the funding source, having a Master Plan approved and ready to go will help speed building the improvements.

“With an approved Park Master Plan, we can determine which project is most competitive from a funding source. Many lot of times, we need to do projects incrementally. If a bond measure [is approved by voters], the increment is larger.”

After the meeting, Nick Christensen, Vice Chair of the Lents Neighborhood Association and a member of the Friends of Lents Park Steering Committee smiled, “This is excellent, and overdue, news. Lents Park has several areas that need improvement, and tremendous opportunities to better serve the community’s needs.”

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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