Commissioners endorse plan to buy more land, build more parks and greenways

Mecklenburg County commissioners on Tuesday endorsed the Park and Recreation Department’s master plan that will continue to target new parks for under-served areas, strive for a standard of 1.5 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents by 2019 and build another 50 miles of greenways by 2020.

Before the 9-0 vote, Park Director Jim Garges told commissioners that the county has 68 projects worth $130 million, but “there’s so much more to come.”

The plan he presented calls for 268 miles of new trails over the next 30 years, 60.5 miles built by 2025. To meet 2018 service needs, the plan recommends 10 new spraygrounds and six outdoor family aquatic centers, in addition to renovating and expanding one existing pool. Garges said the county would need to complete the last five miles on Little Sugar Creek Greenway to South Carolina, build three to four nature centers (by 2025) and buy land to link greenways, especially in the Mountain Island Lake area.

Nearly $26.5 million has already been allocated to buy more than 1,000 acres of land for parks and other recreation amenities. The next four years, there’s also money for: 22 miles of greenways, four new neighborhood parks, three community and regional parks, a new urban park, another nature preserve and two recreation center expansions.

Mecklenburg, Garges said, also needs to increase access to park and recreation amenities. At present, about 15.5 percent of residents live within a 5-minute walk of some type of public recreation.

“In an urban county, access is very important,” Garges said in an interview. “You need to get as many people as possible living (near) close-to-home recreation. If they can walk there, it’s better for them. It improves their health and improves the economic vitality of the area.

“We need to continue to fill gaps where access is not as great as it could be.”

Parks drive economic development, he said. Three uptown projects – Romare Bearden Park, First Ward Park slated to open in December and Little Sugar Creek Greenway – are projected to ultimately draw $1 billion in development.

Despite a recession that stunted growth of construction and improvements to parks and other amenities in Mecklenburg, the county has opened eight neighborhood parks since 2007, 10 community and regional parks, 13 miles of greenways and two nature preserves.

Four signature venues were also opened, including: the Little Sugar Creek urban sections, Romare Bearden Park uptown, Revolution Sports Academy on Remount Road and the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in Matthews.

Commissioner George Dunlap voted to endorse the plan, but voiced a concern that parks in his District 3 have been started, “but take years to finish.”

“If you care enough to start a park, you ought to start it and complete it and then move on to the next,” Dunlap said.

In other commission news:

A group of people from Pottstown, Huntersville’s historically black community, told commissioners they were against any plans to demolish the old Waymer Center that for nearly 50 years was a gathering place and recreation facility for the community’s children.

In August, Garges said he wants the county to tear down the building that has fallen into disrepair, saying it could cost $1 million to $2 million to renovate the building and replace its aging electrical system.

The facility is a historic landmark, one of several buildings that comprised the former Torrence-Lytle School, the first African-American school in Huntersville. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission owns most of the building. But the county owns the gym.

“The Waymer Center is the only positive outlet for the youth in east Huntersville,” said Miguel Slaughter, director of East Huntersville Youth Ministry. “It’s the one place they can play basketball or hang out with friends – and stay out of trouble.”

Betty Caldwell told commissioners that the community would be left without vital services if the center disappears.

Several commissioners, including Pat Cotham, Ella Scarborough, Vilma Leake and Chairman Trevor Fuller, said they heard the group and they’ll get a response from the county.

“This is their history and their sacred building is in major disrepair,” Cotham said. “My heart goes out to you – we need to do something about their gym.”

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061