Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs City Council is hoping to finally bring some clarity to a city park that long has been the subject of heated debates and uncertainty.
Council member Sonja Macys said Thursday that the council needs to show some courage and decide whether Rita Valentine Park should be designated as open space or developed more as a park.
"We either adopt (a plan for the park) or we don't," she said. "I think the residents want to know what the plan is."
Residents here have debated whether to leave the undeveloped park alone or to add new recreational amenities there.
Macys said removing ambiguity from the park's future was a driving factor in why she voted unanimously with her fellow council members last month to revisit the recreational uses at the park off Anglers Drive.
"We need to have the courage to say to the community 'We've heard you and this is what we think this park can be,'" Macys said. "I think we do the public a disservice when we leave ambiguity on the table."
Five years ago, the City Council allowed the debate about the park's future to fester when it tabled a conceptual plan for Rita Valentine indefinitely.
The plan included recommendations for additional trails, dog parks, a disc golf course and a buffer zone that would shield neighboring residents from activity within the park.
Some members of the Parks and Recreation Commission who were involved with the planning at the time remain discouraged that the plans were tabled after they were sent to council.
Council President Bart Kounovsky said Thursday that after years of inaction on the park, now is a good time to revisit its future.
"It's a community asset, and it has been five years since we've looked at it," Kounovsky said. "We need to make sure we're doing the right thing in regards to that park. To have it sit with no input or no expectations of where it could be is not the correct way to go."
As the Parks and Recreation Commission prepares to talk to the public about the future of the park at a meeting on June 11, council members personally hold different views about its future.
Council member Scott Myller said he still supports plans to add more recreational amenities.
"I'll be supporting using it as an active park instead of just open space," Myller said.
He said adopting a plan for the park could open up grant funding opportunities for the amenities, and the city could end up adding something like a disc golf course to the land at no cost with help from volunteers.
Council member Walter Magill recently pushed for the park plans to be revisited after neighbors complained about bike jumps that children had built there.
He has said at previous council meetings that the park could be developed to meet unmet recreational needs in the community.
Magill did not return a phone message to talk about the park Thursday.
Macys said she wants to keep an open mind and study the conceptual plan, but she admitted she comes to the dais with a bias.
"My bias is toward (undeveloped) open space parks," she said. "I feel like we have a lot of developed parks in this town. … I feel like having heard from the neighbors when the city was talking about the police station, it seems to me that is the preference of the public, as well."
Kounovsky said he'd be open to hearing whatever the Parks and Recreation Commission recommends for the park's future.
"I have no preconceived notion of what should go on up there," he said. "I'm going to take a good hard look at what they recommend. The funding piece is always the difficult piece."
Tony Connell holds a similar view.
"Right now I don't have a strong opinion either way," Connell said when asked if he supported development of recreational amenities or leaving the park alone. "I'm really an open book on that particular issue. I haven't staked a claim on either side of that. I'm looking for input."
Kenny Reisman said the problem with the park right now is that proposals for it continue to pop up without the council having agreed on a plan for its future.
"What I see as the flaw is we keep having things pop up piecemeal, whether it's disc golf or police station or the rogue bike park, and that's not the way to proceed with this parcel," he said. "I think for me it's a desire to get back to taking the community's temperature on what we'd like to see from a plan standpoint, not a piecemeal standpoint, on the use of this great space."
He said he'd be open to adding things to the park "if they're approached in a community-wide way and it works for our entire community."
Council member Scott Ford challenged the Parks and Recreation Commission to again be on the front lines and seek out public opinion.
Ford said he's heard from community members on both sides of the issue, and he's told them to talk to the commission about their views on the park.
He said he it would be hard for him to overrule whatever decision the commission arrives at.
"We need to have the Parks and Recreation Commission do the due diligence and get a good sense of where the citizenry is at," Ford said. "It's going to be looking to the judgment of the commission. I'm going to listen really carefully to what they have to say."
He said the room could be filled with every homeowner around Rita Valentine Park and "I won't necessarily be swayed by it."
"That land at the end of the day belongs to the citizenry of Steamboat Springs," Ford said.
He called the debate about the park "a good problem to have."
"A lot of cities would love to do something and don't have the land to do anything," he said.
Steamboat's Parks and Recreation Commission toured the park with city officials Wednesday night to learn more about the park's history and to discuss its future.
Before the group left, commission chairman Jack Trautman said he was interested in the commission making an impact, not just developing another plan that won't be acted upon.
"If its got meat behind it, and the City Council says, 'We want you to do this because we want you to develop it as a park with amenities our constituents are most asking for,' great, I love that," Trautman said. "I want to know more about where (the council) is headed because if it's just to generate more heat, I'm not interested."
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10