Canby’s beloved parks were a focal point of discussion at last week’s City Council meeting, as officials reviewed their recent “wins” with regard to local recreational assets — and mulled the future for serving the growing community.
The meeting featured a joint discussion between the council and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, composed of appointed community members — many of whom have served in the role for years.
The city’s roadmap for parks development and growth is laid out in the Canby Parks Master Plan — which is the first problem. The document has not been comprehensively updated for over 20 years, and the city has seen a more than 50% population increase since then — encompassing some-6,000 new residents.
New City Administrator Scott Archer — who boasts ample parks and recreation chops as the former director of the NCPRD as well as the Oregon City parks department — told the council that the master plan update is already well underway.
“When I joined the city just a few short months ago, parks was one of the issues I heard about early and often,” Archer said. “We have a lot of need and we have great potential in our parks system. The question is, ‘How do we add to that system? What are the priorities of the community?'”
It’s not just that the population has grown, but that the demographics have changed — both overall and in certain areas. Neighborhoods populated mainly by families with young children will have different needs and interests when it comes to parks than empty nesters and active seniors.
Archer said the city has received four bids by consulting firms interested in leading Canby’s parks master plan update and is currently reviewing those proposals. He recommended the parks board serve in the role of citizen steering committee for the project.
“It’s going to give us a comprehensive look at the city,” Archer said. “It will be inclusive of a lot of community groups. And that’s a critical thing because determining how we establish our priorities is very difficult without some kind of a guiding document and that’s exactly what this master plan will be.”
While agreeing with the need for a new master plan to guide future decision-making, Chair Barry Johnson said the parks board has not been resting on its laurels while the project has been pushed forward.
After collaborating with the council on the new splash pad on North Maple Street in 2019, the parks board turned its attention to Locust Street Park — a small but extremely busy recreational area that serves a number of higher-density residential developments as well as a staging ground for events hosted by Bridging Cultures Canby and other groups.
“We didn’t want to remain stagnant,” Johnson explained. “We wanted to get something [done] while the master plan is getting worked on, … go after some of the low-hanging fruit that we thought we could complete this year.”
The city is on track to do just that. Last year, crews removed and began replacing what was previously the city’s oldest and most run-down play equipment with two brand-new structures — which are now complete and open to the public.
The city, at the advisement of the parks board, also replaced the aging roof on the bathrooms and put new bark dust in the play areas.
“We see those as big wins,” Johnson said. “That’s going to be a beautiful park for the community there to enjoy.”
Still on the docket are repaving and striping the basketball courts and erecting a covered pavilion with lights and power for events.
Two other park amenities the board hopes to tackle while the master planning process underway are the Canby Pond at Community Park and the former tennis courts at Maple Street Park.
The deteriorating courts — the only tennis areas open to the public in the city of Canby — were demolished in 2019 to make way for the new splash pad, with plans to rebuild them just north of that location in the current fiscal year.
That’s still the plan, Johnson said, though the board may consider targeting a different activity: pickleball, a fast-growing sport similar to tennis, but which uses a lower net and much smaller court.
“We took out those tennis courts with the promise that they would be replaced,” Johnson said. “The discussion now is, do we replace them with tennis courts or pickleball courts? Pickleball has become very popular. It’s a fast-growing outdoor sport that might be enjoyed by more than the tennis crowd.”
At the Canby Pond, the issue is less adding an amenity than it is addressing a problem. Johnson said the pond is home to an invasive plant species that takes over in the warm summer months, covering the surface and making it “look terrible.”
The board had been looking at the possibility of adding a fountain, which would add some attraction to the local fishing hole while also providing helpful aeration. But the abatement may be much simpler.
“We found out that the Willamette Valley Country Club had this same species,” he said. “They recommended these granules that you add to the water over a couple of years that will kill it.”
Community Park is currently closed to visitors, due to downed trees and branches from the recent ice storm that wrought havoc at all of the city’s parks. Canby’s park maintenance lead, Jeff Snyder, summed up the aftermath last week as “everything is kind of blown up everywhere.”
But, for many residents, the most visible damage was likely what was seen at Canby’s beloved Wait Park. And while the downed limbs and dangling widow-makers have been addressed, making the park safe for the future will take much longer, officials said.
“The ice storm has really brought to the forefront that we need to do something with the diseased, damaged and dangerous trees in the area,” Johnson said. “We need to get an arborist in there. We need to identify those trees that are a hazard to the community, mark them and take care of those.”
Several councilors, including Jordan Tibbals and Shawn Varwig, agreed the dangerous trees, particularly those in Wait Park, needed to be a priority.
“We don’t know what the cost is going to be, but I know that if we don’t do those trees and a branch falls on someone or something, it’s going to be a lot more expensive,” Varwig noted. “So, I think that’s priority No. 1: Making sure those trees are safe and not going to come down. I almost don’t care what the cost is; let’s get them safe.”
Officials also discussed the $5 parks maintenance fee that a divided council passed in 2017 and which is scheduled to sunset (i.e., end) in 2022 — though councilors could elect to renew it or put it to a vote of the people.
The fee has allowed the city to take on new maintenance staff members, purchase new equipment and address long-deferred maintenance like the play equipment at Locust Park and graffiti. But some councilors were alarmed to learn that the fee, which raises an estimated $35,000 each month, has been rolling over several times that at the end of each fiscal year: $200,000 last year and an estimated $170,000 in June.
“Wouldn’t that pay for several more parks maintenance employees?” Councilor Chris Bangs asked, while Councilor Greg Parker pointed out how difficult it would be to sell the public on an extension of the fee when the city is not spending all that it is raising now.
The reason for the surplus, city staff explained, is that the fee is temporary. They did not necessarily see it as fiscally responsible (or in the city’s best interest) to take on more employees — and purchase equipment and trucks for them to use — when the funding might go away in a year and a half.
But, as Parker argued, there are “ways around that.”
“There are lots of temporary staff arrangements that can be made,” he said. “So, that’s my direction to Scott Archer: Find a way to fix that.”
While much of the discussion centered on capital projects and maintenance, parks board member Ryan Oliver hoped that, going forward, the city and its advisory committee might spend more time focusing on the second — and somewhat-neglected — part of its name.
“We call ourselves the ‘Parks and Recreation Board,’ but really, we’re a parks board,” Oliver said. “We don’t do a ton of recreation. My passion is in the youth sports game, and as a city, we do next to nothing in that department.”
That argument seemed to particularly resonate with Archer, who said staff will indeed be working to come up with ways to expand the city’s recreational opportunities for residents.
“I would love to see the city do more in the recreation realm,” he said. “I think our community can do more, and I do think we need to take a look at that.”
See the complete March 3 Canby City Council meeting below:
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