It wasn't a unanimous decision, but the development of athletics fields in southwest Bexley will move forward.

In a 6-1 vote Sept. 12, Bexley City Council approved Ordinance 17-17, authorizing a $290,000 expenditure from the city's Recreation Fund for the development of the Schneider Park athletics fields in the Ferndale Place/Mayfield Place neighborhood.

The ordinance sparked a heated debate when it was introduced Aug. 8, with some council members expressing concern that the cost of the proposed project increased from an initial estimate of $227,552 in 2015 to the current $551,502. The increase is due to the cost of remediating contamination from the site's former use as a landfill.

Council President Tim Madison cast the dissenting vote, citing concerns about not only the cost of the project, but the environmental issues and crime in the area.

"My only concern then, as it is now, is the safety of all Bexley residents, including the residents who live in Ferndale/Mayfield," Madison said.

Deneese Owen, chairwoman of council's Finance Committee who introduced Ordinance 17-17, said she shares some of the same concerns Madison cited. She has proposed the city devote resources to revitalizing the Ferndale/Mayfield neighborhood, including providing recreational programming for the residents and identifying grants to build a neighborhood playground.

"Sure, we can put greenspace in, but we have a lot more work to do and a lot more expertise to gather around what is best for a community like Ferndale/Mayfield within a larger community like Bexley," Owen said, "and what real impact we can have on that."

The South Bexley Neighborhood Association submitted a letter to the city in support of the athletics fields development. In addition, several residents who participate in the Bexley Community Garden, which is adjacent to the fields, spoke in favor of the development. The residents said they haven't experienced safety issues while visiting the Ferndale/Mayfield neighborhood.

"I've been there in the morning, into the late afternoon and into the evening after the sun goes down. I've never felt unsafe whatsoever down there," said Jeff Harriman, a Carolina Avenue resident. "In fact, some of the residents down there, their children come over to the gardens and use them. ... This is part of their neighborhood now. They take care of it."

Mayor Ben Kessler said the process of developing the Schneider Park athletics fields has been a lesson for city officials on how to proceed in the future with complex developments.

"We have certainly learned a lot from this. We have not developed greenspace in many, many decades and certainly not on contaminated soil," he said. "There's a difference between not having a plan and having a plan that you might not agree with as an individual."

In addition to the $290,000 from the city's Recreation Fund, Recreation Director Michael Price said the Schneider Park athletics fields will be developed with $100,000 previously allotted by the city, an $81,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and an $81,000 grant from the Bexley Community Foundation.

"I can assure you the Recreation Department will do everything we can to make that a successful project," Price told council members.

The Schneider Park athletics fields are projected to open sometime in 2018, according to the city's current estimates.

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