Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Councilman Rupert Cutler’s Remarks on Public Park System Growth

Phase III Lick Run Greenway Trail

Phase III Lick Run Greenway Trail

At the Discovery Center on Mill Mountain Monday morning Councilman Rupert Cutler announced the specifics of acreage added to the Public Parks System. Cutler’s remarks are below:

“At my suggestion, Roanoke City Council adopted an amendment to the City Code on May 16, 2005, that opened the door to adding a variety of previously unclassified city-owned lands to the city’s park system. Council passed this ordinance four years ago, and staff has been working ever since on sorting out which city-owned land qualified for reclassification under the terms of this ordinance. But the results were worth waiting for.

The May 16, 2005, ordinance defines for the first time the purpose of city parks—“to preserve and protect open spaces and the natural environment”—and states that the Carvins Cove Natural Reserve and all of the city-owned lands contiguous to and along the Roanoke River, Mill Mountain, and the Fishburn Parkway and Blue Ridge Parkway are to be administered by the City as city parks.

As a result, properties recently added to the City’s parkland inventory include the following:

· Mill Mountain Park gained 57 acres, to bring its total to 624.

· The addition of almost 24 acres brought parkland associated with the Lick Run Greenway to 80.

· Protected green space along Reserve Avenue nearly doubled, from 42 acres to 77. Similarly, dedicated green space in the vicinity of the Roanoke River saw a 48 percent increase, to nearly 240 acres. This land gives some considerable width to the popular Roanoke River Greenway, a so-called linear park.

· And in a location where there was no existing parkland, there are now 18 acres set aside for a future Garden City Greenway. The fact that this project has a longer time horizon than some of the others is evidence of the City’s long-term commitment to growing the greenway system.

A variety of mechanisms and rationales have enabled these acquisitions. The City has made a 10-year, 2 million dollar commitment to funding its greenway system, which has been supplemented by VDOT enhancement dollars. Some of these lands were acquired by the City with federal funds in connection with the flood reduction project – particularly the acreage associated with the Roanoke River Greenway. … The additional park space on Mill Mountain was actually part of the original property gifted to the city by J.B. Fishburn, but comprised a site that had previously had no active use. Making this land part of the park system creates the potential for new uses. … The Lick Run greenway has evolved in stages, and has been made possible through a combination of private land donations, transportation funding, and city capital funds. Phase one, from Valley View Mall to Andrews and Court Streets was opened in January 2002. Phase two, which brought Lick Run all the way to downtown, opened in October 2006. The exciting work going on there now is the educational and wayfinding signage underwritten by the Kiwanis Club. Phase three will ultimately connect Lick Run to William Fleming High School, and will not only help protect the riparian habitat along the waterway, but will bring the greenway system to an underserved part of the City.

Prior to the adoption of the 2005 amendment, there was a total of approximately 1,792 acres of parkland in the city. Since then, following the direction given in the ordinance, some 254 acres of undeveloped land have been added, bringing Roanoke’s parkland total to just over 2,045 acres, an increase of 14 percent. The additional acres represent an area of approximately 195 football fields!

The City of Roanoke comprises an area of 43 square miles, which is 27,520 acres. In recent years, we have seen the amount of land area dedicated to parks and green spaces increase from approximately 6.5 percent to 7.4 percent of the city’s area. This gives us just over 22 acres of parkland inside the city limits for every 1,000 residents.

Roanoke is notably ahead of a number of other cities in the state and the nation in terms of acres per capita of park acreage, including such cities as Virginia Beach, Charlotte, Memphis, Lexington, Kentucky and Riverside, California.

What’s more, these figures do not include the Carvins Cove Natural Reserve which the city owns and administers as part of its park system. This month, the City of Roanoke is preparing to donate a second conservation easement at Carvins Cove to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and the Western Virginia Land Trust to protect our water supply. The first easement was donated on April 21, 2008, and protected 6,185 of the Reserve’s approximately 12,000 acres. Now the city is preparing to preserve and protect the rest of the park so that it remains unspoiled for generations to come. This action further reflects the city’s commitment to parks and parklands as a key element in Roanoke’s quality of life.

For too long, society measured “progress” in terms of building new structures, but this kind of progress is frequently at odds with conservation. However, in the new millennium there is an “urban green infrastructure movement” that recognizes and promotes the importance of integrating outdoor recreation, open space, cultural resources and conservation lands into every community’s ongoing planning and land use management decisions.

In fact, the renewed appreciation for open space is reminiscent of the late-1800s view, held by such visionaries as Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmstead, that parks are not just an amenity but a necessity and should be available to all residents. City parks help to improve physical and psychological health, strengthen neighborhoods, and increase the aesthetic appeal of a locality. In addition, there is documented evidence that the value of private properties increase in direct relation to how close they are to open green space. Therefore, the addition of parklands can have a positive impact on property values and associated city revenue.

The city’s Vision 2001/2020 Comprehensive Plan states that “Roanoke’s natural environment is one of its most important assets. [It] contributes to the overall high quality of life for residents. It is also an important economic development and tourism asset.” The plan notes that, “While natural resources are abundant, they are also fragile and must be protected. Local action and regional cooperation are crucial in achieving the goals of protecting and enhancing our environmental quality.”

Through the 2005 amendment to the City Code, the addition of parkland resulting from that amendment, and the donation of perpetual conservation easements to protect the Carvins Cove watershed, the city is demonstrating its commitment to the future of parklands in our beautiful Valley and its understanding of what makes Roanoke a great place to live.”

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Community, Local Events

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