Berkley looking to add unused land to Merchants Park

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published December 21, 2013

 This month, the Berkley City Council approved an environmental study of land near Merchants Park in an effort to expand the park in the near future.

This month, the Berkley City Council approved an environmental study of land near Merchants Park in an effort to expand the park in the near future.

Photo by Joshua Gordon

BERKLEY — The Berkley City Council approved Dec. 16 a Phase 1 environmental study to be performed on land east of Merchants Park, between Bacon and Oakshire avenues.

The study, which council said cannot exceed $3,000 to be paid for from the land improvements account, will look to see if the land is suitable for the Berkley Parks and Recreation Department to develop and add to Merchants Park.

Tom Colwell, parks and recreation director, said the study would check the land to make sure it is free from contaminants and other harmful elements.

“We are looking to buy that land, and we need to make sure there is no contaminants or harmful elements, because we want to turn it into a park,” Colwell said. “Kids are going to be kids, and some are going to eat dirt or chew on grass or fall and scrape their knee. We need to do our due diligence and make sure it is safe.”

A portion of Community Park, which is located on Catalpa Drive, between Gardner and Robina avenues, was designated in the 1990s to be used for a cellphone tower. The city receives money for designating the land, Colwell said, but they need to replace the green space that was taken away from that park.

“We are trying to use this new land as mitigated land for the converted land at Community Park that was used by the Department of Natural Resources to create cellphone tower land,” he said. “We need to add green space to the city to make up for the fall zone of the cellphone tower. When we apply for grants, we lose points on the application because of the cellphone tower, so if we can add to Merchants Park, we not only add more green space in our community, we also won’t lose points for grants.”

Colwell said he has spoken with the city’s engineers at Hubbell, Roth & Clark Inc., who will assist Berkley in moving forward with the environmental study.

The land the city is looking at  currently is owned by the Berkley School District. The city of Berkley owns the west half of the block where Merchants Park is located and the school district owns the east half.

Half of the school district’s property has been used to build houses, so the city would be looking to purchase the inside quarter from the district, Colwell said.

“If you look at the block, we own half and the school district owns half, and we are looking to take a third quarter so we would own three quarters for park land,” he said. “The land requires quite a bit of work because the school district tore down the Oxford school administration building and there is quite a bit of cleanup that was never done to be able to turn it into useable park space. The north area of that land requires considerable effort to get up to par.”

Mayor Phil O’Dwyer said city officials were disappointed that part of the land was sold for a row of houses, but they are working with the school district to get control of the other half.

“We found that it was necessary for us to protect as much green space as possible for park land,” O’Dwyer said. “We are in the process of working out an agreement with the school district for the city to purchase the property, and part of that effort is to conduct a soil test. We are confident nothing will be found, and we are excited by the possibility of a win-win agreement with the school district so everybody benefits.

“Essentially, we are looking to have that green space preserved and protected in our community.”

Colwell said a survey was done a few years ago on what the residents wanted, when it comes to park improvements. If the city is able to purchase the land and use it, he said one of the first things he would like to build is a dual football and soccer field.

With the other land, Colwell said they could include a variety of things ranging from a community garden to a walking trail and upgraded play structures.

“As a park and recreation department, to have the opportunity to add green space to our community is very exciting,” he said. “The possibilities for leisure and activities for residents to pursue, to be able to create more, is certainly an exciting venture to get into. We are all excited to move forward.”