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A pair of Phoenix residents make their way into Blue Heron Park off South Pacific Highway Thursday afternoon. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Blue Heron Park may expand

Transfer of property owned by the Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency to help add parking at the entrance to Blue Heron Park will be explored by the City Council, which has endorsed a city Parks and Greenway Commission recommendation to acquire the site.

Details of how the 1.32-acre property might be transferred to the city would need to be worked out. A balloon payment of approximately $171,000 will be due for the site in September. The City Council in December took on the PHURA’s board of directors role.

“There’s a limited opportunity for development there, and this is why the property was purchased in the first place,” said City Manager Eric Swanson. “There are opportunities to do some wetlands education things with the property. It’s arguably one of the finest parks in the area. It’s a matter of timing and understanding the financial commitments that PHURA has.”

A Phoenix parks master plan adopted in the fall recommended adding more land to the park, which is located between Bear Creek and Bear Creek Drive on the south end of town. It totals 24 acres, seven of which have been improved. The Bear Creek Greenway runs through the park.

Budget processes for both the city and PHURA would be conducted in the same time frame but separately, Swanson told the council. Those will occur probably in April or May.

PHURA might cover the balloon payment but then transfer the property to the city, which would be responsible for its development, Swanson suggested. PHURA in October received $1.5 million from the city to cover construction of a civic center building downtown. The agency will pay back the city as it sells other commercial property it is marketing and with increases in taxes it receives.

PHURA agreed to buy the property for $324,000 in August 2015 and paid half of that amount at closing. The balance has been accruing interest at a 6 percent rate.

Originally, the city thought the lot might be divided to allow for commercial development as well as more parking for Blue Heron, said Mayor Chris Luz, who was on the City Council when PHURA purchased the lot. Efforts to market the property for commercial development have proven unsuccessful.

Wetlands on the site come right up to the rear wall of a house on the property, Public Works Director Ray Dipasquale told the council. Development constraints would be significant, he said, although it could be used for parking. An assessment would need to be made to see whether the house is worth salvaging, Dipasquale said.

Acquisition of the site could improve visibility of the park, which is located right off Highway 99, Parks and Greenway Commission Chairman David van de Velde told the council. The house obscures the park. Signage at the park’s entrance has been moved twice in the last five years to make it more visible. Additional parking is needed for events, he added.

“In a study done prior to the parks master plan, it was surprising how many folks didn’t know where Blue Heron Park was,” said van de Velde.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwrter@gmail.com.

 

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