At the beginning of the North Branch Parks, Trails and Open Space Commission meeting Monday night, Commission Chairperson Charles Heinzel said he had “never seen this many people” at a meeting. And he’s been on the commission for 10 years.
The issue that brought a roomful of citizens to the meeting was the possible relocation of Central Park.
At last year’s Dec. 12 North Branch City Council work session, Jerry Peterson, the owner of Peterson’s Country Mill off Main Street, directly north of the park, presented a proposal to the council to conduct a land swap of Central Park and the old Main Street School site.
Peterson purchased the site from the school district April 25 of last year.
After soliciting feedback from citizens for about half an hour, the commission voted 4-0 against the land swap.
The commission serves as an advisory board to the city council; the council will have to make the final decision as to whether or not the land swap should take place.
Prior to that vote, the commission also decided unanimously that the City Council should hold an open house at some point so citizens could present their opinions on the issue to council members and the mayor.
“Maybe it’s too early to say yes or no, but personally I don’t want to do it,” Heinzel said. “Nothing anybody could say could make me do that.”
The other commissioners agreed with Heinzel’s assertion.
“The proposed location could be beautiful, but functionally I don’t think it would work,” Commissioner Robert Bernier said.
Citizens also agreed with the commission’s perspective on the potential swap.
Joe Sausen, who was on the Parks Commission about 30 years ago, said: “We decided at that time that Central Park was our central jewel. … I support Peterson’s, but I do not support Central Park being moved.”
The functionality of the proposed site was an aspect brought into question by a city staff report.
The report noted the proposed new park location does not currently provide the same quantity of available parking spaces within a two-block walking distance and would not be as “centrally” located to the residential area that the park serves.
Dennis Aulich, representing Peterson’s Mill at the meeting, said the business is looking at the Central Park site as a “parcel that makes a lot of sense down the road,” but he respects any decisions made by the commission and City Council.
“If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen,” Aulich said, noting that the proposal hasn’t been completely vetted out and would need to be fine-tuned before it comes to the council for consideration. “If the citizens say no, we’re fine with that.”