River Heights Park to stay a park


courtesy of Google Maps • Residents turned out May 14 to tell the Inver Grove Heights City Council not to sell River Heights Park. Instead of being sold, the park, inconspicuous and located at 8780 Inver Grove Trail, will be improved and marked with a city park ID sign.

IGH residents turn out against sale of their neighborhood green space

 

To many driving by, it may seem like an empty piece of land, but for those who live near River Heights Park, it’s their neighborhood park. 

The park faced a vote from the Inver Grove Heights City Council on May 14 about whether or not to sell it for possible redevelopment, however, park neighbors showed up to voice their support for keeping it a park.

In a unanimous vote, the council, minus Tom Bartholomew, who was absent, voted to keep it a park and improve it.

 

The park in question

Eric Carlson, parks and recreation director, said at the May 14 meeting that the Parks and Recreation Commission has been working on a parks plan, which includes figuring out what parks to keep and what parks to repurpose to best serve the city.

Carlson said the concept of potentially selling city parkland was brought up, with the sale of River Heights Park, located at 8780 Inver Grove Trail, as a possibility.

The park is 7.5 acres, and Carlson said 2.5-acre residential lots currently surround it. While there is a mowed trail, most of River Heights is natural and open space. 

Carlson said there were many options when it came to the best future uses of the park, including adding more features to it, like a park ID sign, parking lot, playground and more. Another idea from the commission was to sell the parkland and allow it to be developed into additional 2.5-acre residential lots, which would put the land on the tax roll.

Carlson said the parkland could also be sold to a private party who would allow the property to be protected as open space, or the city could do nothing at all.

“If council votes to keep River Heights Park, it would be staff’s recommendation ... to order and install a park ID sign similar to our other parks,” Carlson said, adding the recommendation includes other improvements at the park, too.

 

Neighbors speak up

Alicia Uzarek, a policy advocate with Friends of the Mississippi River, said the nonprofit supports keeping the park as a park, with some minor improvements. 

Uzarek said open space and natural areas enhance community livability, adding it has been well-documented that parks can improve property values of nearby homes. 

River Heights Park is located within Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, Uzarek said, meaning it provides important habitat for wildlife.

“Many species are in decline due to loss of habitat,” she said. “Even smaller pieces of habitat like River Heights Park are critical when considered in combination with other parcels within our globally significant river corridor and flyway.”  

Stephen Cook said he walks through the park almost every morning and enjoys the wild area.

He added the park is for the whole city, not just those who live around it. However, most people don’t know it exists, so simple signs at the entrance could help more people know about it and enjoy it. 

“We want to share this with the whole city. It isn’t fair to have a piece like this that many people don’t know is there,” he said.

Shelia Tatone said it blows her mind the council would consider selling parkland that is used by the neighborhood, adding that River Heights Park has the potential to be more widely used. 

She said the last thing that should be done is selling the land for more housing. 

“You’ve been stewards of this land for many, many years. Please continue to be stewards of this land,” Tatone said.

After a bit of discussion the council came to its unanimous decision.

“I’ve personally heard loud and clear from the neighborhood,” said council member Paul Hark.

Mayor George Tourville said it’s simple: River Heights Park is a neighborhood park that is being used by its neighborhood.

Tourville suggested that next, a group including Carlson, parks commissioners and residents get together to figure out what improvements should be done to the park.

 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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