But they need to figure out what they're allowed to do first by looking through the history books.
While Castle Park supporters were riled up earlier this spring about several aspects of the proposal to put an RV park in their treasured neighborhood park, one of their particular points of contention seemed especially cut and dried: They didn't want a "private" development becoming a reality on any portion of their "public" park.
Simple enough, but as city officials continue to look at ways to better utilize and/or "re-purpose" selected portions of various city park lands that they feel are being under-utilized and, therefore, could be put to better use, they're finding that the issue isn't exactly cut-and-dried.
Take housing, for instance. That's the community need that's popped up more than once in recent city council Ways & Means Committee discussions. City officials have long felt that, even though new residential subdivisions are exciting and attractive, they cost a lot of money to make happen, and the city's most economical way to add housing stock is by going the "in-fill" route. In other words, homes are built on available lots readily available within the community's current footprint.
A portion of the park on Hoven Lane that isn't used for much of anything has been the specific example mentioned most often as a potentially nice spot for the construction of a couple of in-fill homes.
But when the Park Board was updated on the subject this week, the brakes were sort of applied on the issue until the city is able to determine what it's actually able to do when it comes to using park lands for non-park types of things, such as housing. In the meantime, City Clerk Angie Menge is compiling a list of all the city park lands, and the details behind how they became park lands in the first place a long time ago. Those details will determine what, if anything, the city is able to do when it comes to re-purposing any park lands and, in the process, getting the property on the tax rolls.
So what gives? When asked by the Times to explain why the historical research is necessary, Finance Director Angel Hoeffner offered up this explanation:
"The information we are compiling in regards to parks and how the land was acquired deals with donations, covenants and state law. If the land was donated there may have been a stipulation by the owner that it is dedicated park land and cannot be anything else. There may have been a determination by the council at the time of purchase or acquisition that they wanted the area to be a park forever so when the plat was recorded that information would be listed.
"A third way we have acquired some park land was tax forfeiture. When land is acquired this way the city receives a State Use deed and needs to apply to the State specifying the use of that land. If the use changes in the future the land may have to be returned to the County or State for that agency to proceed with a sale or whatever process they determine is best for the land that was being used for public purpose previously.
"We are in the process of reviewing all the documentation for all the city parks to determine if there are any of the three conditions listed in the paragraph above stipulated to know what can or cannot be done."
When it comes to adding in-fill housing, City Administrator Shannon Stassen said the city is also looking at areas in the city that aren't parks even though they feel to those who live nearby like a park.
"It's important that we keep exploring this, because in-fill housing is the most reasonable way for the city to add housing because the infrastructure is there," he said. "This needs to be at least on the table; it's not that we want to put housing in all of our parks, but we need to have this discussion and figure out where we come down on this, and if there are other ideas or opposition."
To Stassen's comment that the Park Board would be part of those discussions, board member Michelle Christopherson said that would be especially appropriate, especially in the wake of the Castle Park/RV park discussion, which the Park Board was largely left out of.
"It would be nice if we were kept in the loop so we're not criticized for not knowing what's going on, like during the Castle Park issue," she said.