Collegedale commissioners are undecided about accepting the gift of a city park from the McKee corporation. They all agreed that it would be a great park and would add value to the city. However, it also would have the potential of costing Collegedale so much for their part of the agreement and for park maintenance that property taxes would have to be raised, officials said Monday night.
Plans for the park were prepared and negotiated during the past two years by former City Manager Ted Rogers without informing the mayor or members of the commission, the city attorney or anyone from the parks and recreation department, it was stated.
The commissioners found out how far along plans for the park were at a commission meeting, prompting two commissioners to ask for the city manager's resignation that night. Mr. Rogers announced his retirement the following week.
A vote to accept the terms of the agreement was on the agenda for the Monday night commission meeting, which drew a room full of residents from the Greenbrier Cove neighborhood. That subdivision is the closest to where the park would be located and would be the one most impacted. A half dozen people representing those who live there gave reasons for their opposition to the park as it is planned.
Amenities that the Little Debbie Park would provide include open fields, a pavilion, picnic tables, benches and a playground and parking. The biggest opposition is that back-in parking is planned along Swinyar Drive to access the playground, which is planned at the corner of Swinyar and Leyland Drive. Back-in parking is known to be disliked by drivers, the commissioners were told. And sidewalks would be needed around and from the parking areas to the playground. All felt the traffic, congestion and activity around this type of street parking in this location would pose a danger and would obstruct access by emergency vehicles and increase traffic through their neighborhood. There was also an objection to having product promotions in the form of replicas of large snack cakes for playground equipment. They asked for the playground area to be moved and a dedicated parking lot be used. They also asked for the commissioners to postpone the vote for approving the park.
The commissioners said they would like to balance what the residents want and what is best for the city, now and looking into the future. The decision may rest on advice from City Attorney Sam Elliott about what obligation the city is left with for decisions made by the past city manager. There is concern that there could be penalties or repercussions if the city decides not to use taxpayer money and not move forward with the park.
Attorney Elliott will do research to determine if there would be any obligation on the city's part if the commission votes not to accept terms of the agreement. Mayor Katie Lamb suggested asking if representatives from McKee would be willing to meet with the commissioners and interested residents about the plans. Interim City Manager Wayon Hines said after two years they feel they have done due diligence with past city manager Rogers, and they have operated in good faith and are not interested in starting over.
McKee has already spent a lot on the design of the park, and Commissioner Ethan White said it would not be fair to ask the donors to spend more for redesign. He said if the commissioners vote to build the park with changes that Collegedale should be the one to make the investment to redesign the layout.
If the quit claim deed is returned, that property could become commercial, said Commissioner Debbie Baker. That was the plan before the greenway was built, she said. What would take its place if the park is not built? asked Commissioner Phil Garver. Green space is becoming increasingly valuable to the community, he said, and in 10 years the city might regret not having it. It is a big decision because of the cost, said Commissioner White.
The answers that come from Attorney Elliott's research will help the commissioners make the decision, said Commissioner Garver. The vote on Monday night was to defer the matter until two weeks to the next commission meeting after the legal research has been done.
Honna Rogers from Municipal Technical Advisory Service at the University of Tennessee gave the commissioners an update on the search for a new city manager. Interviews are currently being conducted, she said, for determining competencies. The 31 applications received so far will be sent to each commissioner to review, and on April 19 they will be discussed and narrowed to five candidates. It was decided to expand the search by removing the requirement that the city manager lives in Collegedale. The deadline for receiving applications for the position is this coming Friday.