By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
Residents don’t want it and Floyd County doesn’t plan on building it, but a connector road first called for in a 1983 comprehensive plan was the reason given by some city officials for voting against the construction of a park and Little League facility.
The New Albany Plan Commission voted 5-4 to give the special exception request a favorable recommendation on Tuesday; however, at least six votes either for or against the proposal were needed to carry the docket.
There’s differences of legal opinion on what the vote means, but it’s likely the New Albany Board of Zoning Appeals won’t hold a public hearing and vote on the request next month because of the action.
The plan and the history
The New Albany City Council voted in 2012 — at the request of Mayor Jeff Gahan — to split the city and county parks department.
In 2013, the new Floyd County Parks Department partnered with New Albany Little League to purchase a 35.5-acre lot from Northside Christian Church off Charlestown Road. Seven fields would be constructed by Little League under the plan, and Floyd County would develop a park with a walking trail, playground and nature preserve around the baseball and softball complex.
The deal was reached after Little League spurned an offer from Gahan to open the facility on city-constructed fields at the former Hoosier Panel site.
The proposed county site is located within the two-mile fringe, and thus zoning is controlled by the city.
The county and Little League need the BZA to OK the special exception for the park, and the plan commission, under city ordinance, is first required to review and vote on the matter.
A road in the middle
After County Planner Don Lopp and John Kraft, an attorney hired to represent the Floyd County Commissioners, presented the project to the plan commission, city staff had the opportunity to cite any concerns about the proposal.
Plan Commission Director Scott Wood said comprehensive plans formed in 1983 and 1999 by the city called for a connector road to be completed on the county-owned site if the property were to be developed.
It’s Highland Oaks Drive, and a portion of it has already been built in the Highland Oaks subdivision. If completed under the city’s comprehensive plan, it would connect to Charlestown Road.
City Engineer and plan commission member Larry Summers said the road was proposed for a reason, and that he doesn’t support the county’s proposal without it.
“We can make a safe connection through there using traffic calming methods,” he said.
But residents of Highland Oaks subdivision don’t want the connection.
“It’s going to create safety issues,” if the road is extended, said Leslie Woods, who lives off Highland Oaks Drive.
“It’s a very safe, quiet area now.”
Other homeowners in the subdivision believe connecting a road through a park is a terrible idea.
Steve Hammel, like Woods, is a member of the Highland Oaks Homeowners Association, and the board supports the county’s plan.
“It makes a great use of the property there,” he said.
Beyond introducing the subdivision to more traffic, it doesn’t make sense to bring more vehicles into a place intended for families and pedestrians, Lopp said.
“Why would you put a connector road in the middle of a park?” Lopp said.
Wood acknowledged that many residents in the subdivision don’t want the road to connect with Charlestown Road. He suggested the county’s proposal be tabled until a public hearing could be slated and the comprehensive plan possibly adjusted to remove the road extension.
But Kraft said such an amendment isn’t necessary, as comprehensive plans are not law, but intended to serve as guidance for development.
“I see it as a step that doesn’t have to take place,” he said.
Kraft added that one reason officials wanted to move the Little League facility is because there’s too much traffic near the Mt. Tabor Road park.
Putting a road in the middle of the new facility would take away in part from what Little League wants to accomplish, he continued.
Wood said the plan commission was charged with deciding how the proposal fit into the comprehensive plan, and that the existing plan still calls for a road connection.
Tabling the vote on the county proposal would allow that matter to be cleared up, he continued.
The vote and reaction
A motion to table the vote by Summers didn’t receive a second. Commission member Don Gibbons motioned for a favorable recommendation to be passed on to the BZA, as he said he wanted a public hearing to be held on the matter.
The commission proceeded with a vote, but the outcome of that ballot vote remained in question Tuesday night.
At first, a voice vote was taken. Apparently unsure of who voted in favor and who against, Wood asked for the members to acknowledge their decision by raising their hands.
Councilwoman and commission member Shirley Baird said she voted against the special exception, and raised her hand; however, Kraft challenged her and said she voted in favor during the voice ballot.
Baird said she didn’t say anything during the voice ballot, but Kraft requested a copy of the meeting tape to review tomorrow. Wood said he would provide the tape for Kraft, as the attorney maintained Baird did in fact vote in favor of the proposal initially.
Following the vote, Summers said he didn’t want the issue to die, and requested a public hearing on the amendment to the comprehensive plan to remove the road extension be held next month.
His proposal was approved unanimously, and the city will hear the docket likely on May 20. If it is approved, the city council will still have to vote to recognize the amendment.
The county had planned to construct the park next year. Lopp said based on a parks master plan from 2007 and an updated version in 2014, the east New Albany Township portion of Floyd County is the most lacking for outdoor recreational space.
“It’s one of the largest census tracts the county has,” Lopp said, as he added more than 12,000 people live in the area that would be directly serviced by the park.