Our View: Park changes needed OK from council
July 18, 2010
Steamboat Springs — For being such a peaceful parcel of open space, Rita Valentine Park sure knows how to cause an uproar. The 40-acre chunk of land off Anglers Drive — and an adjoining 35-acre parcel also used by residents — is treasured by nearby homeowners for its trails and wildlife habitat. It's also an obvious target for community groups looking for space for their activities of choice.
Time and again, those competing interests have resulted in contentious city Parks and Recreation Commission and City Council meetings. One group wants to keep the land largely as is, the others want consideration for wider use of a public park.
We're generally in favor of using the city's parks to the benefit of all residents, not just those in a surrounding neighborhood or two. But given the history of contention surrounding Rita Valentine Park, it was premature for the Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department and the Parks and Recreation Commission to sign off on a new disc golf course at the park without consent from the City Council. The move appeared to be a direct affront to the public process and line of authority.
Less than a year ago, a previous City Council unanimously and indefinitely postponed action on a Rita Valentine Park master plan because of dissent and controversy about proposed changes to the space. Yet, without any consultation with the council, the Parks and Recreation Department proceeded with implementation of one component of the tabled master plan.
Not surprisingly, the disc golf course now being used at Rita Valentine Park has come under fire from a few neighbors. We're certainly less sympathetic to the desire of some to keep the open space a relatively exclusive enclave for adjacent homeowners than we are to the notion that a parcel that is almost always the subject of controversy is being altered without sign-off from our elected officials.
It might seem that requiring council approval for the creation of a relatively low-impact activity such as disc golf is big government at its worst. And that might be true were it not for the history of controversy surrounding everything and anything related to Rita Valentine Park. The design plan the council tabled in August 2009 initially called for facilities, a road and parking lots but was scaled down to include only dog parks and other low-intensity improvements, including a disc golf course. Nearby residents predictably said they prefer the untouched open space. The Parks and Recreation Department now has created a new controversy that gets to the heart of policy and public process.
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Perhaps it's time for the city's elected officials to decide about the long-term benefits of the entire community as they pertain to usage of Rita Valentine Park. And maybe the disc golf course issue provides the impetus for the decision to occur. But what's clear is that without official council action, any move to alter the state of Rita Valentine Park was bound to become mired in the same turf war that has plagued other park proposals in recent years. What also is clear is at the very least, the public perception is that the Parks and Recreation Department ignored an official City Council action and proceeded without authorization.
For that reason, City Council President Cari Hermacinski was correct last week to say that there was a "breakdown in the process" and that the disc golf course decision deserved a more substantial public hearing. That hearing should take place before the disc golf course makes a permanent home in Rita Valentine Park.