By Terri Harber
Virtually all of the comments made about a plan for developing a city park location for weddings, receptions and other special events were complimentary during Tuesday's three-hour Baker City Council meeting.
But most of those same people aren't thrilled about the location where the site would be - the former Clifford Street home of the late Anthony Silvers, who gave it to the city for public use.
"The presentation is good," said Councilor Roger Coles, the most vocal elected official opposing the project. "But we ought to concentrate on the parks we have."
Coles has asked the city to give back the property to Silvers' family.
"I don't like the location," said Councilor Barbara Johnson. "We should give the property back."
Jeff Nelson, a member of the city's Parks and Recreation Board, talked about a design created for the site by the committee and public works staff.
It would be called the Anthony Annex. A bridge across the Powder River would connect the property to Central Park. The two dwellings on the Silvers property would be demolished and the ground re-landscaped with trees, shrubs and grass. And a rose garden would be planted with bark ground cover and benches.
The carport structure would remain as a picnic bench shelter with benches added. A walking path would be added that runs around and through the inside of the property.
A 6-foot fence would encircle the site. The side facing Clifford Street would be wrought iron and the rest of the fence would be cedar. One gate would lead to the bridge and another to the parking area facing Clifford.
The only parking would be for people with disabilities or for loading and unloading.
It would provide the community a site with "a little more privacy than in our regular parks," Nelson said.
The parks board intends to apply for grants for the project. Volunteers could complete many of the tasks, except for the demolition of the structures. Neither is safe to inhabit, according to the city's building official.
Councilor Clair Button has concerns about the cost to remove the trees on the property.
"I would not want volunteers to try to take them down," Button said. "I'm starting to have reservations. ... I'm not sure the site is the most suitable."
Button also addressed concerns previously made by neighbors to the former Silvers property about nearby Central Park - specifically noise, trash, trespassing, parking and traffic problems, and alleged criminal activity.
Once there are more amenities at Central Park, most of the problems "will go away," Button believes.
Councilor Kim Mosier, who represents the council on the parks board, called it "a beautiful plan."
"I think it's the best possible plan for this area - if the city chooses to keep it," she said.
Sally Hewitt, who lives next to the site, has spoken against the project before, and she hasn't changed her mind, she told councilors Tuesday.
"I do sincerely hope you'll take to heart my concerns" and those of the other people who live nearby, Hewitt said.
She highlighted the lack of street parking and that Clifford is narrow and dead ends on private property that's used by most people to U-turn once they realize they can't keep going in that direction or obtain access to Central Park.
She reminded the council that a picnic table in Central Park was burned last year, and she is worried that a similar arson at the Anthony Annex could damage her home or the residence on the other side owned by Steve Steege.
Hewitt also said the annex site isn't appropriate for quiet events during the warmer months because of increased noise and activity in the Powder River and along the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway, which runs between the river and Central Park.
Steege pointed out that the site would be "private" and "secluded." He asked, "Do you remember the Boys' Jungle? I don't want to see that happen."
He also said that he's worried that he and other neighbors could end up responding to any crimes that might occur in the annex by having to "grab my gun."
"I don't want to see that happen."
Steege also said people would be walking around his property if the annex was constructed.
Some of the other people who approached the councilors, including Beverly Calder and Kata Bulinski, whose husband is Button, believe the plans for the annex should be incorporated into Central Park.
Calder, a former councilor, wants to see the property returned to the family so it produces "tax revenue." And Bulinski, who has helped her husband and other volunteers clear out debris at the old Silvers property, thinks the plan to create a place for weddings and other events could be transferred to an existing city park.
Councilor Dennis Dorrah was upbeat about the possibilities for the Silvers site and the abilities of volunteers who could do much of the work to create the annex.
Regarding the problems brought up, Dorrah said that "every one of them could be overcome."
A representative from the parks board will attend a future council meeting with answers to these questions.
Silvers, who died in 2011 at the age of 83, is probably best remembered in Baker City as the owner of The Anthony, a dinner house that operated in two different locations over the years. He also owned the Chocolate Moose in Portland.
He willed the 11,250-square-foot residential property to the city along with about $800,000 in cash. The money is the principal for a street tree fund.
Playground equipment for Geiser-Pollman Park
Residents involved in the Playground Improvement Project are focusing on upgrading the play area at Geiser-Pollman Park so it's safer and more modern.
Much of the existing equipment is at least 50 years old with a foundation of crumbling cement and mud (or ice, depending on the season).
The merry go-round isn't suitable for toddlers because it's too tall. And the bare ground below should be covered with rubber or wood fiber to provide enough cushion to protect children falling to the ground from a height of up to 10 feet, according to a report Tuesday to the council from Megan Fisher and Lisa Jacoby. The two local mothers started the Playground Improvement Project a year ago.
An upgraded site would include new swings to replace the baby swings, a big play structure for children ages 5 through 12, and a prairie wagon to explore.
Fisher and Jacoby project the total cost for improvements at $125,000.
A seven-member committee along with donors and other volunteers have worked to raise money to pay for the new equipment.
The group has raised about $6,000 through various fundraisers, including bake sales, coin drives and donations.
The group also was awarded a $25,000 grant from the Leo Adler Community Foundation. That money requires the city to match the amount, however.
Coles suggested Tuesday that the city provide the $25,000 match as a separate line item within the 2013-2014 city budget. He said that money would guarantee the Adler grant and give the group "some hope," he said.
The other councilors agreed to Coles' proposal.
The Playground Improvement Project also is vying for money from the Oregon Parks Department. The group wants to obtain $75,000 from the state, which, combined with the Adler grant, city dollars and local fundraising, would pay for the entire project.
Fisher and Jacoby also produced a video depicting what's been done by the community so far as well as what's needed. It provides details about the park and shows local children playing on the equipment.
The video is on YouTube and called "Geiser Pollman Park - Video Contest." The contest is through the nonprofit organization KaBOOM!, which endeavors to "create great playspaces through the participation and leadership of communities."
The winning video receives $15,000.
The plea flashes across the images of children on the equipment: "Our youth deserve a fun, safe place ... to make memories."
In other business, the councilors:
andbull; Approved both the Pavement Management Plan and the Capital Plan for water, wastewater and stormwater for this year. Mayor Richard Langrell suggested the public works staff look into replacing the French drains with a sand filtration system. It would be a more cost-effective way to handle stormwater runoff, he said.
andbull; Opted to go with the lowest bidder for the Resort Street improvement project: Mike Becker General Contractor Inc. of La Grande. The projected price of $3.427 million is 6.5 percent higher than the engineer's projection of $3.218 million but considered reasonable by public works staff.
andbull; Accepted the third reading of the updated kennel permit ordinance, No. 3317. It goes into effect once signed by city officials. The ordinance creates procedures for obtaining a permit and provides city officials with the ability to deny, suspend or revoke an existing permit. People with more than four dogs or four cats must obtain this permit once the animals turn 6 months old. Dog licenses also are mandatory.
andbull; Heard about the Baker City Cycling Classic earning the Oregon Festivals and Events Association's Ovation award for Best Sporting Event in 2012. Baker Loves Bikes and the city shared the honor for organizing the three-day cycling event.The event attracts cyclists of both genders from professional and amateur ranks. Community events also highlight bicycling. This year's event is June 28-30.
andbull; Accepted boxes of Girl Scout cookies from local troops after recognizing the 101st anniversary of the founding of the organization. Local Girl Scout Week ends Saturday.