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June 17, 2014

New Albany commission amends plan, removes controversial road from park project

Issue of park near Northside Christian Church now goes before city council

NEW ALBANY — New Little League fields and a Floyd County park are closer to becoming a reality; however, more hurdles will have to be cleared before the joint project comes to fruition.

But there won’t be a road in the middle of the park.

Located off Charlestown Road near Northside Christian Church, the property would include the Little League fields with a county-owned park surrounding it.

The property lies in the two-mile fringe area, but the city holds zoning jurisdiction there. The county requested a variance to permit the park, but the proposal didn’t garner enough votes to pass primarily over discussion about portions of comprehensive plans from 1982 and 1999 that called for Highland Oaks Drive to be extended if the site was further developed.

The New Albany Plan Commission voted 6-4 Tuesday to amend its comprehensive plan to remove the section that called for the completion of Highland Oaks Drive from Kamer Miller Road to Charlestown Road.

The road services Highland Oaks subdivision, and if extended to Charlestown Road as called for in the comprehensive plan, would stretch through the planned park property.

Subdivision homeowners, county officials and Little League representatives criticized the idea of completing the road, as they said it would jeopardize the safety of people in the neighborhood due to an increase in traffic.

Others said it was nonsensical to require a road be built on a property where a public park is planned.

People had to wait outside the General Assembly Room in the City-County Building Tuesday due to the size of the crowd that attended the meeting.

Just before the meeting started, a note stating a 100-person capacity for the room was posted.  

The people who attended were overwhelmingly opposed to completing the road. Attorney Chris King represented Highland Oaks Neighborhood Association and presented the commission with a petition containing 157 signatures of people opposed to the extension of the road.

“From my standpoint, I don’t think that does anything to help our safety. I think it makes it worse,” King said.

The area in question has changed considerably since the comprehensive plans were formed, and that must be taken into account when considering zoning and land use, residents and officials said.

John Kraft, an attorney representing the county, said the comprehensive plan isn’t regulatory and was attended to only serve as a guide.

“I think the comprehensive plan was not put together in a vacuum,” he said, as Kraft added the property owners most affected by the proposal clearly opposed the connection.

Plan Commission Director Scott Wood countered that the city wants complete streets that serve different forms of transportation.

A key component of a complete street is that it connects travelers to points, such as the extension of Highland Oaks Drive would do, he continued.

The commission’s vote signified a favorable recommendation for the New Albany City Council to amend the comprehensive plan and remove the Highland Oaks Drive connection.

Councilman Dan Coffey spoke during the meeting Tuesday, and said he would support the amendment.

A sour history

New Albany and the county have been at odds over several issues since Mayor Jeff Gahan took office. The sides split the joint parks department, were involved in a lawsuit over zoning jurisdiction of the fringe area and New Albany Little League elected to partner with the county instead of the city for its new ball parks.

Some believe the saga over extending Highland Oaks Drive is another example of the discord between the city and the county.  

“It disheartens me that we’re even having this conversation over politics,” said Bart Medlock, who lives in the nearby subdivision Cobblers Crossing, but is a real estate agent with multiple clients who reside in Highland Oaks.

He said political discontent between the city and the county was the “elephant in the room” that officials were attempting to avoid.

Plan commission members and Wood attempted to distance the completion of the roadway from the development of the park.

The city wasn’t attempting to build a road through a park, as the requirement of extending Highland Oaks Drive if future development occurred has been in the comprehensive plan since 1982, Wood said.

“The county is proposing building a park around a roadway,” he said.

City Engineer Larry Summers voted against the amendment, as did the president of the commission, Robert Norwood. Commission members Ginny Cotner and Charles Harshfield also voted against  the amendment.

Councilwoman Shirley Baird, who is also a member of the commission, voted against the variance for the park in April.

She said Tuesday the residents of Highland Oaks overwhelmingly opposed the road extension; therefore, Baird voted for the amendment.

Summers said residents are against the connection because, in part, they believe it will be dangerous for more cars to travel on the road in front of their homes.

Residents of Kamer Miller Road already deal with cut through traffic, and extending Highland Oaks would likely reduce some of that flow on the adjoining road, he continued.

“So who’s side do we take in this argument?” he said.

What lies ahead

The New Albany City Council must approve the amendment to the comprehensive plan before the document is changed.

Once that occurs, the county will have to come back to the plan commission to request a variance to permit the park on the property.

It could be two to three months before they can consider the measures.


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