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Opinion: Bike park suit detracts from quality of place, workforce goals

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In envisioning the future of Springfield, city officials and stakeholders often espouse the notions of quality of place and workforce retention as keys to the Queen City’s growth.

A bike park started by teenage mountain bikers from the Brentwood and Southern Hills neighborhoods fits soundly with both of those goals. The nonprofit Ozark Greenways Inc. rightly took notice of the Lone Pine Bike Park, leading to the organization securing a $255,000 grant last year from the Springfield- based Hatch Foundation to fund upgrades and enhancements. Earlier this year, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved a request from the Springfield-Greene County Park Board to allow trail construction on the property, changing the land’s use designation, according to Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Sounds great, right? This project envisioned by kids stands to benefit the community’s placemaking efforts and create a meaningful example of civic pride. This is the kind of thing that keeps young people in the community, with the knowledge that they have a sense of agency in how the city matures.

A meaningful project to enhance our city now is being slowed down by a group of stick-in-the-muds.

Property owners near the roughly 16.4-acre green space filed suit last month, alleging they will be forced to pay for improvements they oppose at Lone Pine Bike Park. The lawsuit, which seeks to block the park from further development, takes issue with property taxes paid by surrounding owners for the green space maintenance through the Lone Pine Greenspace Neighborhood Improvement District. After the land was set aside from development in 2003, the city required the 577 individual properties within the NID area to pay an additional real property tax of $80 per year for a period of 20 years to finance the acquisition and maintenance of the green space at a principal amount of $675,000, according to court documents.

I sympathize with the property owners for the taxes paid, but the bike park feels like a worthy use of those dollars to make their area more vibrant.

A commentor in the SBJ.net article about the lawsuit nicely summed up some of my own feelings: “I hope the plaintiffs are able to realize how much of an embarrassment this is for the community. Surely there are things far more sinister in this city than a designed green space for bicyclists. Maybe we should ask people to go play on Glenstone since any public commodity will be met by a lawsuit.”

Striking down this bike park would be a blow to our city, and frankly, the plaintiffs should rethink their opposition to it. Their lawsuit represents a direct attack on placemaking and any sense of ingenuity that young people might show in the city. If we allow kids’ dreams to be trampled, they’ll take them to other cities. It’s that simple.

The potential benefits of the bike park far outweigh the bellyaching complaints of a select few.

The City Parks Alliance, a Washington, D.C., organization that advocates on behalf of urban parks, reports there are many perks brought about by parks.

City parks can spur private investment and increase job opportunities by attracting residents and businesses, save thousands of dollars per person in health care costs each year and increase community engagement.

The Lone Pine Bike Park has “win-win” written all over it. The park should be allowed to continue, or the city could risk losing so much placemaking headway. The future of Springfield could well be impacted by the result of this lawsuit.

Springfield Business Journal Digital Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

Comments

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jean@highlandsprings.com

What hasn't been reported here or in the News-Leader is how close this Bike park is to the homes of the residents who are opposed to it. A map might help me not be a "stick in the mud".

In the meantime, these property owners have already as a group invested $830,880.00 to "preserve green space." A bike park used primarily by teenagers would not fit in my definition of what I thought I was buying if I were a member of this group of homeowners. Before Ozark Greenways asked for grant money to improve and expand this illegal build, did they ask these property owners for a vote? Were the property owners paying these extra taxes notified in advance of the change in land use designation? And since their agreement seems to be null and void through no choice of their own, have they been relieved of the extra property tax burden for the remaining two years?

The fact that the origins of the Bike park were at best unauthorized and at worst illegal seem to be a nonissue with anyone who is in favor of it. I am not against young people with ingenuity, but have mixed emotions about rewarding them for skirting any proper channels--life usually doesn't work that way.

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