In response to a strong showing of support for minimal development of San Carlos’ North Crestview Park by residents, city officials this week approved a plan designating the hilltop park for passive uses such as enhanced walkways and benches.
The council voted 4-1 Monday to approve the passive-use plan, with Councilman Mark Olbert voting against it. The action followed a yearlong process collecting input from residents on what they would like to see for the 4.3-acre plot of land across from Vista Park, bordered in the east by Crestview Drive. Two community meetings held in 2016 garnered requests that the city enhance existing trails, provide a World War II dog training memorial, create seating to enjoy the views, minimize development and grading in the area and explore more active uses, such as fields or courts, at the site, according to a staff report.
The city contracted with a consultant to create four possible concept plans involving varying levels of infrastructure for active, mixed and passive uses. Though discussions of park details are slated for a future meeting, the council reviewed a staff recommendation to adopt a passive-use concept for the park, which may include accessible walking paths, a World War II service dog memorial and benches, according to the same report.
Several residents spoke out strongly against intensive development on the site.
Dr. Chris Lantman, a 15-year resident of San Carlos, said he attended several of the meetings held to gather input.
“The discussion clearly showed a strong public preference to leave North Crestview Park untouched or at least minimally developed,” he said, according to a video of the meeting.
Lantman said he didn’t think active- or mixed-use alternatives would be acceptable compromises for the need for more fields expressed by some residents, as he thought that need could be better served by other areas.
Paul Payton lives just down the street from the park on Azalea Lane, and said though he would support making existing paths more accessible, he thought the funds needed to make improvements would be better saved for other uses. The costs of modifying the park to accommodate these uses range from an estimated $350,000 to $450,000 for a passive-use plan to up to $2 million for an active-use plan including a playing field and restroom, according to the same report.
“I really don’t want to see nature disrupted and I’d like to see as little work done as possible toward disrupting nature,” he said.
Alice Kaufman with the Committee for Green Foothills urged the council to consider a plan involving minimal development to protect wildlife, noting the plot forms a corridor that wildlife might use to travel between two nearby open spaces.
“Crestview Drive forms a barrier of houses between these two wildlife habitat areas so this is really the only place where wildlife can get through,” she said.
Bonnie McClure said she has lived in San Carlos for 60 years, and hopes to be able to visit the park for many more.
“The thing I’d like to point out is the trails in the passive-use plan are designed for people that are in wheelchairs,” she said. “I’m only using a walking stick now, but I know someday, I’m going to need a wheelchair. I do like the dog memorial. I think it gives a destination for people to get to.”
Given the number of voices supporting little to no development of the park, Councilman Mark Olbert said he would oppose approving any plan for the park.
“I actually believe that this entire process that we went through was a mistake, and it was not a good use of money,” he said.
Olbert said he wasn’t convinced there was enough public demand for a park plan, and wondered if the $60,000 he estimated was spent on hiring a consultant, doing community outreach and staff time could have been better spent on a more critical need.
Councilman Ron Collins said that though he initially supported leaving the park alone, a walk at the park earlier this month caused him to support a passive-use plan that would make the park more accessible.
“As people get older, they’re going to want the access to be easier for them,” he said. “If you’re not agile, myself included, it can be difficult. If we can find a way to make it more accessible to people with disabilities, that would be important.”
Collins cautioned the council and public that by moving away from more active plans, the city would still need to face a need for playing fields.
“I hope people are mindful of the fact that by doing very little to this park … that need is still there,” he said.
For Vice Mayor Matt Grocott, approving a passive-use plan helped memorialize an open space some residents and councilmembers did not know about previously.
“We’re taking a little bit of action for a passive park so it will be remembered as a park,” he said. “That’s important to do.”
In other business, the City Council discussed the city’s current tree regulations with regard to protecting certain tree species and defining responsibility of trees growing in both public and private spaces, such as a sidewalk. Greater clarity on the definition of a heritage tree, which are currently protected by the city’s regulations, best practices for protecting native trees species and limiting non-native species and looking at the impact a tree has on public thoroughfares as opposed to its species were among the considerations discussed at Monday’s meeting.
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