Residents brainstorm ideas for Rodney
Walking trails, yoga classes among suggestions
Several Newark residents shared ideas this week – ranging from an amphitheater to walking trails to food trucks – for the proposed stormwater pond and park at the site of the former Rodney dorm complex on Hillside Road.
The brainstorming session was part of a public workshop on Tuesday organized by city staff and JMT, the engineering consultant hired to shepherd the project. JMT used a variety of methods to gauge public opinion, including roundtable discussions and voting in real-time polls via text message.
Out of the roughly 25 residents who attended, most seemed to be in favor of the project as a whole, but cited cost as the primary concern, followed closely by safety and maintenance.
The city has already put $50,000 down on a contract to buy the 7.24-acre Rodney property from the University of Delaware for as much as $2.1 million.
However, the city has up to four years to decide whether to go through with the purchase, which is contingent on a successful referendum seeking residents’ approval to take on debt for the project. The cost of the land does not include the cost to build the pond and park, which is estimated to be several million dollars more depending on design.
Resident Jim Nigg said he’s worried the referendum won’t pass because many residents are uneducated about Newark’s flooding issues and its aging stormwater system. He suggested city staff and JMT put more effort into educating the public and disseminating as much information as possible prior to the referendum slated for the spring.
“I don’t think the average person really understands what we’re trying to solve,” he said.
“Not everybody sees the flooding problem as their problem because they don’t live in these neighborhoods,” Heather Dunnigan added.
City officials first publicly discussed the possibility of buying the property for use as a stormwater pond in March 2015, shortly after UD announced it would shut down Rodney.
Several large stormwater pipes meet under Rodney, and building a stormwater pond there would help relieve flooding on either side of the western area drainage ditch that runs from South Main Street to the Christina River south of Silverbrook. When the ditch overflows, it floods the Old Newark neighborhood, including Apple Road, Beverly Road and Dallas Avenue.
Officials have said the project will likely also include park-like amenities, such as a walking trail, outdoor classroom and an informational kiosk about stormwater management and the history of the area – all ideas residents seemed to support on Tuesday.
Other suggestions included a dog park, fishing, a beer garden, an ice rink, amphitheater and a place for food trucks or yoga classes.
“If I saw food trucks down there, I’d definitely stop by,” said Matt Doyle.
Amenities aside, residents agreed stormwater mitigation is the primary goal of the project and told JMT and city staff they would like to see the flooding under control before any playgrounds, walking tracks or other activities like food truck Fridays are put in place.
“Do the pond first, then start building the recreational aspect,” said Jim Dunson. “The stormwater pond needs to happen first. That’s the whole point of this.”
“Business before pleasure,” another resident added.
Christine Lashbrook, who lives in the Oaklands neighborhood, said she wants the pond to be just as beautiful as it is functional.
“I live across the street, so I don’t want my neighborhood to be diminished by what this looks like,” she said, noting that whatever is built there should also be well-lit and monitored by police. Residents also discussed whether the pond should be wet or dry, a decision that is totally up to the public, according to acting public works director Tim Filasky.
Filasky said the pond can either be “wet,” meaning it is always full, or “dry,” meaning water levels fluctuate with rainfall. A dry pond is designed to hold water during a storm and then drain out, but it would be less attractive than a wet pond, he said.
A few residents were concerned that a wet pond might create a breeding ground for mosquitos, while John Morgan was worried about young children or UD students drowning in the water, which officials say will be only 3 feet deep.
“It’s so close to the Deer Park and Buffalo Wild Wings where we know lots of college kids get drunk and it only takes one of them to decide to go for a swim at 2 a.m. and then we have a problem,” he said.
Officials will take the input received Tuesday and develop several concepts for the site, which will be presented at another public meeting, set for Sept. 28. A third meeting on Nov. 8 will unveil the preferred concept and discuss the next steps.
JMT officials said Tuesday they plan to submit a final conceptual design for loan approval early next year, with the referendum slated for spring and the pond and park fully functional by fall 2019.
An artist’s rendering from two years ago shows an early vision of what the Rodney stormwater project could look like.
Residents answer survey questions and provide input during Tuesday’s workshop on the proposed stormwater pond and park at the former Rodney site on Hillside Road.