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City Has to Move Park for Development, but Can Development Move for New Park?

The same meeting that introduced Dayton to plans for two new high-­end apartment buildings also brought light a potential snag that could bring an unexpected delay further down the riverfront.
During this month's city council meeting, City Administrator Michael Giffen reminded council that Riverside Park, which lies on land that is now owned by DCI Properties for the Manhattan Harbour project, must be relocated before the developers can proceed in developing that parcel of land.
Calling this an “extremely complex” wrinkle to work out in the Manhattan Harbour development, Giffen said federal regulations require that the relocation occur and the new park open to the public before the property can be developed for any other use. The land selected for the park’s relocation, he added, must be a parcel of equal or greater monetary value.
This requirement is not news to the city or DCI, as Giffen has been working on the relocation for over two years, he said, adding that the process of moving a park can often take several years to complete.
But for residents and city leaders, it seems to come down to this: Does one park really equal another?
Not everyone agrees that the first proposed site for Riverside’s relocation, an open plot of land on Dayton Pike near the Riverpointe Condos, is a good replacement for Riverside Park.
The disagreement seems to come down to differing perceptions of the park’s value, and how that should be reflected in the park that will replace it.
From a dollars and cents perspective, Riverside Park is currently valued at approximately $90,000. This is after two rounds of appraisals. Initially, according to Giffen, the land was valued at around $8,000, due to its location within the city’s floodplain and other conditions of the land. That first appraisal was reviewed and amended, however, to account for the land’s development potential.
The possibility of turning the Dayton Pike plot into a park was first discussed during a public forum in 2013, a meeting at which, Gifffen said, citizens expressed a strong interest in what he called a “passive park,” one that would offer picnic tables, a gazebo, and possibly a trail system.
Beyond those amenities, though, the grade of the plot would not allow for the types of facilities currently available at Riverside Park, like a running track, a baseball field, and (formerly) tennis courts, causing some to wonder if this relocation would really be an even trade for the residents of Dayton.
The point was first raised by resident Catherine Hamilton Hicks at January’s City Council meeting, who questioned whether or not the Dayton Pike plot should be considered a replacement at all. “(Dayton Pike) will not be a park to let your kids run around in,” she said. “Why can’t we explore other options?"
Councilman Jerry Gifford, who has made Riverside Park a cause of his over the last several years, chimed in, echoing Hicks’s concerns, saying that if the Dayton Pike location is meant to replace Riverside Park, Dayton Schools’ sporting programs will effectively lose a large portion of their practice space.
“We’ve already lost the tennis courts, and now kids have to go out of town just to practice,” he said. He worries, without a replacement baseball field and track somewhere in Dayton, more sporting programs will suffer the same loss.
“I know Dave Imboden (of DCI) is in a hurry,” Hicks added, while still at the podium. “I don’t care that he’s in a hurry. To push this through because a developer is in a hurry is not in the best interests of Dayton."
“These are our city’s features, and we’re giving them away,” Hicks reiterated in a post-meeting phone interview.
These concerns led Mayor Virgil Boruske to form an impromptu committee to investigate the issue further. The committee consisted of both Gifford and Hicks, as well as council members Joey Tucker and Joe Neary. That committee convened for a public forum one week after the Council meeting.
At both the city council meeting and the public forum, Giffen’s focus has remained on transitioning the park in a way that best serves the city while not delaying the development any more than it has to.
“(Dayton Pike) was at the time (this issue first arose) and still may be the only option” to replace Riverside Park, he said. “When you’re in an urban core city like Dayton, there is only so much land available for use."
This same idea prompted Hicks, a member on the committee, to look at what the city currently has. At the public forum, Hicks proposed continuing to pursue the Dayton Pike location — as a natural green space or sculpture park — but also recommended the city consider developing a currently unused plot of green space sitting on the 100 block of Fourth St into another park, pick up the slack she believes is left by the Dayton Pike spot.
This other plot, Hicks believes, would serve as a “gateway into Dayton,” and would only add to the value of the nearby properties — including those planned for Manhattan Harbour.
Hicks’s proposal, however, might open a whole new can of worms and red tape because that green space is the very land slated for developing the two high­-end apartment/condo complexes.
After Hicks’s proposal was made, Giffen assured, “We’re going to take a look at (this idea) to see how it could work. How viable is it? I don’t know."
“It would involve even more moving parts, one of which would involve relocating a proposed development,” he said. Imbolden was not immediately available for comment.
Nonetheless, Hicks said, “I think it’s a fair compromise. It’s in the best interest of all these projects moving forward to find a compromise."
While the public forum yielded no specific directives, as a brainstorming session, officials saw it as a success, and much needed step in a complex process. Councilman, committee member, and Chairman of the Parks and Real Estate Committee, Joey Tucker, said, “It was very eye-opening as a lot people were informed, including myself, on the full history of how this park conversion project came about, the process involved, and how it ties in with the future plans for our community,” he said.
"Overall a lot of great ideas and input were brought to the table for everyone to consider,” he added.
Next steps are for committee members and those in attendance to continue exploring, and possibly set up another meeting within the next month.
Written by Pat LaFleur, RCN contributor