Talks begin about major Veterans Park changes

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by A.C. Hall

Meeting last week, the White Settlement City Council held a work session to delve deeper into the possibility of making major changes to Veterans Park.  From the beginning of the discussion City Manager Jim Ryan cautioned that these are early discussions and that there is no desire to take away park land.  
“I hope nobody goes away with the preconceived notion that we’re going to take away parks,” Ryan said.  “We’re discussing the possibility of improving the community.”
The major changes being discussed would see the softball complex at Veteran’s Park relocated, and for that roughly 17 acre portion of the park to be turned into commercial real estate.  The remaining portion of the park including the pond, fishing pier, walking trails, memorial, and playground would remain open and intact.  Some items, such as picnic tables and the sand volleyball court, would be relocated from the west side of the park to other areas of the park.
Economic Development Director Kyle Reeves stated they’ve had a high amount of interest in that area from businesses who want to open up in the City.  He would later say there hass been between ten and twenty businesses who have expressed interest in having their business on this particular section of land.  Ryan added to this, pointing out a popular eatery that told the City they would have built here had they been able to build on this land.
Parks and Recreation Director Rich Tharp spoke about the relocation of the softball complex to Saddle Hills Park.  He acknowledged that this would be a big undertaking that would include the need for the city to acquire a bit of property around Saddle Hills Park, but said that it is a project that could be done.
“Theoretically, this would work.  It would fit and it would work,” Tharp said regarding moving the softball complex to Saddle Hills Park.

Tharp stated that the existing disc golf course at Saddle Hills Park would only require minimal changes to make room for the softball complex.  He also spoke about the relocation being an opportunity to improve the softball fields themselves.  Tharp said the current fields don’t all meet tournament specifications.  If moved and rebuilt, the fields could be set up according to tournament ready specifications, making it possible for even more softball tournaments to come to White Settlement.
Mayor Ronald A. White asked Tharp if there was anywhere else the softball complex could be moved.  Tharp said in their work on this so far they have found Saddle Hills Park to be the best and most likely fit.
Building Official Joe Ashton addressed the council and proposed the idea of land swapping.  With the large chunk on the western side of Veterans and a smaller portion on the east side possibly becoming commercial land, there are 18 total acres of park land that could become commercial.  With this total of around 18 acres of Veterans Park being marked for possible commercial land, Ashton said the City had identified 18 acres of land in the city that could become parkland to make up for the loss.
Council member Steve Ott addressed this, saying he wasn’t so sure an acre for acre park swap would be necessary.  Later in the discussions, City Attorney Warren Spencer echoed this, saying he doesn’t believe it would be needed.
Speaking in favor of this overall idea, council member Danny Anderson gave his reasons why he believes it would be worth pursuing.
“We have to start conforming to what the business plan is for these companies or we’re never gonna get them,” Anderson said.  “We’re not trying to take anything away, as a matter of fact, when we move this, if we do, it’ll allow us expand some options and maybe put in some soccer fields some other places and do some other items that the city currently doesn’t have.”

Anderson said having that portion of Veterans Park become a commercial area would bring in sales tax, which in turn would help keep tax rates low.
“We’re trying to improve the city and improve the lives of the citizens out here.  That’s what this is about,” Anderson said.
The enormity of this task didn’t escape those involved in the discussion as they began looking at how it could be done.
“It’s not going to be easy.  There’s going to be some hoops to jump through,” Ryan said.
City Attorney Spencer spoke about this as well.  He stated that in order to sell that land, the city would need to hold an election to get citizen approval.  Even if they got voter approval, Spencer said there were other obstacles the city would face in making this plan a reality.
“You’ve got a lot of issues you’d have to resolve,” Spencer said.
Council members Elzie Clements and Paul Moore were not present at the meeting, but Anderson and Ott both voiced their support of looking deeper into the idea.  Mayor White also stated he felt this is something worth looking into.  Council member Mike Arnold was perhaps more hesitant than the others, but appeared to support moving forward with looking into the idea.
If this issue is to get on this year’s ballot for voter approval, council will need to approve it and submit it for the ballot by late August.  There remain several unknowns about this project and the process that would need to be followed to make it a reality, but Anderson spoke passionately about his belief that this would be a great move for White Settlement.
“We’re not gonna lose the park, but we will benefit.  It’s a win win for everybody,” Anderson said.
Council will continue to address this item in their upcoming meetings.  For now, the city staff is moving forward by continuing to research this possibility.  Be sure to continue picking up The Grizzly Detail as we’ll stay on top of this story in the coming weeks and months.