We were thrilled to see a front page piece in the Daily News-Record this morning about Harrisonburg’s Plan Our Park initiative. For those of you who do not know about the project, Plan Our Park was established to explore the possibility of a public park near the Turner Pavilion on South Liberty street. POP’s design team is in the process of fielding public opinions and comments regarding what the park should feature, look like, etc. Everyone here at the Northend is extremely excited to see so much community participation and support for public green space! You can read the full article below.
HARRISONBURG — The design team planning an urban park proposed for the Turner Pavilion area on South Liberty Street is on the fast track to have “one preferred concept” ready for Harrisonburg City Council by October. And local citizens seem intent to keep up with that speedy pace.
In the course of one week, the “Plan Our Park” Facebook page jumped from about 75 “likes” to more than 660. Roughly 100 people combined showed up to the pair of public meetings held Wednesday, and more than 75 crammed into council chambers Saturday morning to hear about the results of those gatherings.
“It’s very gratifying to see this type of public interest in a project like this,” said Ken Smith, the sole New York City architect on the design team hired by the Plan Our Park Committee, a private group of about 40 people.
Later, when a crowd member questioned Smith regarding the project’s overall prospects, he said, “There’s a very engaged community here. … It seems like chances of success are very good.”
While many questions continue to surround the project, the design team has narrowed the community’s desires for the park down to nine guiding principles following two community charrettes and numerous meetings with stakeholders. Those principles include expansion of the farmers market and keeping the park both family and child friendly.
Throughout Wednesday’s two meetings, during which participants were randomly placed into 14 groups, each of the groups identified one priority for the proposed park: making it as green as possible.
All of the groups’ responses emphasized open lawns, abundant shade trees and native plants, the team reported Saturday.
“One thing that struck me when I first came here … [is] the beauty of the big, old houses and the big, sweeping lawns and the big trees,” Smith said. “It seems like that’s kind of a really iconic landscape for Harrisonburg.”
The community also wants to see the park with a “civic plaza space” for activities, the ability to accommodate diverse interests, and links to, from and through the park to neighboring areas.
Other principles include designing a park that has the capacity to change over time and one that boasts “vibrant cultural and social life.”
Lastly, locals want to see the park become “a catalyst for downtown development,” Smith said.
At this stage in the planning process, the design team has many questions left to answer, such as the exact scope of the park and its boundaries.
Katrina Gerald, a Harrisonburg resident, addressed that issue.
“It hasn’t been made clear to the public at all where this land is going to come from,” she said, mentioning talk about the project including the land where Lindsey Funeral Home sits at 473 S. Main St.
Steven Blaine, an attorney with the Charlottesville-based law firm of LeClairRyan, then spoke, saying he represents the funeral Home.
“I would have to commend you on your process; I’ve seen it work in other locations, but [I] have to ask that there be a sensitivity to local businesses,” Blaine said. “[Lindsey does] intend to conduct business there for a long time.”
Park organizers have an option to buy the property on which the funeral home sits, but the business also has a binding lease with the current property owner that would survive any sale of the land around it.
The design team emphasized that the park planners aren’t interested in shutting down any businesses in the name of the project.
“Our study is not predicated on taking any property or putting any businesses out of business or tearing down any buildings,” Smith said.
J.R. Snow, another Harrisonburg resident, addressed the sheer number of requests that local citizens have made for the park.
“I hope as you plan, you’ll realize that maybe it’s not the best situation to get everything that we’ve ever wanted in this one little space,” Snow said.
The design team will have to make those decisions in a “fairly short study time,” Smith said.