Council approves formation of committee to create plan for Ralston Park

The Lebanon City Council approved a resolution last week to create an ad hoc advisory committee to develop a plan to improve Ralston Park. 

The committee will include a member of the City Council, two city staff members and four members of the public residing or working within a four-block radius of Ralston Park, 925 Park St. 

The council approved the resolution during its regular meeting on Sept. 12.

The 2040 Community Strategic Action Plan calls for the development and implementation of a Ralston Park Improvement Plan, said City Manager Gary Marks. “During the strategic plan process, the common thread in the community discussions was that, as a key park located centrally in the community and adjacent to downtown, a plan is needed to assure it continues to serve the community with amenities relevant to current and future generations.”

Funding for development of the Ralston Park Improvement Plan was included in the 2018-19 budget adopted by the City Council in June. 

The mission of the committee will be to work with a professional landscape architect to develop the plan, he said. The committee will complete the work and submit a draft plan to the council by June. 

The resolution noted that Ralston Park plays a vital role in the community, serving as the venue for Concerts in the Park, Holidays in the Park, National Nite Out and many other annual and one-time community events. 

The city also has acquired two additional lots, an old gasoline station and an empty lot, adjacent to the park with the intent of incorporating them into the overall plans for the park. 

Present at the meeting were councilors Rebecca Grizzle, Jason Bolen, Bob Elliott, Floyd Fisher and Robert Furlow and Mayor Paul Aziz. Wayne Rieskamp was absent. 

In other business, the council: 

n Declined to continue discussions about allowing private RV parks in the city.

Last month, the council asked Community Development Director Walt Wendolowski to look into the matter after a private citizen requested the council consider a code amendment to allow the use. 

Publicly owned RV parks are allowed in most city zones, and in some cases, they require a conditional use permit. 

Wendolowski asked planners around the state about their experiences with private RV parks, he told the council. He received eight responses from other planners. Six cities allow them, usually in commercial or industrial zones, with mixed results. 

One city had no parks, Wendolowski said. Another had no apparent issues, and another reported that the city’s only park was well-run. 

One city noted problems with the duration of stays, Wendolowski said. In effect, the RVs become residential units. One planner said they were no problem near tourist attractions, but issues arise when situated in urban areas – “nobody ever leaves.”

A Council of Governments planner said one city does not allow them because they have little assessed value and tax revenue, while they increase demands on libraries, parks and police services.

“My experience mirrors the comments by the Council of Governments planner,” Wendolowski said. “Once established, the guests effectively become residents and begin to draw on city services.”

Enforcing length-of-stay limitations is difficult, he said. Code enforcement would require constant monitoring to ensure compliance. 

Since it is a civil issue, removing a guest would be time consuming, Wendolowski said, while for public parks, like Gill’s Landing, the city has the Police Department for immediate backup. 

Bolen said he wasn’t interested in going forward with it. “I’ve seen parks like this (and the issues) in other cities.”

Furlow had similar reservations, he said. “Private parks tend to be qucikly deteriorating into a situation that requires a great deal of enforcement – drains resources, a constant thron in the public eye,  an eyesore. It quickly becomes a community problem.”

“I don’t think we need this,” Elliott said. “I don’t think it’s worth the problem.”

“There are beautiful private parks out there,” Bolen said. They run $200 to $300 per night, and they’re meant for expensive RVs.

Bolen fears that the RVs that move around town might show up in that park instead, he said. 

“I’m not sure what we’re gaining by it,” Fisher said. 

Aziz said he was interested in the idea, but the councilors brought up a number of facts, and he agrees with the rest of the council.

n Approved a loan of $400,000 from the city’s Street Improvement SDC fund to its Storm Drain Utility fund to cover the cost of a change order in the construction of the canal underdrain for Cheadle Lake. 

The council approved the change order on June 27. 

The existing canal underdrain serves as the outlet for Cheadle Lake to prevent over-topping the lake’s banks, said Engineering Services Director Ron Whitlach in a June memo to the council. The existing drain is undersized and pipe material has severely degraded. It is being replaced as part of an agreement between Albany and Lebanon.

Over the years, the erosion has created an extreme narroing of the existing canal bank at the outlet end of the underdrain, Whitlach said. As part of the change order, Slayden Constructors will extend the outlet pipe an additional 50 feet and fill in the existing ditch, which will also help facilitate a pedestrian bridge over the canal. 

The total project will cost $670,000. 

Initially, the city believed the project would cost roughly $150,000, said Finance Director Matt Apken. The loan will be repaid over 10 years at 2.25 percent interest, the current Local Government Investment Pool interest rate. Unused funds would be returned to the Street Improvement SDC Fund.