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City moves forward with parks, trails plan

NORTH LIBERTY– The City of North Liberty now has two new guiding documents.
The North Liberty City Council officially adopted both a plan for developing a connected trails network and a comprehensive plan for future development of its parks and green spaces at the Tuesday, Sept. 8 meeting.
Though the plans were both on the agenda for the Aug. 25 meeting, the trails plan was unanimously adopted while the parks plan was tabled, as council member Terry Donahue asked for an additional opportunity for the public to give input on both the documents.
Not one person offered comment last Tuesday; city council member Coleen Chipman asked City Administrator Ryan Heiar if he had received any communication from the public on either plan.
“No, we haven’t heard anything through email or the website since the last public hearing,” Heiar responded.
The trails plan presents a network of approximately 22.3 miles of off-road along with sidewalks generally located along major streets, in recognition that “trails are a desirable quality-of-life feature,” the plan states, and provides good “connectivity throughout the city to important destinations while minimizing future maintenance costs for the city.”
The trails plan was created with pedestrians, casual bicyclists, skaters and runners in mind, with the recommendation that facilities for more experienced bicyclists, who ride faster and are more comfortable with vehicle traffic, should be addressed separately.
The plan makes use of existing trails, walkways and infrastructures, as well as prioritizing future projects to complete connectivity, including connecting Dubuque Street and Mehaffey Bridge Road to the planned Cedar Rapids-to-Iowa City trail, developing trails or sidewalks along Penn Street to Alexander Way, and longer-range projects such as extending Penn Street trail west across Interstate 380 and connecting the existing trail on Dubuque Street to the Highway 965 trail, part of the Highway 965 reconstruction project.
Mayor Tom Salm pointed out that the trails plan had evolved over time, with input from the city’s Parks and Recreation commissions and the city’s Parks Department, over several years. The adoption of an official plan will help the city coordinate with the Johnson County Council of Governments’ metro bicycle trails plan, noted council member Jim Wozniak.
The comprehensive parks plan has also been a work in progress, noted Parks and Recreation board member Dan Skemp.
“This originally started in November, 2005, as one of our work sessions where we go over all of our parks and decide where we want to see parks in the future,” said Skemp. “We asked the council with the idea of doing a comprehensive parks plan. On June 22, we approved (consulting firm) RDG to put together a plan.”
RDG, hired for $50,000, held public meetings, created a task force and conducted citizen surveys via the city’s website and other means, to gather public input on the city’s existing parks and need for new parks.
“Toward the end of 2006, for whatever reason, RDG’s work on that came to a halt. We’re not sure why,” said Skemp.
The plan sat in limbo, Skemp continued, until City Planner Dean Wheatley took RDG’s information and put together a draft for the comprehensive plan, which the Parks and Recreation Commission approved in June, 2009, and brought forward to the council for adoption.
The plan includes recommendations for locations of additional park spaces as well as suggestions for upgrading or enhancing existing park facilities. Skemp pointed out the “fluid” nature of any such plan:
“Between January and the final draft, we acquired another park, but that is always going to be the case,” Skemp said. “With any comprehensive plan, it’s a living document, dynamic in nature.”
Chipman said she wanted to make sure the city did not simply adopt the plan and then let it drop.
“With our next budget, I would like to look at how many dollars council is willing to commit to this,” development of parks, Chipman said. “I think it is extremely important we act on it, or the document will sit on the shelf. I don’t want to see that happen.”
Councilor Chris Hoffman said he would like to add some time frames for completion of some of the recommendations as well.
Wozniak brought up previous council discussions of requiring developers in residential neighborhoods to provide open spaces and furnish them with playgrounds or walkways to make park space useable to residents of those neighborhoods.
“Six years later, we haven’t gotten any further than (discussion of) that,” said Wozniak. “I think this is a good basis to start to looking at that again.”
Wheatley said if the council desired to require that of developers, they could likely amend the city’s subdivision ordinance to include a land dedication provision.
The council unanimously approved the plan, with council Terry Donahue commending Wheatley and the Parks Commission for completing RDG’s work.
“It’s pretty hard to wake up a half dead dog, and try to finish it, but that’s what they did,” Donahue remarked.
According to the data gathered by RDG, North Liberty’s total parks and open space covers around 200 acres, including developments’ large stormwater retention ponds and associated wetlands. The National Recreation and Parks Association standards recommends municipalities have 10 acres of park land per 1,000 residents. North Liberty’s current estimated population is somewhere close to 10,000 people.