Res­i­dents brain­storm ideas for Rod­ney

Walk­ing trails, yoga classes among sug­ges­tions

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By KARIE SIM­MONS ksim­mons@ches­pub.com

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.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

An artist’s ren­der­ing from two years ago shows an early vi­sion of what the Rod­ney stormwa­ter project could look like.

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY KARIE SIM­MONS

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.

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