Several residents living in a neighborhood adjacent to Brook Run Park are raising concerns about tree removal and the need to encroach into the park’s stream buffer to construct two athletic fields at the rear of the park.
City officials say a stream buffer variance will actually save trees and said concerns about pollution and erosion will be addressed as part of the fields’ development.
One City Council member argues those living adjacent to Brook Run Park simply want to stop construction of the new fields because they oppose development. The fields, they say, are needed so that children living in the city do not have to travel to neighboring communities to play sports.
Construction of the fields is slated to begin next month and be completed by the end of the year. City plans for the fields include soccer leagues and other sports leagues, such as lacrosse.
Before construction can begin, though, the City Council is slated to vote March 25 on a request from city staff to encroach into the city’s 75-foot stream buffer of the Nancy Creek tributary. Parks and Recreation Director Brent Walker said the variance is needed to build retaining walls for the two multi-use athletic fields approved last year as part of the $7.5 million renovations of Brook Run Park.
But residents living in the Lakeview Oaks Subdivision adjacent to the back of Brook Run Park where the fields are to be built want the city to instead shrink the athletic fields to fit in the existing space rather than violate the buffer and cut down nearly 200 trees, including more than 30 in the stream buffer. Concerns about flooding, pollution and destruction of the environment are some of their top concerns as well, they say.
“We count on our decision makers to protect our public lands,” Beverly Armento, a 30-year resident of the Lakeview Oaks subdivision adjacent to the park, told council members last month. “Take care of our natural resources.”
Adelina Alberghini, also a resident of the subdivision, said in an interview she worries not only for residents living in her neighborhood but those living downstream. She also questioned the city’s reasoning that encroaching into the stream buffer will save trees.
“I understand the English language. When you encroach, you are cutting down trees. And if you are cutting down trees how can you save more trees?” she asked.
“It does seem odd,” acknowledged Walker.
Walker explained that when the City Council approved funding the renovations at Brook Run Park, they approved a “twisted” design of the fields. Rather than the fields being built end-to-end, there is a small triangular gap between the two fields. That gap creates a slanted site plan for the official league-play soccer fields to fit into the existing acreage.
As part of the twisted design, two retaining walls must be built along the fields – and it is those retaining walls that will be built within the 75-foot stream buffer, if approved by the council, he said.
The less expensive option would have been to extensively grade the property area and then slope the fields into the Nancy Creek tributary, he said.
“The fields are in a twisted orientation to minimize on the encroachment into the tree line,” Walker said. Grading the fields would have resulted in possibly as many as 400 trees, rather than approximately 200, and cut deeper into the stream buffer, he said.
Alberghini and her neighbors said the city could do the easy thing and just build the fields to the space available.
“Adjust the plan to fit the park, not make the park fit the plan,” she said. “They are doing everything they can to put more [features] in the park … They are taking a chainsaw to Brook Run Park.”
Paul Lowry believes the city is overdeveloping the park. He and others say they do not oppose development, but they want smart development that does not destroy the city’s tree canopy and possibly contribute to flooding, erosion, pollution and destruction of natural habitats.
Lowry also questioned the process of seeking the stream buffer variance after a design has been approved rather than before the council approved it.
“We don’t really know what we’re getting,” he said.
Typically, stream buffer variances go through the Zoning Board of Appeals. At the request of Walker and Community Development Director Richard McLeod, the council recently amended the city zoning ordinance so that the City Council will review and vote on any stream buffer variances on all city-related projects. The previous ordinance only allowed council approval for variances for trails.
The council will follow the same ZBA regulations when it comes to considering variances, including public notices and public votes and discussion. But by giving the council the authority, city staff does not have to go before the ZBA and potentially sue the ZBA if staff disagrees with their reasoning, according city officials.
“Minor encroachment is done all the time for residential properties … and what we delegated those appropriate stream buffer encroachments to the ZBA, but for city projects we retain the power at the council level,” said Councilmember Jim Riticher.
Riticher added he believed city staff has been up-front with all design plans and requests for variances and questioned the motives of those opposing the project.
“We’ve got people who would like to kill the whole project,” he said. “But on the flip side, a city of our size and relative affluence … it’s ridiculous that we only have two little soccer fields [at Pernoshal Park] and two baseball fields [at Brook Run Park].”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the city wanted to encroach into the city’s 25-foot stream buffer. The city is seeking to encroach into the city’s 75-foot stream buffer. The state’s 25-foot stream buffer would not be encroached, according to city officials.