ITHACA, N.Y. — The City of Ithaca is taking a close look at its 378 acres of parks and working to create a long-term strategy for improving and maintaining the city’s green space.
A draft of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan was released in November. The 82-page document, available online, takes a close look at Ithaca’s parks, how much they are used, what people want more of and what can be done to tune up the park network.
For about a year, the city has worked with Pros Consulting to create a master plan for parks and recreation that will give the city an overall strategy for managing local parks, from large parks like Cass Park to smaller neighborhood parks. As part of the process, 458 city residents and 576 Tompkins County residents were surveyed about what they think of parks, what improvements they want and what parks they visited in the past year.
In the survey, some of the things residents said they would like to see is the waterfront area improved, a natural swimming location, indoor facilities like an ice rink and more programs.
The goal of the plan, the draft states, is to develop a realistic long-term strategy for the city’s parks, recreation programs and facilities. Recommendations fall into four areas: governance and operations, finance, recreation programming and land and facilities.
At a presentation in July before the master plan draft was released, Megan Wilson, senior planner in the City of Ithaca Planning Division, said the goal of the plan is to maximize the value of parks to the community.
She said the plan looks at what neighborhoods are served by parks and which are not. It also looks at what amenities are available in neighborhoods and asks questions like “How far do kids have to travel to a playground?” Wilson said.
Since the release of the draft plan, some residents have voiced concern about one proposal in the plan the suggests declassifying five parks in the city — Columbia Street Park, Dryden Road Park, Hillview Park, Maple Grove Park and Strawberry Fields.
Under New York State law, the city cannot just get rid of a park, it must find substitute park land elsewhere in the city. If a park is declassified, depending on the site, it could be sold for development, Wilson said.
Wilson said these parks are being considered for declassification because they are either underutilized or conditions at the site make it difficult for people to access them. Some have poor drainage, she said.
Wilson said Strawberry Fields near Belle Sherman Elementary School, for example, is difficult to get to if you don’t live around it. According to a survey, 40 people said they visited Strawberry Fields in the last year. One option for Strawberry Fields is to turn it into a “school park” and use the nine acres of land for educational purposes, the draft plan says. The city would conduct a site plan for Strawberry Fields to see if it could be transitioned into a teaching preserve and available for partnerships, moved to “school park” classification or sold or swapped for different park land.
Ithaca resident Ann Harper lives across from Hillview Park, which is on the list of parks recommended to be declassified. The .75-acre park on Hillview Place is hard to recognize as a city park when passing by. It’s a small open area with no signage or benches. Of people surveyed about parks, 17 people indicated they had visited Hillview Park in the past 12 months.
Even if the park is little known, Harper said the park is one of the reasons she chose to live where she did. She said she has had her child’s birthday parties there and said some people use it for recreation or to play Frisbee. She said she is concerned the city has targeted parks on South Hill and in Collegetown that could turn into more student housing if sold.
“Once this green space is gone it’s gone,” Harper said.
Hillview Park and Columbia Street Park are close to each other on South Hill, where there is already fierce debate about the amount of student housing. Dryden Road Park, also being considered for declassification, is a small park right in Collegetown next to the Dryden Road parking garage. Maplewood Park, also called Maple Grove Park in the draft, is near the Belle Sherman neighborhood off of Dryden Road and is described as a rarely used neighborhood park behind adjacent houses.
While the declassification of these parks is being considered, nothing is final and there is still time for the public to contribute to the conversation.
Wilson encourages people to read the full draft plan and give feedback. She said if people have questions, comments or concerns, they can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image: Hillview Park on Hillview Place. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice