Trust in us

Published 7:58 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008

AHOSKIE – It’s all about trust.

That was the message sent Tuesday morning by Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn to a room crowded with town citizens who were concerned with plans for the Ahoskie Creek Recreational Complex. Those concerns were expressed during a scheduled public hearing dealing with the issue of rezoning the 87.5 acre complex.

Those who spoke at the hearing had rave reviews of what the town had done with the old neighborhood, one wiped out by the flooding rains associated with Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Property owners there were later bought out by FEMA and the town then inherited the land, now cleared of all homes.

“The town has done a great job; it’s beautiful back there, but I’m concerned about the noise (coming from the planned recreational complex),” said Jane Holloman who resides near the proposed park.

Holloman suggested moving the ball fields to another area, one away from existing residences.

Janet Vick, another neighborhood resident, said she was aware there were restrictions on what the town could build on the FEMA property. She wanted to know what Ahoskie officials had in mind for the property the town owns within the recreational complex.

Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond answered by saying the areas Vick was referring to would be in the next phase of the recreational complex.

“Nothing right now is written in black and white (concerning the next phase),” Hammond said. “Whatever will go there will be for recreational purposes.”

Vick suggested that a golf course would be a nice fit for that area.

Mike Basnight, another property owner living adjacent to the complex, voiced his concerns about lights on the athletic fields burning late into the night and the noise from the P.A. (Public Address) system at the ball fields.

“We have no other recourse than to live with this if you rezone this land,” Basnight said.

Hal Daniels, who was a member of the original committee that devised plans for the old FEMA buyout area, praised the town for what they had accomplished with the recreational complex. However, he joined those preceding him at the public hearing in voicing concerns over traffic, noise and the lights from the ball fields affecting the adjoining neighborhoods.

“I ask that you consider moving the ball fields as far towards the northwest (corner of the complex) as possible,” Daniels suggested. “I also ask you to listen to the concerns you heard here this morning and plan accordingly.”

Another neighborhood resident, Joy Simmons, was also worried about the traffic in and out of the complex as well as the lights from the ball fields. She asked council members to consider moving the athletic fields further away from the homes.

At the close of the public hearing, Mayor Blackburn said this entire issue was built on a foundation of “trusting each other.”

“You have to trust that we (council) will do what’s best for the town and its citizens,” Blackburn stressed. “We are exploring every avenue to make this complex the best and make it neighbor-friendly. I promise that you will be proud of what we will do.”

To prove her point, Blackburn said the town had already tweaked the plans for the recreational complex by moving one of the planned ball fields, re-locating the amphitheater, identifying buffer zones and creating a new entrance on Evans Street. All of those changes were in an effort to reduce noise and traffic in the adjoining neighborhoods.

Showing photos taken at a Burlington (NC) park located in a residential neighborhood, Ahoskie Recreation Director Dennis Everett said state-of-the-art lighting and sound used at the Burlington park is being studied for use in Ahoskie.

Prior to the public hearing (during a special request to address the board), Ahoskie resident Phil Coggin complimented the town on its vision for recreation, but expressed concerns about the park traffic and the bright lights and P.A. system. He also urged the town to move the ball fields to the northwest corner of the park property.

“We support the idea of a nice park in Ahoskie and even to our adjoining neighborhood,” Coggin said. “However, the entities that will be placed therein screams out location, location, location.”

Prior to making the motion to approve rezoning the park from Residential to Industry Light, Councilman Ronald Gatling expressed concern over what he felt was miscommunication on this issue.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of concern about the development of the park,” Gatling said. “The design phase has nothing to do with this public hearing. This one is for rezoning. We must rezone the property first before we can move forward with any other plans.”

Gatling’s motion passed without objection.

The town does have a master plan for what to do with the 87.5 acres. It also has a $500,000 PARTF (Parks and Recreation Trust Fund) grant and the Ahoskie Council recently approved the application process for a $1.1 million loan that will be used for development of the recreation complex.

The amphitheater, moved from its original location to the southwestern corner of the complex (Edgewood Drive), will officially open on Friday, the opening night of Ahoskie Heritage Day.