Battle of Sand Dune Park goes to council

A joint Parks and Recreation Commission meeting last Thursday gave residents one last opportunity to voice concerns before commissioners hand over recommendations for the future of Sand Dune Park at the upcoming City Council meeting.
The dune has been closed since August while city officials grappled with how to address neighborhood traffic and noise problems created by an upsurge in use of the sand dune that has become a regional attraction for athletes seeking to workout on its steep, low-impact incline. The city estimates 9,000 people visited the dune monthly prior to its closure.
Four options have emerged from the Parks and Recreation Commission process: reopening the dune as before, implementing a paid reservation system, limiting operational hours, and closing or repurposing the dune.
The Parking and Public Improvements Commission has investigated the installation of a resident permit parking program and parking meters along Bell Ave.
The two commissions convened at the Joslyn Community Center Thursday, and the vote was almost evenly split among the panel. Six commissioners chose to close or repurpose the dune; five opted for limiting its operational hours, a paid reservation system, or a combination of both.
“We owe residents correcting this problem,” said PPIC Chairman Paul Gross. “I don’t think it requires closing the dune. It is part of the character of our city. I think we need to preserve that character.”
Neither commissioners nor the approximately 75 residents in attendance supported reopening the dune without changes. The annual cost of operating Sand Dune Park – which includes amenities, such as playground equipment, unrelated to the dune itself – is $125,000 to $160,000. Limiting the hours of operation during peak times or seasonally, such a May through August, would cost $110,000 to $120,000 a year, due to fewer sand replenishments.
Staff estimated that a paid reservation system — which Gill said would be similar to getting a boarding pass for an airplane — would cost $95,000 to $130,000 a year, since such a system would generate revenue for the city.
Costs associated with each option were annual maintenance estimates and did not reflect initial installation costs.
Parks and Recreation director Richard Gill recommended a combination of limiting hours and reservation system to the commission. He said both could easily be adjusted to meet demands as they change.
Keeping the dune closed would cost the city $35,000 to $45,000 annually for the continued maintenance of the park.
Residents living closest to the dune continued to support keeping it closed, citing cost, environmental concerns and a lack of confidence in the city’s ability to enforce strict regulations.
“As much as I would like to support keeping the dune open, it’s unachievable based on our historical inability to enforce much simpler regulations on the dune,” said former Parks and Recreation commissioner Gerry O’Connor.
Proponents of reopening the dune with stricter regulations pleaded with commissioners to consider taking steps before shutting the dune down for good.
“I understand why some residents are unhappy, frustrated, and so well-organized,” resident Mike Jenkins said. “But this is a valuable community resource. This should be approached incrementally and not just closed down to the residents and others using it.”
O’Connor noted that during the 12 years the city has attempted to address the overcrowding of the dune, every council has chosen incremental steps while the problem has only worsened.
PPIC commissioners did not support implementing parking solutions, saying that the dune is a parks-oriented issue.
“The truth is to solve this problem with parking is like a physician trying to stop a hemorrhage with a band-aid,” Commissioner Carlos Vigon said. “It’s not a long-term solution. It works on the symptom, not the cause.”
“If you close the dune, you cut off the head of the snake,” city traffic engineer Erik Zandvliet said.
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Lynn Harris suggested finding creative uses for the dune, such as a nature space for educational purposes.
“It would make me extremely sad to see no purpose for the dune,” she said.
Gross suggested that staff pick a year when traffic on the dune was tolerable, such as 1985, and get the experience of the residents back to that year.
“I don’t think we can install an effective management system that will get us back to 1985,” said Parks and Recreation Chair Steven Nicholson. “I don’t think this is fiscally or environmentally responsible. It is environmentally appropriate to stop use of the dune.”
The City Council is expected to make a decision on the Dune’s future at next Tuesday’s meeting. ER


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