City Council members won’t be moving forward on a master plan for city lakes. At least, not immediately.
The council voted last week to indefinitely table development plans for Lake Lawtonka and Lake Ellsworth, after members questioned whether proposed amenities met restrictions associated with primary drinking water sources. Lawtonka is defined as Lawton’s primary source for raw water and is the site of the city’s largest water treatment plant, and the nation’s water quality entities set criteria about how close man-made structures can be to such water sources.
The discussion came during a lengthy presentation from Halff Associates, the design firm council members hired to craft several master plans for city recreation areas, including Lawtonka and Ellsworth. Halff has been working on the lakes plan for months, and brought the master plan to the council last week for discussion and acceptance. City officials were careful to say acceptance didn’t mean the plan’s recommendations would be implemented, but even that caused a lengthy discussion among council members about whether they should reject the plan, simply acknowledge receipt of the document but take no action, or table action indefinitely.
“This is just a visioning plan, not conceptual,” said Parks and Recreation Director Christine James, about Halff’s goal of analyzing the amenities Lawton already offers at Lawtonka and Ellsworth, then offer recommendations about improvements that would attract more visitors who would pay fees to support those activities.
Ward 4 Councilman George Gill initially recommended the council reject the plan, calling it “strictly a bad investment” and things the City of Lawton doesn’t have money to accomplish (council members haven’t identified funding sources for any of the work).
Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren said he was concerned about the amenities to be built along the lakes’ shorelines. The plan outlines the addition of things such as RV pads, tent camp sites, trails, playground equipment and other amenities to make the concession areas better for recreation. Warren said health codes specify no structures may be built in areas that drain into the lake, or within 660 feet of the lake’s high water mark. He said some of Halff’s recommendations do just that, specifically citing upgrades planned at Chandler Creek. That recreation area on the southwest end of Ellsworth now has only minimal amenities, but plans would add a pedestrian bridge, campsites and cabins, a trail and access road.
Warren said the law bans anything manmade, to include trails and RV pads.
“We don’t get to make that decision,” Warren said, about what would be allowed and questions the council wants answered. “We don’t get to determine state statute.”
“Very little of what we propose challenges waterline limits,” said Halff Project Manager James Hazzard.
Hazzard said analysis shows only a small portion of proposed amenities fall within the high-water banned area. He also said that when Lawton decides to proceed with conceptual designs for any amenity, Halff would analyze the project to ensure it doesn’t fall within the 660-foot buffer. Hazzard also said any master plan “is a living document,” designed to be updated every five to 10 years, which is why Halff didn’t make specific recommendations beyond what they call Phase I: upgrades at Lawtonka’s Granite Cove, Robinson’s Landing and School House Slough areas.
Mayor Stan Booker called the plan wonderful, but said implementing it means the citizens of Lawton would make a substantial investment in something that won’t pay for itself, while helping other communities built their economies.