Some residents cry foul over Dover recreation plans

 

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Quinton Perry (red shirt) has his arm up, ready to block an opponent’s shot Saturday inside the Pitts Center in Dover. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Who knew recreation could take so much work?

Even as Dover officials try to determine how the city should meet residents’ recreational needs, some people are crying foul.

At play is balancing how to use Dover’s resources with what residents want.

The ongoing issue returned to center court at a Feb. 9 city council committee meeting when the debate over what to do at Dover Park and with the site where the Dover Parks and Recreation Building once stood at 1210 White Oak Road, which is on the east side of the city.

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Nazire Pettyjohn, 8, of Dover, comes up with a big rebound Saturday inside the Pitts Center. As the children play, Dover officials and some city residents are at odds over the city’s recreation and park plans. Those residents are accusing officials of ignoring their input. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Mayor Robin Christiansen reiterated to members of the Council Committee of the Whole a recommendation he’s made before: The $380,000 earmarked for a splash park should be used for a community center east of U.S. 13.

However, the city’s director of planning and community development, appears committed to the splash park. Anne Marie Townshend pointed to a recreation-needs assessment residents were asked to complete last year.

“The needs assessment looks across the city and looks at a number of different items,” she said in an interview last week. “It’s a citywide survey and doesn’t look at one specific area. It focused on what residents in the city wanted as a whole regarding recreational facilities and our parks.”

Of Dover’s estimated population of 37,540, a total of 506 people responded to the assessment.

But the city’s assessment isn’t the only survey that’s been taken over the years.

The Social Action Commission’s Task Force of Mount Zion A.M.E. Church on Queen Street conducted its own survey of more than 300 residents to see what they would like to see at the former Dover Parks Recreation Building. It was submitted to city council in January 2014.

Councilman Roy Sudler Jr., who represents the Fourth District, said the city’s results and those by the Mount Zion’s Social Action Committee weren’t the same.

“The results that were gathered indicated that they would like a facility geared towards the youth and just other programs that would enhance the community,” Councilman Sudler said during the Feb. 9 meeting.

He asked if the results of the SAC committee’s survey were included with the city’s from the recreational assessment.

They weren’t, Ms. Townshend said.

“I think it should be included as top priority,” Councilman Sudler said. “It was provided to the office and we took our time to find out the concerns of those residents. I don’t think it should be disregarded.

“We took the time out to personally knock on doors to get a sense of what they wanted in their community,” he said.

A split city

Dover sprawls across about 26,000 acres, according to the city’s website, with the multiple-lane highway U.S. 13 literally dividing the capital city.

Recreation areas include Dover, New Street, Schutte, William and Silver Lake parks.

At the heart of the ongoing recreational debate is Dover Park, located on White Oak Road between U.S. 13 and Del. 1. It’s wooded 28.2 acres also include softball fields, a playground, pavilions, basketball courts, tennis courts, disc golf and more.

It once included a recreation center building, constructed in the 1970s. Time took a toll on the building and between deterioration and water penetration it became obsolete. Council voted to demolish it in 2014.

At the Feb. 9 meeting, Mayor Christiansen pointed out that since the city no longer has a center in east Dover, it often has to contract with Towne Point Elementary to compensate for that lack. The city has an obligation to the residents on the east side of U.S. 13, he said, as recorded in the meeting’s minutes.

The mayor wants the city to explore the possibility of applying to the state — specifically money being held by the attorney general’s office as part of bank settlement funds — to help build a community center.

The majority of 300 residents who participated in Mount Zion’s Social Action Committee’s survey agreed the old rec center at Dover Park needed to come down, with 246 in favor of its demolition. Almost as many, 234, wanted it replaced by a new modern building.

Mastering the plan

Like Councilman Sudler, Dover resident Bobby Wilson questions how the city is getting to its overall recreation master plan. He also gives weight to the Social Action Committee’s survey.

“I think city officials are taking this survey for granted,” he said last week. “I just want to know what happened with those results? I want to know what was on (Ms. Townshend’s) mind for not using the survey?”

He said the committee’s survey reflected what the community wanted.

“I know what the people want,” he said. “It’s clearly stated in those results.”

Ms. Townshend said the results weren’t used because the recreational-needs assessment is based on what the city as a whole wants and not just people living in a specific area.

“The splash park has been in the investment plans for years,” Ms. Townshend said. “There’s not a time table on if that will happen.”

The city determined the need for water recreation after the North Dover Athletic Pool was removed and swimming became restricted at Silver Lake.

A splash park typically has pads with multiple spray jets and above ground spray features. It was recommended as an option because it doesn’t carry the costs and liabilities associated with operating a public pool. Therefore, they are becoming an attractive alternative to swimming pools in urban areas.

The splash park plan has been in the works since 2013 after the parks and recreation committee approved a recommendation to reach out to the public to see where Dover’s citizens would want the park.

“If we were to have a splash park that was just a possible location based on the results what we received,” Ms. Townshend said, referring to Dover Park.

“These facilities are based on what the city as whole wants,” she said. “We can’t focus on a specific area because everyone from the city may use it.”

She also said that “whatever does go there moving forward, we plan to use those results and hold workshops to get a feeling as to what residents may or may not want over there.”

Ms. Townshend said the next step is taking the results from the recreational-needs assessment to put together a master plan.

“The next phase is working on that plan to anchor the parks and address the needs,” she said. “This will help us a lot moving forward.”

The next step

Ms. Townshend sees the assessment as a way to guide the city’s parks investments to ensure that capital investments support the articulated needs of the community.

Public dollars are stretched thin, she said, and as stewards of public land and public dollars, the city needs to ensure the limited funds are invested in a way that best meets the needs of Dover’s diverse community.

Calmetta Brinkley, of Dover, wants the city to listen to all its residents. She, too, was upset that the Social Action Committee’s survey results weren’t included in the recreational needs assessment.

“The residents expressed what they wanted,” Ms. Brinkley said. “They want the youth to be more engaged and have different activities geared to helping the community.

“I think if these programs are implemented it would create a more positive environment because right now there isn’t anything for them to do.”

Ms. Townshend said when the time comes to addressing needs in the east Dover, the committee’s survey, along with different public forums, will play a part in the city’s recreational plan.

“I think workshops will help us exactly hear the concerns of the residents living in that area,” Ms. Townshend said.

“I think that allows us to get better information that way.”

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