Park development plans leave some River Bend residents unhappy

Erin Dean

Update on park development and water access projects along the Cuyahoga River.

Kent Parks and Recreation Director, John Idone, led a public comment meeting last night for the River Bend Park development and water access projects along the Cuyahoga River.

Joining Idone to lead the meeting were members of R.E. Warner and Associates, the selected design and engineering consultants for the projects.

More than forty people attended, some of whom were avid paddlers and users of the river and others were residents of the River Bend neighborhood. The majority of the River Bend residents were less than pleased with the park development projects.

The River Bend Park developments include a paved access roadway, parking and launching area available for the public to have safe and easy access for outdoor activities in the park and river.

Most residents’ concerns dealt with a parking lot and security light, which some felt would be intrusive.

Diana Sumner, River Bend resident who lives across the street from the river, said she is not opposed to the park or the kayaking in the river. Her main concern is the parking lot and the proposed security light.

“I’d rather not have any lighting,” Sumner, who has lived in River Bend for ten years, said. “There’s lighting there now on the bridge. If it’s only going to be open from open to dusk, what would you need a light for?”

Idone’s response about the light during the meeting was that it would serve a security purpose, so that patrollers or residents who drive by and see a car in the lot after park hours could alert the appropriate officials.

Idone said Parks and Recreation will be holding a follow-up meeting in six to eight weeks, to touch base again with the residents and interested parties in the projects.

Sumner said she hopes the upcoming meeting will provide answers to questions brought up in last night’s meeting.

“I would really like to see a drawing of what they’re proposing,” she said. “When I come back I want to see exactly what their thoughts are and still have the ability to make changes.”

Parks and Recreation acquired $250,000 for these projects through a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. In addition, $50,000 will come from park funds.

Linda Ferlito, a physical education teacher from Kent Roosevelt, strongly supports the park developments.

“I think this project will have a positive impact on our community,” Ferlito said during the meeting. “I think it will increase the value of the city and promote a community that welcomes recreation. Recently a study was released saying that thirty-nine percent of kids are obese. We want them to be active and yet we aren’t giving them options. I take my classes down here and right now we cut through Debbie Smeiles’ yard. It would be nice to have a safe access down to the water.”

Several Kent city councilmen were in attendance as well as Mayor Jerry Fiala and Kent State University President, Lester Lefton. Lefton, who is also a River Bend resident, asked Idone if the projects would be happening regardless, or if it is still in negotiation.

Idone said the plans, which have been part of the master plan for twenty years, are happening, but that the Parks and Recreation department, as well as the engineering consultants are using this meeting to facilitate ideas for the specific details.

Other residents’ concerns dealt with the environmental issues the projects will present. Some residents said they think a parking lot will lead to an increase in traffic and trash throughout the neighborhood.

“The people that use the river typically have a respect for the outdoors,” Idone said. “They are interested in conservation, and usually do what they can to pick up trash that’s typically not theirs.”

River Bend resident and Parks and Recreation board member, Debbie Smeiles, is in support for the development and said she wished her neighbors would get on board.

“To me, it’s a perfect fit with the downtown development,” Smeiles said. “There are new businesses coming in and new development. They are trying to promote the river as a destination. This, to me, is a perfect tie in because you give them a place to launch from that is safe and accessibility and it gets them through town. As far as I’m concerned it will do nothing but increase the visibility of Kent itself. It’s going to increase business, I have no doubt about that at all.”

Idone said the follow-up meeting will provide a more concrete design of the project, including the landscaping and other aspects of the park.

“It’s fifty to one,” Idone said of the ratio between supporters and unsupportive residents. “This will be a huge asset to the city of Kent and will help promote the outdoor community.”

Contact public affairs reporter Erin Dean at [email protected].