Janesville69.7°

City makes park plans

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
May 27, 2008
— Too much?

Not enough?


Or just right?


A plan to guide Janesville’s park system for the next 20 years endorses a parkland-to-resident standard that puts the city well ahead of many communities.


The updated park and open space plan, which is required to qualify for federal and state grants, will be presented to the plan commission on Monday, June 2, and the council on Monday, June 9.


According to the study, Janesville has it just right when it comes to its parkland.


The study, created by Vandewalle & Associates of Madison, recommends that current standards be maintained and that regional parks be expanded when possible to increase recreational options.


Recently, some residents have suggested the city halt its purchases of land and concentrate on maintaining what it has.


The debate might become: Should the City of Parks continue to aggressively buy parkland in light of shrinking revenues?


For example, the lack of mowing at Lustig Park became an issue last year when residents said long grass hindered disc golf play there.


And residents formed a group to care for the deteriorating Riverside Park, saying it is needed because the city ignores that park’s needs.


Overall, the city provides more parkland and open space per person than is recommended by national standards.


“It is the city’s goal to continue to exceed the national standards in the future and provide those who live in, and visit, Janesville with an abundance of land dedicated to park and open space,” according to the study.


Janesville has 40.9 acres of park and open spaces per 1,000 residents.


Compared to its 12 peer cities, La Crosse trails at second with 27.1 acres per 1,000 residents. Green Bay is next with 23.1 acres.


The city has about 2,580 acres of parks and open space, which make up about 12 percent of the land area.


“There aren’t many other communities in Wisconsin that can compare to the system that we have,” said Duane Cherek of the planning department. The study “recognizes that we pride ourselves in this quality of life amenity and want to continue that.”


The study estimates the city will need another 313 acres of parkland by 2018 to maintain its current standards. It suggests the need for a regional park and community parks on the east and west sides.


It recommends that the city buy property adjacent to regional and some neighborhood parks as it becomes available to provide recreational flexibility and better use of the larger parks.


As part of the study, the city surveyed residents, including the members of 32 special-interest groups.


Many residents suggested improvements to existing parks and new purchases, such as more riverfront land.


But others “expressed reservation or frustration for any new parks or further improvements to existing parks with concern (about) the tax impact,” said Tom Presny, parks director.


The city would continue setting aside 5 percent of each development or subdivision for parkland to provide that quality-of-life amenity to new residents, Cherek said.


“If we do add 20,000 people over the next 30 years, the existing system that we have is going to be overburdened,” he said.


Said Presny: “By preserving the land, we’re allowing future generations to make decisions as to the priorities at that time.”


Who knows today what will be needed in the future? he asked.


For instance, Prairie Knoll Park was acquired in the ’70s. Thirty years passed before it became home to a popular dog park.


“We take pride in our community’s park system,” Presny said. “That pride stems from the opportunities we currently provide as well as meeting the needs for the future.”


The planning process allows the community to evaluate the park system and make decisions for the future, Presny said.


“The community’s part in this is to support or question the recommendations that we have in the plan.”


JANESVILLE'S PARKS ARE UNDEVELOPED

While Janesville’s 40.9 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents seem to blow away the numbers of its 12 peer cities and even Madison’s 28.8 acres, the numbers don’t quite tell the whole story.


Much of Janesville’s parks and open spaces are undeveloped. Tom Presny, parks director, figures a third of the city’s park system is intensively developed compared to three-quarters or more in other cities.


Much of Janesville’s land is left in its natural state.


“We focus on preservation and future development opportunities,” Presny said.


Some of the undeveloped open space includes the city’s greenbelts, which double as the city’s storm water drainage system.


Those have been critical as an inexpensive way to manage storm water, Presny said.


“Had we not had the greenbelt system, I don’t know what we’d be doing today in terms of complying with the DNR storm water standards,” Presny said. “Probably acquiring properties that are privately held.”


Other communities have buried storm water pipes. Janesville has had the luxury of conveying water through the greenbelts at a much lower investment, Presny said. In addition, the water is filtered and cleaned as it returns to groundwater.


WHAT'S NEXT

The updated parks and open space plan will go before the City of Janesville Plan Commission for review at its Monday, June 2, meeting at City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St. The meeting begins at 6:30, and a public hearing is scheduled.


The plan will then advance to the city council at 7 p.m. Monday, June 9, in City Hall.


Draft copies of the plan are available at the Hedberg Public Library and City Hall. It can also be read on the city’s Web site, www.ci.janesville.wi.us. Click on “Comprehensive Plan” on the left side of the site and then “Presentations and Reports.”



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