Members of the City Planning Commission won’t take a stand on a proposal to repurpose 52.7 acres of parkland, saying they don’t have enough information to make decisions.
Commissioners were asked Thursday to provide input into a proposal from City of Lawton staff that would bring new use to 19 parks. “Repurposing” would include actions such as designating the space to adjacent property owners or selling it at auction for other uses, including commercial development.
Parks and Recreation Director Christine James said the recommendation is the end result of a process city staff launched in spring 2022 to analyze Lawton’s 74 dedicated parks. The goal is less park space for Parks and Recreation to maintain, allowing the city to better focus its resources and staff on remaining parks. Residents became part of the process through City Council Ward-specific meetings that analyzed parks/park space in each of the eight wards, presenting recommendations for each. The results of those meetings were compiled with staff recommendations — James said several staff recommendations changed because of residential input — and it is those results that were brought to the planning commission on Thursday.
Those recommendations will be taken to the City Council for action April 25. But they will be going without a recommendation from the planning commission.
“The City Planning Commission was not part of the process,” Commissioner Deborah Jones said, explaining commissioners were excluded from the analysis, and she and others don’t feel they should make a recommendation. “That’s my concern.”
Commissioners said they are missing key pieces of information they feel are necessary for a comprehensive decision: what zoning the land holds, potential uses and limits, whether adjacent property owners benefit. Commissioners said zoning is a special concern. Commission Chairman David Denham predicted the planning commission will see some of the park space again, as new owners approach the city about changing zoning so other use is allowed.
“They’ll look to us,” Denham said, of the commission’s job of recommending zoning changes. “I see a couple of interesting meetings in our future.”
The 19 parks recommended for repurposing have various issues that make them less-than-desirable for community parks. For example, seven are “pocket parks,” space that has no access from public streets and are tucked in behind houses in residential neighborhoods. Several have alley access; many are accessible only by foot through narrow walkways.
Cindy Augustine, real property coordinator for the city, said city staff has explored options for those pocket parks, including notifying adjacent property owners the land is available so they might apply to absorb some of that land into their property. She said the city already has been contacted about some of the parks, and residents who attended public meetings last year suggested some pocket parks would be ideal for community gardens.
Jones said one park space presents a special challenge, and she and other commissioners say it should be considered separately from the other parks. Denham said without that separation, the city risks delaying the entire repurposing package because residents will have strong feelings about the recommendation to auction the 4-acre Tomlinson Park. The empty tract is located on the east side of Northwest 38th Street, just south of Greer Park and Kid’s Zone.
Residents to the east and north of that area were vocal and pointed in their opposition to plans several years ago to grant commercial zoning to the area so it could be developed. Jones said the tract’s location along a major arterial makes it “prime development land,” but the city will face strong residential opposition if it tries to sell the land for commercial use.
“We got into trouble with the neighborhood before,” Denham said of opposition that changed the city’s mind about the rezoning, adding that keeping Tomlinson Park as part of the entire repurposing package “will tie up the whole package.”