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Residents oppose trails in back yards
Residents oppose trails in back yards
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Fears of sexual predators and loss of privacy were among the concerns raised by residents Monday during a hearing on Chardon's proposed bicycle and pedestrian trail plan.
The comments came during a public forum as the city's planning and zoning commission considered a draft plan for the trails that may some day serve the community.
About two dozen residents showed up, and about eight expressed opinions on the plan that still must go before City Council for final approval.
The commission recommended approval of the plan with a stipulation that it does not favor using residents' back yards for the trails. The plan places emphasis on connecting the two trail heads for the Geauga Park District's Maple Highlands Trail and connecting the missing sections of sidewalks.
"We'll do nothing without the full cooperation of residents," commission member Andrew Blackley said.
The issue of using residents' properties for the trails was at the center of a prepared statement before the start of the public forum as Councilwoman and commission member Leslie Bednar addressed what she said could be a campaign to frighten people.
She said she was in possession of an e-mail written by resident Joyce Campbell that misrepresented what the city is planning. "I am saddened to report that some misleading information is being spread about the draft pathways plan that is open for discussion and that the planning commission will consider for recommendation tonight," Mrs. Bednar said.
Mrs. Campbell sent maps from the draft plan that were taken out of context, "thereby alarming property owners by alluding that their private property is in danger of being snatched for public use," Mrs. Bednar said.
"The truth is the city has no intention of taking residents' property to create trails," she said. "As a council person, I want to set the record straight. This document is filled with maps that are the due diligence of our hired consultant. Many routes have been outlined, but not one of them has been chosen, approved or initiated. Some options are not feasible nor desirable simply because of the impact on people's property."
Mrs. Bednar said she wanted to be clear that the draft plan does not dictate the location of future trails or pathways, and council and the planning commission "have expressed a commitment to avoid impacting privately owned, already developed residential lots to the highest possible degree."
She said the public has been invited to a series of forums and public hearings during the initial studies and would continue to be part of the decision-making process.
Mrs. Campbell said she was not sure what she was being blamed for. She said she's not against creating bike paths but simply wants to inform people of what the city is considering. She said the plan has a number of parts to it, and she's attempting to educate people on plans that may affect them. "I told people," she said. "If that was wrong, so be it."
She said people who that spoke at earlier public hearings on the matter were not even Chardon city residents, and there has been talk of using eminent domain for a road thoroughfare plan.
"People have a right to know what you're recommending," she said.
Mrs. Campbell said she has probably been in the city's parks more than most people and has served on the city's park and recreation board for more than a decade. She said she often has seen strange cars and strange people there, so such things are possible. She said it has been a long-standing principle of the park board not to locate facilities where they cannot be seen, because that invites trouble.
Commission member Nancy McArthur, who also worked on the trail plan, said she resides in the Woods of Burlington development, where walking trails are located behind homes. She said they have never been a problem, and neighbors often watch out for each other.
She said the residents living there like the trails, which, in turn, have increased property values.
But other residents said they fear that the trails would intrude in their lives.
Clair Coley, of Chardon Avenue, said he does not like the idea of the trail going in front of his home. He said the area already is congested two times a day when students from Chardon High School arrive and depart. He said that situation would be worsened with the addition of bicycles through the area. "I don't want it going there," he said.
Randall Court resident Larry Curry said plans show a trail going through his back yard. "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine you would put a path through our back yards," he said.
He said it would be better if the city considered a better lighted and more visible location for the paths. He said his 15-year-old daughter has said she would be afraid to go into her own back yard if the path was located there.
Jodi Tusick, a Carson Drive resident, said she's concerned that construction of the path down South Street (Route 44) could alter drainage there and create problems for homes down the hill. She said past development in the area caused a change in drainage that resulted in a lawsuit brought by residents.
Mrs. Bednar said that, because various proposals exist in the plan, it does not mean that every detail in it is being authorized for actual construction.
Councilman Philip King, who also serves on the commission, agreed. But he said the situation could change in the future. If gasoline prices were to rise to $10 or $15 a gallon, it may change the city's views on how important it is to create a more extensive trail network, he said.
Mr. King said there is no timetable for starting the trails and it is likely residents will not see the trails in their lifetimes. As for costs, he said, the city has "soft numbers" of a couple million dollars if all parts are implemented. He said that number is not reliable. "We know it's expensive," he said.
He said the draft plan simply gives the city direction, looking at what's important and where the city needs to go. "This is just a plan to establish a plan," he said.
Paula Noyes, a South Street resident, said Chagrin Falls established bike trails, which few now use. She said it may be wiser for the city to use the money it has in more practical ways, such as to connect sidewalks.
Mrs. Bednar said the city hopes to get more grants for the trails. She said grants are available for establishing bike and pedestrian trails, but not for sidewalks, which are considered to only benefit city residents internally.
Marial Rouru, of Irma Drive, said she was concerned with the children and what type of people might be attracted by those who use the paths. She said 23 sexual predators live within Chardon's 44024 zip code. There are 77 in Geauga County, she said. "I'm concerned with the children that may take the bike path," she said.
Kris Firta, a Chardon Township resident, said she is a frequent user of the park district's bike path and has found that it does not attract "undesirables." She said the paths are needed, because cyclists already are coming through the city and the paths would make their travels safer.
Mrs. Bednar said the city could use volunteer, well-trained people to patrol the paths just as the park district does. "People have to be smart and wise about their choices," she said.
Mr. King said the city will continue to hear from residents as the process continues before council. He said residents will have a significant say in what the final plans will be.
"We will be sensitive to property owner's rights," he said. "We will work with them and not just snatch property."
To show their support for that position, the commission agreed to eliminate a proposed trail that would have worked its way through back yards in the areas of South Street and Claridon (Aquilla) Road.
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