Argay neighbors express concern about Beech Property park plans

While many Argay neighbors agree their neighborhood could use another park, read why security, access, and activity locations raised some eyebrows at a recent meeting‚

Representatives from Portland Parks & Recreation‚ Doug Brenner, East Portland Services Manager, and Riley Whitcomb, Program Manager‚ show an aerial photo illustration of the farmland scheduled to become a park.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While most people in the outer Northeast Portland neighborhood of Argay think of the “Beech Property” plot as farmland, it will eventually become a city park, according to representatives of Portland Parks & Recreation.

On June 11, Doug Brenner, East Portland Services Manager, and Riley Whitcomb, Program Manager from Portland Parks & Recreation, held a public meeting at Shaver Elementary School to tell neighbors why the city revoked a farmer’s lease‚ even though there isn’t currently funding to develop that land into a park.

“At present,” Doug Brenner told a group of 40 neighbors, “there is no funding for park development, but a variety of strategies can be considered once the Master Plan is complete.”

The 15.7 acre Beech Property, leased out as farmland up till a few weeks ago, is actually an undeveloped park located next to Shaver Elementary School, we learned from Brenner. “Portland Parks and Recreation purchased the parcels in 1984 and 1999 as part of a long-range vision to provide a large community park to serve this part of east Portland.”

Brenner said a Master Plan for the new park will be developed in 2008, “through a collaborative, community process.  It will result in a park design that responds to the area’s recreation needs, and reflects the community’s priorities.”

Ending urban farming
Neighbors quizzed the PP&R pair about halting the farming activities for which the land has always been used. Whitcomb acknowledged it as “a difficult situation, when we must end a [farming] lease. But, stopping the farming is the responsible thing to do, for environmental reasons. We don’t want to put [the farmer] out of business.”

Whitcomb said one of the parcels was foreclosed and given to the City of Portland by Multnomah County. “If we don’t develop it as a park, we’ll have to give it back to the county. They will put housing there. If you don’t want a city park on the NE parcel, we’ll have to sell it. It will probably be sold to a developer. It is zoned R3, low-density multi-family. The point is, we want to see a park there. It is a matter of partnering with you to make it happen. We want to make it as good as possible.”

Brenner said PP&R would become responsible for planting “tall grass” and keeping it mowed to knee height. He also said the rainwater runoff on the land would become a responsibility of the city.

More questions and answers
Asked why the city is going through a Master Plan process, Riley Whitcomb replied, “Without going through the planning process, we don’t know what people want. We want to learn the issues and desires of neighbors, so we can address them.”

Issues that surfaced immediately included:

  • Mice and rats living in the tall grass;
  • Potential access points into the park;
  • Parking problems affecting adjoining streets; and
  • Safety concerns.

“We’re park planners — I can’t specifically speak about roads and mice,” said Whitcomb. “But we don’t just rubber-stamp our approval on park plans. We’re here to talk about concerns you may have.”

As this PP&R photo illustration shows, the Beech Property consists of two oddly-shaped parcels‚ they adjoin each another at only one small point.

Two odd parcels
Asked how a park can be made from two oddly-shaped parcels that meet only at one small point, Brenner replied, “Our two pieces of property do touch at one point. We’ll have to talk with the [Parkrose] school district [which owns the other property] at some point.”

Addressing access, traffic and parking, Brenner said one potential location for a parking lot is at NE 131st Place. “And, there are many walk-in access points.”

Issues of uses and security raised
“What kind park will this be? What kind of activities will it be designed for?” asked neighbors.

“We’re designing this as a more active kind of park,” replied Whitcomb. “It could be designed to accommodate soccer and softball fields. There is room for picnicking and activities for kids. We try to zone activities to fit the situation. We don’t want the soccer field next to someone’s house.”

When a neighbor raised concerns that park traffic may lower neighborhood safety, Whitcomb replied, “One key to providing a safe park is to have good visibility by neighbors, and to make sure the police can see into the park. Lighting is important; but sometimes lighting also brings in undesirables at night.”

At the meeting, PF&R’s Riley Whitcomb says good park design can reduce drug activity and crime.

Valerie Curry, Argay Neighborhood chair, noted that nearby Argay Park has turned into a place for increased drug activity, and asked what could be done to keep this from happening in the proposed park.

Whitcomb responded, “The way we organize the space is important. Where you have a dark corner area, like in Argay Park, those areas are problematic. We may need to think about how we address that. Maybe we need a street that comes though the park so everything is in full view. Lighting and location of activities are at issue. And, when neighbors ‘take ownership’ of their park, we see fewer problems.”

Bathrooms and trees
The group learned that the proposed park would feature a permanent bathroom.

A neighbor living south‚ thus above‚ the property, asked about trees. “Will I lose my view? I can see the Columbia River from my home.”

Brenner replied, “Portland parks are about trees. We will be bringing trees into the park.”

Timetable revealed
Exactly how the park will be designed, and the features it will include, is all part of the Master Plan, Brenner repeated.

Although asked in several different ways during the meeting, the most frequently asked question regarding the final Master Plan was, “Do we, the neighbors, get to vote on it?”

Whitcomb stated, “It is discussion. Typically, we bring three or four alternatives.”

“The plan is developed as collaborative decisions made between the community and PP&R,” clarified Brenner.

The Master Plan will be developed in 2008, stated Brenner. “It can take from three to nine months. We don’t yet have funding to develop the park. We look at a variety of strategies to develop a park. It could be a citywide parks levy. Maybe by then the city will be in good financial shape; funding could come from grants.”

Riley Whitcomb says of the Beech Property, “the reality is, the use of this land is changing. For many years, it was farmed. Now, there will be other kinds of activities.”

Summing up, Whitcomb added, “Some people will be happy with what we come up with, others will be upset. If this is the case, then I’ve done my job. We listen to your concerns. The reality is, the use of this land is changing. For many years, it was farmed. Now, there will be other kinds of activities.”

Stay in touch
“We want you to be included in the process,” Brenner concluded. “Please e-mail or telephone me with your contact information. We never sell or lend our lists to anyone for any reason, other than contacting you about this project.”

Resources:
For information, contact Doug Brenner, East Portland Services Manager, at 6437 SE Division Street, Portland, OR  97206; telephone (503) 823-5255, or E-mail pkdoug@ci.portland.or.us.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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