Applause, protest for new park

City officials have proposed the following features for the

GILROY
– The city wants to build a meeting and recreation center at the
park in your neighborhood. Great news, right?
Well, not exactly, say some Northwest Quad residents.
As the city continued a months-long design process for Sunrise
Park at a meeting Wednesday, some nearby residents continued to
express opposition
– or at least strong concerns – about the prospect of such a
facility and the traffic and other problems they say it could draw
to their area.
GILROY – The city wants to build a meeting and recreation center at the park in your neighborhood. Great news, right?

Well, not exactly, say some Northwest Quad residents.

As the city continued a months-long design process for Sunrise Park at a meeting Wednesday, some nearby residents continued to express opposition – or at least strong concerns – about the prospect of such a facility and the traffic and other problems they say it could draw to their area.

“We’ve been told this is supposed to be a neighborhood park,” said Bruce O’Hara, a resident of Saddler Drive, which borders the eight-acre park site. “(If) you put a community center in there, it will now become a community park.”

But not everyone feels the same way. Some residents spoke in support of the center idea.

And citing that support, the results of a public opinion survey that showed interest in indoor-type recreational uses and programs – and a responsibility to serve the larger community, city parks officials still expressed support for the center during the meeting.

“Is it meant to be a community wide (center)? No,” City Recreation Superintendent Cheryl Bolin said. “In my general experience, it will be used by the local neighborhood.”

The presence of a footprint for the 5,800-square-foot center on design plans seemed the major sticking point during the third planning meeting on the park, where officials and roughly 25 residents gathered at Antonio Del Buono school for a civil two-hour discussion on the plans and a community survey that the city’s recreation department used to help guide them.

The park – located between Spring Way, Hogan Way and Saddler Drive on the far north, growing edge of the city – is the third and last in a series of so-called neighborhood parks the city has been working on for the past year or so.

At eight acres, it’s much larger than the other two parks already approved by City Council – Carriage Hills and Los Arroyos – and thus has more room for recreational amenities. However, in the past many neighbors attending design meetings have reportedly opposed park elements that would attract outside users – and their traffic and potential problems – to the new park.

That theme continued Wednesday after officials outlined plans for the center, which would feature a 54-by-50-foot multipurpose room and a 32-by-30-foot “dance room” with a lobby and two sets of restrooms for indoor and outdoor users. Designers said the center – which does not have a funding source like the rest of the park – would feature elements such as special stone and wood treatments and arbors in order to make it compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

But several residents expressed concern the center would become a draw that would make the park more of a destination park than one designed with surrounding residents in mind.

They expressed concerns about parking impacts and potential increases to traffic volume on the area and particularly Saddler Drive, which one resident said had turned into “a highway.”

“The previous discussion was that it would be a neighborhood park, not a community park,” Sunrise Drive resident Mike Park said. “It’s our money going in it and it should reflect the needs of residents in the immediate area …

“This is going to be a destination park.”

One woman said she probably wouldn’t have moved in to her house across the street from the park if she’d known a rec. center would be proposed there. When she researched the property she was told the park would be a “neighborhood park,” she said.

“We feel duped,” she said.

But Bunting Court resident Kevin Kalinowski said he liked the idea of the center, noting he’d enjoyed living near one when he was growing up.

“There were no problems with crowds or vagrants hanging out,” he said. “It was a great place, an asset – not something that dragged down the neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, parks officials cited the results of an opinion survey – distributed last fall within a half-mile radius from the park – that they said indicated roughly two-thirds of respondents favored active and building-based recreation such as after-school programs, adult and children’s classes and pre-school.

They acknowledged they could not limit use of the park or center to residents from within certain areas, but assured residents they could control the kinds of activities that take place there and try to tailor them to the surrounding neighborhood. One offical suggested polling residents on what they’d like at the center.

And a staffed center could provide lots of eyes to monitor the park and provide a deterrent to crime, another noted.

Mayor Tom Springer suggested the problem was in the interpretation of the center, suggesting it was more of a meeting space. He urged residents to focus on designing the uses in the building.

“What I’m hearing is a label problem here …” Springer said. “Let’s say ‘We have a building’ and then define what that building is.”

With opinion still split at the end of the meeting, parks officials said they would consider the viewpoints and make a recommendation to the city’s Parks Commission. Design consultant Lee Steinmetz suggested a phased master plan where the city would retain the building footprint and analyze it in environmental studies, but plan to temporarily cover it with turf or another use until the city finds funding.

Residents did not seem to express much individual concern about other elements of the design, which is dominated by a large turf field area that’s meant to provide enough space for pickup-type soccer or softball games. It also features two tennis courts, a lighted basketball court, a children’s play area and small picnic areas. It would be surrounded by a walking path.

There was brief debate over the prospect of a lighted basketball court, with some residents arguing it could keep them up at night. But officials said the lights would be meant to provide consistency in use hours with lighter summer months, and be designed with a timer that would turn off at 8 or 9 p.m.

“You’re extending the use time to be the same throughout the year,” Steinmetz said.

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