One thing that can be said about Camp Verde Parks and Recreation Director Bill Lee is that he is tenacious in his efforts to see a regional park built on U.S. Forest Service Land along Arizona 260.
Nearby neighbors are not quite as enthused.
The surrounding neighbors, some of whom claim they’ve had little knowledge of the plans, live on McCracken and Peach Lanes and Beaver Road. They say they are worried about losing their quiet, rural lifestyle to the glare of ballfield lights, excess noise and possible vandalism associated with a park that could eventually play host to regional and state tournaments as well as serve community needs.
Undaunted and eager to please, Lee met with several neighbors last week, along with some council and commission members at the proposed site.
"We walked through to give everybody an idea as to potential layout; to see how far we’re talking about with a buffer zone to the edge of active portions of the park," Lee explained.
Carol and David German are some of the closest neighbors to the proposed park site. They live on McCracken Lane. Earlier this month, Carol German presented a petition from the McCracken Lane residents askign the council to change the entrance to the park from McCracken to the sewer pond road. The petition also seeks a minimum 100-yard buffer zone be maintained between the private property boundaries and any park development; and that the residents on McCracken Lane be involved in the planning and engineering in the park.
Quick to react to a potential political fire, Lee told the Nov. 21 "walk-through" visitors that the entrances had been moved as requested.
David German later commented, "I was pleased to see for the most part, he moved the entrance away from McCracken down 260 to where the sewer plant is. That was one of our main concerns."
Lee clarified later that one entrance off McCracken Lane still may be necessary to access the existing ranger station, which he hopes will become the new Parks and Recreation Office.
Lee did not acquiesce on the buffer zone, however. Under the current plans, the buffer zone is 150 feet; neighbors want it to be 300 feet away. Lee told the neighbors during the walk-through that there will be some berms 10-foot high with trees to help screen out noise and lights. David German commented that they were disappointed in the buffer zone decision, but could probably live with it clarifying that Lee indicated they had already lost 25 acres to buffer zone requirements.
Another neighbor, Francel Lizotte, said she didn’t agree with Lee’s assessment about lighting issues, another major concern. She explained that most of the nearby properties are lower than the park site. She said the lights, in spite of Lee’s assurances that they would shine downward, will shine into neighboring properties. Lee did tell the neighbors that lights would not be on after 10 p.m.
"I don’t believe we’re going to have a light issue any way. I told those people to go see our Butler Park; the lights are going onto the field, not the sky or sideways," Lee said.
John Wischmeyer, also at the walk-through, lives directly north of the proposed quadrant of baseball diamonds next door to Lizotte. He said he will talk to Lee about making the ball field closest to his house a daytime field without lights. He too is very concerned about the lights shining onto his property.
Wischmeyer, who happens to be the town marshal, said that he and other neighbors enjoy the peaceful lifestyle that includes the movement of wild elk cross the current forest service land.
"I realize it’s probably fate that it’s going to be developed into something and would rather see it as a park than a busy, high-density housing or commercial development," Wischmeyer said.
The USFS is expected to put the large parcel of land that sits between the Verde River and the Camp Verde Sanitary District up for sale sometime soon. According to Lee, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill that provides the USFS the authority to sell this parcel and about five others. Although the town council has made no official resolution to proceed with the purchase or approve the conceptual design of the park’s interior, they appear to be heading in that direction. Under Lee’s proposal, the town would purchase 161 acres and enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the USFS for an additional 58 acres.
The community park concept first appeared around 1995 by the Parks and Recreation Commission originally geared toward a different tract of USFS land, the old airstrip on McDonald Lane. Lee said the decision to change parcels was based on the ability to purchase the current ranger station site sooner. To buy the airstrip, he said, would take five to seven years.
"Next Wednesday, I’m going to the council to ask them in a small leap of faith to allow us to go after the services for the legal description and get a preliminary appraisal of the property on the outside chance the U.S. Forest Service can give us a memo of understanding by February. We might be able to submit a Heritage Grant this cycle," Lee said as to his next step.
The grant that Lee is interested in pursuing would provide $560,000 from the lottery fund resource for the acquisition and park development. The town would be expected to put up additional matching funds or another $560,000 under the grant, he said.
The current park conceptual drawing for the 219-acre site includes football and soccer fields, baseball fields, a rodeo arena with stables, an RV park, a canoe livery and possibly the town’s library and marshal’s office.
Although Lee has made no promises to neighbors about allowing them to help plan the park, he did say, "We definitely will keep people posted as to the goings on at the park."
He did encourage them to attend upcoming council and commission meetings and provide public input.
"We want to be good neighbors with this park. The bottom line is the residents; they’re going to use it as well as others," he added.