While everybody is trying to cope with the fallout of the chaotic events in D.C., the machinery of local government grinds away on all the mundane tasks that must be done. In Albany’s case that includes planning for the future of the city’s parks.
On Wednesday night I tore myself away from coverage of the stupid and criminal mob action at the Capitol to take in a virtual meeting of the Albany Parks and Recreation Commission. At issue was a new master plan for parks, which has been in the works for about two years.
The commission unanimously approved the new plan and sent it on with a recommendation that the city council accept it too.
The plan outlines lots of improvements at various parks but recognizes that the main challenge is to maintain what’s already there. The discussion made this clear: Whatever improvements or enhancements are mentioned, they won’t take place unless there’s money, and there’s no assurance that any money will be found.
The plan includes a five-year “action plan” for capital improvements estimated to total about $8 million.
One of the projects is to develop a “neighborhood and nature park” at the East Thornton Lake Natural Area off North Albany Road. That might cost around $5.7 million and it’s the biggest item in the action plan.
Albany bought the 27-acre former farm in 2009 for $2.25 million from a Salem developer in order to keep him from building a residential subdivision on the land, which fronts the south side of East Thornton Lake. The acreage remains undeveloped.
The five-year plan calls for the city to “sell or transfer” two pieces. One is a small acreage near North Pointe in North Albany. The other is Hazelwood Park off Southwest Queen Avenue.
Divestment of 3-acre Hazelwood Park was also mentioned in the parks plan from 2006. In 2017, then Parks Director Ed Hodney told me the city tried to sell it but could not find a buyer. The site is sandwiched between two electric substations. It has no facilities to speak of but contains a grove of mature oaks.
In another part of the new plan, the text suggests a series of new trails to make it “possible to explore the city and its neighborhoods more fully by foot or bike.” A graphic accompanying this suggestion (page 3-15 if you want to look it up) seems to place these possible connections along major streets.
All of this planning may seem fanciful in the face of the city’s budget reality. Major cost cutting and service reductions are expected in the 2021-23 biennium.
The plan says Albany will get 9,000 new inhabitants over the next 10 years. Some park capacity may be added with funding from the city’s systems development charge on new construction.
There also is talk of asking the city council to enact a new “utility fee” to help support city services, including mainly public safety and also others including parks. But whether the council goes for that idea won’t be known until the fee is presented for a decision.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in parks, go look up the master plan on cityofalbany.net. And then hope that some of it can be carried out while you’re still around. (hh)