Cleveland Park neighbors not pleased with city's proposed rec center location

Replacing green space with building not an acceptable alternative, neighbors say

(from left) Karmen Larson, Steve Larson, Rose Heetland, and Gaylon Heetland pose for a portrait in the Heetland's home a
(from left) Karmen Larson, Steve Larson, Rose Heetland, and Gaylon Heetland pose for a portrait in the Heetland's home at 1533 8th Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids on March 3, 2013. The Heetland's picture window looks out onto Cleveland Park, where the city wants to build a new recreation center. The Heetland's, the Larson's, and other neighbors are upset and although they like the idea of a recreation center, they do not want it to get rid of green space. (Kaitlyn Bernauer/The Gazette)

Finding a replacement home for the flood-ruined and now-demolished Time Check Recreation Center didn’t get easier after all.

A month ago, a City Hall task force — weary of trying to find a spot for the new rec center and up against a federal funding deadline to get it built — announced with some celebration that the perfect spot for the new $3-million facility was in Cleveland Park, the 8.5-acre neighborhood park that borders busy First Avenue SW at 1600 Eighth Ave. SW.

No one, though, had asked the park’s neighbors. And it turns out that many of them are not happy about replacing open green space with a rec building and a parking lot, and they’re organized now to try to make the point. More than 100 have signed a petition against a rec-center in Cleveland Park.

"Trying to shoehorn this big a project into a neighborhood park is nuts," says Gaylon Heetland, a financial consultant who moved to the neighborhood last year, in large part because of the park.

He and his neighbors will be on hand at 6:30 p.m. today (Tuesday) as city officials try to explain the rec-center project during a meeting in the Fellowship Hall at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1363 First Ave. SW.

Heetland, of 1533 Eighth Ave. SW, said Cleveland Park, which features a ball diamond and splash pad, sees constant use for activities ranging from baseball, flag football and rugby to hanging out and picnicking.

"Per acre, Cleveland Park has heavier use than any green space in town," Heetland suggested. "If you can prove to me it’s just a bunch of wasted space where we should grow a building, great. But we know better."

The city’s Site Selection Task Force — actually, it’s a second task force — is comprised of a majority of City Council members so that any final task force decision is well on its way to the ultimate decision of the full council. The task force meets again March 14.

Council member Monica Vernon, a task force member, on Monday said "It’s not unthinkable" that the task force once again could look at yet a different site.

At the same time, Vernon said she was convinced that the city could build an attractive rec center that fits with the homes in the neighborhood so it becomes a neighborhood asset.

"I think what neighbors can be conditioned to think about is there’s going to be some block building with a huge parking lot and it will just be cars in and out and a big nuisance to them rather than what we’re hoping it could be," Vernon said. She said a brand-new community rec center will feature all kinds of activities for kids, families and seniors just a walk, bike ride or short drive away.

Karmen Larson, of 1525 Eighth Ave. SW, said she has lived across from Cleveland Park for two years and she said the "busy hum" of the park serves to make it the neighborhood’s "town square." It doesn’t make sense, she said, to turn the park into a building and parking lot with three sports facilities, Kingston Stadium, Veterans Memorial Stadium and the Ice Arena and their parking lots, so nearby.

"Buildings and concrete are not equal to open green space," Larson said.

A first City Hall task force had been leaning to build the new rec center in Ellis Park, but the composition of the City Council changed a year ago, the Ellis Park idea was dropped, and a second task force started work. The task force then decided to build the replacement rec center back where the flood-ruined one had taken on 14 feet of water in the June 2008 flood. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, though, said it wouldn’t spend its money at a spot in the 100-year flood plain.

City Council member Ann Poe, co-chair of the site selection task force, on Monday said she was eager to sit down with Cleveland Park’s neighbors and see if the city could satisfy their concerns.

"Certainly, we want to try to work with neighbors as much as possible," Poe said. "But bottom line, we’re running out of time."

She noted that city is coming up against a deadline in which the city needs to make a decision about the rec center or face losing FEMA funding support for the project.

Lori Johnson, of 1800 15th St. SW, said "tearing up a beautiful neighborhood park" to meet a FEMA deadline was a bad idea.

"FEMA deadlines that they’ve had five years to accommodate does not make Cleveland Park the ideal place for a rec center by default," Johnson said.

Her neighbor, Gaylon Heetland, noted that Ellis Park has more than 400 acres, and he said if the City Council has decided that Ellis Park is too "pristine" for a rec center, the acres of Cleveland Park green space are "precious and few."The city’s master parks plan of 2010, he added, calls for rec centers to be located in the city’s major parks, not in neighborhood parks.

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