Pickerington Times-Sun

City won't pursue -- for now -- grant for park land

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A resolution that would allow the city of Pickerington to apply for an Ohio Public Works Commission Clean Ohio Fund-Green Space Conservation Program grant for the purchase of additional parkland failed to come up for a vote at the Pickerington City Council meeting Oct. 16.

The grant would allow the city to purchase the DeWolfe property at 376 Hill Road South for use as a park.

The property, approximately 9 acres, is located on the east side of Hill Road South between C3 Church and Pickerington High School Central.

On the property is a five-bedroom home, a large, century-old barn and a 1.4-acre pond.

City Council's Finance Committee Oct. 3 unanimously approved the the matter be forwarded to council for a vote.

Oct. 16, the resolution was initially removed from council's consent agenda upon the request of Councilman Tony Barletta, who is City Council's representative to the Parks and Recreation Board.

A resolution that is on the consent agenda is considered non-controversial and is approved by one motion.

Because no City Council member then seconded a motion to allow for the resolution to go up for a vote, the resolution failed.

Barletta said he wanted more time to review the proposal to see if it fit into the the city's park plans.

"My personal reason for asking for it to be off the consent agenda (is) I would like the Parks Board (to have) an opportunity to review the proposal and see how it fits in the Parks master plan," he said.

"We've discussed a lot of different proposals," Barletta said.

"We need to come out with a priority list. This came out suddenly with very little time to review it," he said.

City Council's Finance Committee approved in August a $1,500 appropriation for an appraisal of the DeWolfe property, a prerequisite for the grant application.

In 2004, Pickerington applied for and was awarded a similar grant for the purchase of the same property, but elected not to pursue the matter at that time.

Vance said the deadline for the current grant application was Oct. 31.

Mayor Lee Gray advised council review and approval of the the grant application would have to transpire prior to that deadline.

Barletta said if the city accepted the grant and purchased the property it would usurp impact fee funds that can be used for other important park projects.

"I would like to assess this relative to other priorities," Barletta said.

"If we win the grant we'll effectively earmark half of our impact fees," he said.

Councilman Mike Sabatino said if the city was "awarded the grant, it doesn't mean we have to take it."

"Wouldn't it be a good idea that if we apply for grants, (that) we want them?" Councilman Jeff Fix asked in reply to Sabatino.

Carol Carter, a member of the Parks and Recreation Board, appeared before council to register her opposition to the grant application.

"Everybody has got this great big packet on how we want our parks to be built," Carter said.

"We don't want to dump all our money in one basket," she said.

"I would like to move forward with our master plan, financially we're better going in the direction were going," Carter said.

At the Aug. 13 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board, other future projects discussed for inclusion the 2013 capital budget included a proposal for shelter pavilions and restrooms at the city's disc golf course and Diley Road ball fields, as well as maintenance work for the existing shelters in Sycamore Park and trailheads and rest areas along the Diley Road bike path.

According to Vance, the OPWC grant would have offered a non-guaranteed 75-percent grant opportunity to the city.

Pickerington's match would have been 25 percent.

The total projected cost of the acquisition of the DeWolfe property was $491,769. The funding requested from OPWC was $368,826, making a local share fund in the amount of $122,943.

The city's match would come from impact fees, which new developers pay to offset the additional public-service costs of the new development.

At the Aug. 8 meeting of the Finance Committee, Finance Director Chris Schornak said the city had about $225,000 in Park Impact Fees in its account.

Fix said "an estimated 50 percent of the reserve in the parks impact fee fund that has been built up over the past several years would have been required complete the purchase."

The grant application did receive the full support of the Pickerington Local School District.

Superintendent Rob L. Walker advised the OPWC in a letter dated Oct. 12 the purchase of the DeWolfe property "will give our students an additional outdoor learning environment to expand their education and awareness in a natural setting."

Walker also said a proposed city park would give PHS Central and Ridgeview Junior High School students a safer place to walk "instead of walking along a high traffic road when school begins and ends each day."

Fix said he is not ruling out the possibility the acquisition of the DeWolfe property, although now a closed case, can be resurrected in the future.

"I believe that the parks committee will further discuss this opportunity as part of the overall parks master plan adopted by the city several years ago," Fix said.

"The Parks Committee will then advise the Safety Committee of council as to whether a grant application is desired, and, if so, and the grant opportunity still exists, then I imagine that the city will complete the application and, if awarded, gladly accept it," he said.

"Opportunities like this should follow the correct path to come to an appropriate conclusion," Fix said.

"I can't speak for council, but the fact that it felt like this project had not followed that path is, in my opinion, why the application died last night," he said.

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