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Column: Access to parks is the hallmark of a complete neighborhood; city needs to do a better job.

The City of Tigard should be taken to court to face all the children it has denied a park, and for making public land use decisions that have made Tigard a park-poor city.

Its latest victims are from my east Tigard/Metzger neighborhood. These children live within a walk-to radius of potentially prime park acreage at Southwest 72nd Avenue and Spruce Street. The closest school and park are over a mile away.

This is an area of older homes on large lots that are already targeted by developers for affordable housing. Children travel on streets with few sidewalks or street lighting. The few sidewalks that exist front new developments on lots so small that the cars parked in the driveways often block the sidewalk.

For over a year our neighborhood has gone through the democratic process of documenting the need for the land on Spruce Street to become a park. In spring of 2017, the Tigard City Council voted to fill this rare gem of open green space with houses. Virtually untouched since acquired from a donation land claim in 1928, the park could have been named Turnbell Park to honor the three generations of Turnbells, the land's only stewards. Remnants of the Turnbell orchard still bear fruit.

In the early 1960s, the land sold at auction for around $7,500 after Francis, the last of the Turnbells, died in the state home for the blind.

In 2006, Richard Topping and Katie Kemp bought the land for a British-style elementary school, and soon after, they annexed their 1.54 acres to Tigard. Most other residents on the block declined the invitation to join them. In a decade's time, the Topping property more than doubled in value to a million dollars.

When the Toppings decided to sell, the city advised a zone change from CP to R-12 to take advantage of a growing demand for affordable housing. The first neighbors knew of this was when notified by mail — a hostile notice that the land had been rezoned in a zone swap to R-12, and that it was a done deal.

It took an attorney to stop the City of Tigard's sneak attack on public participation. Zones are not frivolous things to be swapped for the convenience of a property owner or a city. The mayor, with mock disapproval, sent the planning commission back to rewrite the city's case for R-12 development. Only later did we find out that the zone swap was itself a scam, as the "other" property had already been rezoned.

At a city council hearing several weeks later, we turned in a park petition of 125 homeowners within a walk-to radius of this land, a petition now grown to 225 names. Included in the testimony was a folder of photos and a description of Portland's Westmoreland Park Natural Play Area, a centerpiece of our plan that also included a picnic area, a basketball court, and a walking/jogging trail.

In a natural play area, children scale boulder "mountains," climb thick, graduated log slices two to three times their height, and balance on logs as if crossing a creek. Birds, butterflies, spiders and creepy crawlers find homes in a landscape of native shrubs and trees that give children a rich sensual feast and a lifelong connection to the natural world. More important, children acquire a sense of physical agency often never realized when computers, TV, and cell phones hold their growing minds and bodies hostage.

At a final hearing, residents and supporters filled the Council Chamber. Testimony to stop the R-12 zone change and save the park went on for over two hours. At its close, Councilor Mark Woodard spoke eloquent words in support of the park. Then, wasting no time, the city councilors voted 3 to 1 for development, and, as quickly, exited the chamber, another win under their belts.

There are questions that need answers: What has happened to the city's Park System Master Plan to develop high quality parks for all residents? Why does its policy to save natural areas within a half-mile of every resident have no teeth? Granted, past annexations have split our neighborhood with Tigard south of Spruce Street and east of 72nd Avenue. We are nevertheless an old, established neighborhood for which Tigard and Washington County share responsibility.

We wonder how ODOT approved this development where commuter traffic on Spruce Street has parents fearing for their children's safety at the school bus stop. Commuters from over a hundred households alone enter Spruce from Southwest 74th Avenue and 76th Place. Add to this congestion the trailer-trucks which use Spruce Street from 5 a.m. on to access Fred Meyer's loading docks.

As it stands, a developer in Tigard, with glorious impunity, can destroy what's left of the natural world in any area facing redevelopment. Our lost park is a prime example. Eighteen two-and-a-half story houses (one of the city's favorite models) are to fill every square foot of usable land. Spaced just four feet from one another, they appear, not as houses, but as one dark, solid, towering mass — a monstrous intrusion into an established, residential neighborhood. To complete the desecration of this park-perfect, historic land, asphalt is to blanket the entire area around the houses to kill all life in the soil.

What better way for the City of Tigard to advance — hastening its annexation goals — than by destroying the livability of a neighborhood that's in its way!

Nancy Leaper Tracy is a Tigard resident.

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