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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

(Updated) Decision Time Finally Nearing For Knoll Park?

Fairhope, Alabama fairhopetimes@att.net

PARK COMMITTEE STALLED


Mayor Kant told the Times recently the city council needs to decide soon whether to continue the long leaf pine forest restoration project underway at Knoll Park, modify it, or end the project and return to regular mowing like all other city parks.

(The restoration issue originated in 1979 when hurricane Frederick toppled many of the trees there, according to the mayor. The adjacent picture is from 1966.)

Kant said he receives numerous complaints about the unkempt look of the park's undergrowth -- and when controlled-burns are conducted there (smoke).

According to various sources, the current restoration project was begun by the council in late 2006 by establishing a Knoll Park Committee (KPC), charged to restore the long leaf pine eco- system natural to the area, including understory 'wild flowers' and other native plants.

The Single Tax Corporation was to be responsible for all  maintenance.

The project was never formally approved by the city council, according to the mayor. No written records exist of its genesis, or how it was to operate.

For the last year and a half, the KPC has been laboring to come up with a new maintenance plan for the park, but so far has failed to do so. (A management and restoration plan produced in Jan. 2007 was never approved by the council.)

[KPC Chairperson Peggy Dyson, Tree Committee members, and City Horticulturist Fidler were to collaborate, and then bring the final plan to the city council for approval, according to earlier statements made by the mayor last June (click).]



Reportedly, the new plan would list all native species, divide the park into three sections for sequential burning and to set aside specific areas for perennials and other plants -- among other things.

A major sticking point has been the need for periodic burning, a health problem for smoke-sensitive neighborhood residents -- and those who object to the 'burnt-forest look' afterward.

TO MOW OR BURN?

Councilman Kevin Boone said he hears a lot of complaints and called the park an "eyesore." He said he thought the restoration project should be ended -- and the park maintained like every other park in town (mowed regularly).

Boone, referring to the picture from 1966 (above): "Its like daylight to dark  ... we need to get it back to this ... ."

He added burning the park and leaving the ground charred (instead of mowing)  would "make it even more of an eyesore."

Councilman Mueller agreed saying the situation had changed since the city's recent acquisition of 72+ acres of prime long leaf forest (Dyas Triangle); Knoll Park should be returned to regular mowing -- and more long leaf pine trees planted as needed.

Mueller: "I agree with Kevin ... (we) should turn this into a regular park."

(The picture to the right is from last summer.)

Council members Brewer and Burrell said they were still waiting to see the maintenance plan proposal from the committee before deciding.

Councilman Ford was non-committal but said (about 2 years ago) something needed to be done to bring the issue to a conclusion -- and suggested other locations may be better for the project (click).

Ford (Nov. 2012): "We have a beautiful city ... but right in the middle ... a park with weeds this high (gesture)."

Ford said he suggested moving the wildflower project out to Founders Park (Colony Nature Park) on Twin Beech Rd. (CR 44) -- but the then  KPC chairman (McCawley) rejected the idea outright.



Mayor Kant said citizens complain about the lack of progress.

Kant: "(People say) we really want to see something happen ... been waiting 6 years ... not a lot of change ... how many more will it take ... ."

"They've never had a plan ... its our property ... we own the deed ... ."

SUNSHINE LAWS NOT BEING FOLLOWED?

The Mayor said the Knoll Park Committee, appointed by former Council President Bob Gentle in 2006, should be following the Open Meetings Act laws (click) like every other city committee; but apparently hasn't been doing so by publicly announcing its meetings, taking minutes, establishing by-laws, etc.

The committee has been meeting on private property at the Single Tax Corp's. office downtown.

Kant: "Our biggest challenge we have ... its not a Single Tax committee, its a city council committee ... somehow its gotten sidetracked ... not sayin' who, what, how(it got that way) ... at the end of the day ...we're the one liable if someone gets hurt on the property ...  we're waiting for them (committee) to do their work ... ."



City Clerk Lisa Hanks says only sketchy records of the committee's establishment exist, unlike most other committees.

Upon learning of the mayor's sentiments, Council President Burrell instructed Hanks to immediately send a letter to the committee's chairman -- to insist upon compliance with all applicable state laws.

Kant said because of the committee's questionable origins and performance he thought it's duties could easily be taken over by the city's Environmental and/or Tree Committees, if necessary.

Councilman Mueller agreed: "We don't need a committee for just one park."

[The mayor and council first discussed potential legal problems with the committee last summer (click).]

OTHER ALTERNATIVES

City Horticulturist Fidler reminded the work session that she was directed by the council early last year to devise a compromise plan to install a hedge around the perimeter of the park to screen the understory vegetation (wildflowers/weeds); but the KPC decided not to incorporate it (click).

(Updated: According to an informed source, the KPC voted on Dec. 9th to approve the maintenance plan without the hedge, but members Fidler and Councilman Ford were not present since the meeting coincided with a city council meeting. As of this writing (Jan 23rd), the plan has not been formally submitted to the city council.)

She said she would like to see that proposal reinstated to the final plan.

Kant said he still thought some sort of a "natural" project should be continued there, but with no burning -- and maintenance to be performed by the city public works department. At one time he suggested moving the project more to the top of the knoll; mowing the perimeter normally.

PUBLIC INPUT SOUGHT

The mayor and Boone said they and the other council members would like to hear opinions from all citizens about the issue, not just from the immediate neighborhood -- or proponents who organize beforehand to speak at council sessions.

Council President Burrell called it a "very passionate issue" that needed time to "mature" -- and speculated a special work session may be needed to help resolve it.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fidler is on the committee....:)

Anonymous said...

That figures.

Little billy said...

All city employees have to do exactly as directed by the man at the top .... or else ... ;(

Anonymous said...

They need to man-up and make a decision. It is the city's property not the Single Tax's.

Anonymous said...

Mike Ford is on that committee too. He never cared much for going by the book. ;)

Stevie said...

If they do decide to burn it off it will need to be done before the spring growing season has begun.

Anonymous said...

The bumbling Bob Gentle era city council got this thing all fouled up . The new guys are just trying to clean it up.

Anonymous said...

patience_running_thin_on_longl.html
Link to al.com poll, overwhelming 61% IN FAVOR. Tim is stirring the pot because knoll park is not his "taste", natural beauty and historic. Tear it down, (buildings), cut, mow and plant, (natural green space) and he is a control freak. There may be a hand full of old biddy hens complaining, and Boone is doing his job well as chief crony. Can't believe James Watkins removed a post setting Mr. Watkins straight on the details and truth of the matter, guess this won't be up long either.

Anonymous said...

what about woman it up? Duddddddddddddddddddddddddde

Anonymous said...

Thanks puppet Boone. The King needs to see you in his office//////like right now!!!!

Anonymous said...

Kevin's right. It's a mess. We should not let a bunch of out of town liberal professsors and tree huggers tell us what to do with our park.. Lets make it nice like it used to be.

Anonymous said...

Sure lets let all the out of towners from all over the state who read the al.com decide for us !!! The al.com has a conflict of interest sine their Bill finch has been pushing it on us (he dont live here either). Mow it nice again!

Anonymous said...

Only a small group of proponents vote over an over on the unscientific online polls. The newspapers are biased in support anyway, not exactly fair and balanced reporting. :(

Anonymous said...

It is still a good old boys club at city hall. Women are kept in their place.

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Ms. Sarah said...

It is just another example of arrogance by the all powerful Single Tax Corp. Their way or the highway.

Anonymous said...

They should not be forcing city employees to get involved in politics ...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what have they ever done for Fairhope?!

Anonymous said...

Single tax.....& Kant equal the same group of people.....:)

Anonymous said...

Are they growing marijuana up in there too? I seee someone was burning a campfire up on top.

Anonymous said...

Nope. Some of the brass at single tax and on that secret committee HATE the mayor. It is the root of the current difficulties. Also, some political posturing is involved , anticipating the next mayoral election.

Anonymous said...

It is the way it has always been done here. Why did the mayor give employees big xmas bonuses this year without telling the city council?

Anonymous said...

Ha, Ha, this is still Alabama you know! :)

Anonymous said...

Not true. Employees received their standard $240 bonus. Nice try troll!

Anonymous said...

Give me a break! I'm supposed to believe a stupid poll on al.com is 100% accurate? They are not scientific and are for entertainment purposes only!!!!!!