Farmersville reverses direction on sports park

By Reggie Ellis

Farmersville has a vision for a sports park, but that vision looks further out of reach following a recent decision by the Redevelopment Agency.

The agency board, which consists of the five city councilmembers, voted 2-1 at a special meeting on May 2 to retain all 20 acres of land for a future sports park. However, the decision simultaneously rejected the only plan that would have provided enough funds to develop any of the park for the cash-strapped city in the near future.

The agency considered two options for a proposal to sell off half of the 23-acre parcel to developers to raise enough funds to develop the remaining 12 acres into a few baseball and soccer fields for youth sports. Currently, Farmersville only offers Pee-Wee baseball for 5-7 year olds and 4-5 year olds but canceled its Little League program three years ago because of budget cut backs.

City Planner Karl Schoettler said the unique plan could have still accommodated four baseball fields and two soccer fields. Both options for the plan included diagonal parking along Farmersville Boulevard, homes overlooking about two acres of park land, and commercial establishments with residential lofts above on a second story.

&#8220Not only was it the best option for funding, but it also would have created affordable housing for many business owners who can't afford to rent commercial space and a home,” said Acting City Manager Rene Miller.

Mayor Mike Santana and Councilmember Don Rowlett voted in favor of keeping the entire 20 acres. &#8220If we continue with housing and don't set aside any land for parks then we become a bedroom community where people have to go to other cities for recreation and sports leagues,” Santana said. &#8220I have a vision of a park in the center of Farmersville. Since most new development in the city is heading north, I think this could be our own Central Park.”

Myron Wiley opposed the project, as did Mayor Pro-Tem Lionel Benavides and Councilmember Paul Boyer who led a 3-1 vote on Nov. 14, 2005 to sell off the northern portion of the land. Councilmember Don Rowlett, who has made statements that he would oppose any new residential development, made no comment at that meeting and abstained from the vote. However, Benavides was absent and Boyer was excluded from the May 2 vote, leaving Wiley the only dissenting vote at a meeting that barely made a quorum.

&#8220It can't be improved in the near future because there are too many other things that are more important and pressing,” Wiley said in March. &#8220It's a pipe dream that isn't going to happen in the next 20 years. In the meantime, we need a dog catcher and someone to keep up the parks we already have.”

Boyer was excluded from the vote, and all future votes of the Redevelopment Agency, because he recently purchased property in the redevelopment area, OK for city councilmembers but not those who make decisions on redevelopment taxes under state law.

&#8220I wasn't aware of that until after I was in escrow,” Boyer said. &#8220It was already too late in the process to try and stop it.”

The sale of a portion of the parcel would have allowed the city to retain control of the property by paying out $131,200 in matching funds it still owes to the California Department of Parks, which granted the city $432,250 used to purchase the land in 2003.

The proceeds of the sale would have been used to build a 12-acre sports park, transit station and walking trails on the remaining 8 acres of the sports park property and Veterans Park. The redevelopment taxes generated from the development would have been used to maintain the park as well as a recreation director to over see activities.

Due to state funding restrictions, the 20-acre site will remain vacant until an estimated $3 million is available to develop the park and an extra $300,000 can be found in the city's General Fund to afford annual maintenance costs.

The Farmersville City Council meets at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month in council chambers at City Hall, located at 909 W. Visalia Road. The city council convenes as the Redevelopment Agency during its meetings when necessary. For more information, call 747-0458.

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