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Coalition Member H.Thomas O'Hale files for Park Board

Hobson West Ponds

The local election season is upon us, and the decisions we make at the polls will have a direct impact on the success of the coalition's work. Coalition member and prior board member Thomas O'Hale was so disheartened by the City Council's December 5th decision to re-zone the Ponds of Hobson West and approve Crestview Builders 22 town home development that he decided to do more than just complain. The first step lay in attempting to persuade one of the five council members who voted to develop the property to reconsider. There was time to do this as the actual re-zoning ordinances still needed to be drafted by city staff and voted on January 2nd. To accomplish this Tom and his wife Denise decided to open up their home to members of the city council. The first visit was a friendly one from Doug Krause. Doug as well as Darlene Senger and Dick Furstenau gave us total support on all of the issues surrounding the issues relating to the Ponds. Subsequent visits were made by Mary Ellingson, Grant Wehrli and John Rosanova. In each case we met for at least an hour and a half, and those who attended came from throughout the city, hoping to gain some insight into how undesirable developments in their neighborhoods could be stopped. Although in the end we were unsuccessful in accomplishing our goal of reconsideration, we sincerely thank those who walked into the proverbial Lions Den. We certainly did gain an insight into the factors that motivated their decisions even if what they told us didn't make much sense. An example of this was Grant Wehrli's insistence that 22 town homes would generate less traffic and congestion than 10 single-family homes. Evidently city studies have determined the demographics of the buyers are different than that of single family homes (empty nesters and retirees rather than young families with reckless teenagers). This in turn results in only 50% of the vehicular traffic generated by a single family dwelling…. but more than twice the number of units are planned meaning that even if the above is true there will be an actual increase in traffic from town homes! Similar arguments were abundant, and even pointing out the inadequacy of only providing 5 off street parking spaces for 22 units fell upon deaf ears. There are many solid reasons why the Plan Commission twice voted against recommending the proposal, but unfortunately only 4 members of the council understood them.

It was on January 2nd that Tom O'Hale decided to run for the Park Board, and his candidacy was declared publicly January 4th at the Park Districts special meeting on the Frontier Park Rec Center. The importance of Tom's run was laid by the City Council themselves, when in a surprise but welcome decision the moratorium on construction at the Ponds was extended from 6 months to one year, and written into the re-zoning ordinance itself. Council members such as George Pradel and John Rosanova who had voted for the town home development encouraged this move which was also acceptable to the attorney for Crestview. The moratorium's purpose is to provide time for a buyer (other than the city) to step forward so the land can remain undeveloped. It was generally agreed that the "highest and best possible land use" is that of a park, but a majority of the City Council was not willing to step up to the plate and accomplish this. With the city having narrowly passed on the purchase, the most logical buyer is the Park District. They own the two Ponds to the north and south of the proposed development, and they have plenty of money. This is where Tom's run becomes so important, since even though the District has the ability to buy a staggering 15 parcels of the size and cost of the land between the Hobson West Ponds, they are currently planning to spend it on the Frontier Park Recreation Center. If elected Tom O'Hale will divert some of these funds and use them instead for the acquisition of open space, including of course the Hobson West Ponds. Another Park District candidate, Roger Brown, has told us that he will also vote to purchase the Ponds property, and has made the statement publicly.

The Park District election is April 17th. Three seats are open, and two incumbents are not running, and although there will be additional candidates, Tom and Roger have an excellent opportunity to be elected. We will investigate the positions of the other candidates on this issue in the coming months, and place what we know in the April newsletter.