Utica hosts town hall meeting on proposed Pioneer Park

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published August 31, 2018

 Residents of Utica and neighboring communities attend the Utica town hall meeting Aug. 28 to discuss the  development of the proposed Pioneer Park.

Residents of Utica and neighboring communities attend the Utica town hall meeting Aug. 28 to discuss the development of the proposed Pioneer Park.

Photo by Kara Szymanski

UTICA — The city of Utica held a town hall meeting Aug. 28 at Utica City Hall to discuss plans for the proposed Pioneer Park on land located to the north of Eppler Junior High School, where Hahn Street ends.

The main focus of the meeting was to gain community input on ideas for the park — referred to as Pioneer Park, but not yet officially named — in addition to thoughts on putting a dog park inside it. The city recently received a state grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. for $500,000 to be used toward the land, which is a brownfield development due to previously being a landfill.

The money will be put toward building the new park and possibly a dog park, depending on the community’s desire for one.

Current plans for the park include connectivity to the Iron Belle Trail, installing bathrooms, improving Hahn Street, cleaning up the property and creating green space recreational areas for families to enjoy.

During the Aug. 28 meeting, possible amenities and ideas for consideration were mentioned by both city officials and members of the public.

Special structures, restrictions, legal questions, safety requirements, moving the location of the planned restrooms, an indoor dog park, an on-site employee, concerns with land history and more were some of the topics discussed at the meeting.

Of those who attended, many stated that they support the park and the possible addition of a dog park, but they also recommended ideas of their own for the park.

Stacie Bilby, of Utica, stated that she is for both the dog park and the park; however, she is concerned about the safety and security of people and their dogs.

“People take their dog to a park and the dog escapes, which can result in a bigger issue. I have seen this happen before at other dog parks. Dog restrictions and bite records are another thing that should be considered; some breeds are more dangerous than others. Someone should be there to watch the dogs at the park constantly. Another thing to consider is being sued for an attack,” said Bilby.

Utica reportedly has insurance that would cover attacks at the park.

Jim Stone, of Utica, said that he supports the dog park and that he often attends the dog park in Clinton Township.

“Clinton Township requires paperwork for the dogs and that all their shots are up to date. There were two incidents I have ever seen at the park, and they were taken care of. There were no city employees on-site; the dog owners were the ‘police’ of their own dog,” said Stone.

The mayor of Utica, Thom Dionne, mentioned the possibility of adding an emergency button on-site in case someone doesn’t have a cellphone or can’t access one right away.

Jeremy Verbeke shared his support for the park, as he is a frequent user of the bike trail in Utica as a member of the Clinton River Mountain Bike Association of Riverbends Park. He recommended that the bathrooms at the park be moved closer to the Iron Belle Trail, that a recreational bike area be built for adults and kids, and that a skilled cycling area be created.

Bryan Ede, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority and a local business owner in Utica, supports the concept of both the dog park and the park, as it would increase property values near the park and in turn increase the money that the city receives from the properties. He stated that the DDA is for the park too.

The dog park is planned to have a key fob entry system to help with the upkeep of the park once it is built. The fob would have to be purchased.

“You will monitor something better if you have to pay for it. You will also watch your neighbors more if you have to pay,” said Ken Sikora, Utica mayor pro tem.

Sikora also mentioned that many people in apartments don’t have yards for their dogs.

“We just had apartments built by Sam’s Club, and they don’t have backyards for their dogs to run,” he said.

Some concerns about the brownfield were mentioned, such as the depth of the landfill that was there and the possibility of methane being produced from the trash.

Bill Lang, of the Department of Public Works, said that the land contains mostly trash from households over the years.

The city was recently provided with free, clean soil that has already been laid over the soil that contained the trash, which was reportedly 25 feet below the surface prior to the new soil.

The park concept was recommended to the city due to the type of land, which would not allow for residential building.

A member of the audience who works with the Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority recommended the use of vents to prevent any possible issues with methane gas.

Another topic that was brought up by the public was the issue with dog waste and the responsibility of owners to pick up after their dogs.

Questions on the maintenance of the park over the years were brought up during the meeting.

The city had its engineers attend the meeting to answer any questions that the public had.

If agreed upon with the community, the dog park is planned to have restrooms, off-leash play, obstacles for the dogs, fencing, an area for food and water for both dogs and their owners, benches, signs, and electricity, but more may be added.

The dog park project will be an ongoing part of the city development discussions on the park. The next City Council meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11. The meetings are open to the public. Those who would like to learn more or get involved with the topic can contact the city at (586) 739-1600.