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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mound Park -- Historic Public Area or Real Estate Development?



The City of Portsmouth maintains a public park which includes one of the remaining horseshoe-shaped enclosures, known as Mound Park, it is the only publicly accessible part of the complex. Under the name Horseshoe Mound it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

("Portsmouth Earthworks." Ohio History Central. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Portsmouth_Earthworks?rec=2222)

The Portsmouth Daily Times reports First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson says he has become discouraged after visiting Mound Park:

Johnson said in an e-mail to City Manager Derek Allen. “While walking the park, I became so discouraged at the purposeful damage to swings, buildings and the two now inoperable (for some time now) water fountains as well as spray painting and incredible amounts of litter, trash and more litter.”

(Frank Lewis,  "Councilman Considers Selling Mound Park."
Portsmouth Daily Times. September 11, 2014)

Johnson says he became so discouraged that he has toyed with the idea that the city should simply sell the entire park, except for the mound itself, which he said would save the city and taxpayers money. He claims that money "seems to be going down the drain due to public indifference to their infrastructure of public spaces."

“In my walks around town, mostly near the river, I am constantly discouraged by the amount of trash everywhere,” Johnson said. “Portsmouth should be in the running for the ‘Trashiest City in America.’ Wow. We could be number one.” He said Mound Park could be an area of city development because the city has had a number of developers seeking large tracts of land for apartment and loft development.

The public response to selling Mound Park has been overwhelmingly negative. Many local residents have fond memories of the park as a beautiful, vibrant center of recreation. These taxpayers want the city to repair the park and patrol it because it is a great asset to the people.

The responsibility for the lack of upkeep and repair to Mound Park rests squarely upon the City of Portsmouth. The city must maintain its property and patrol its use.

In the charter, Section 86 applies to the control of public health by the city. It reads as follows:

SECTION 86.  CONTROL OF PUBLIC HEALTH BY CITY.    

"The City shall, through such officer or officers as may be provided for by ordinance, enforce all laws and ordinances relating to health, and such officer or officers shall perform all the duties and may exercise all the powers relative to the public health provided by general law to be performed and exercised in municipalities by health officers. All regulations for the protection or promotion of the public health, additional to those established by general law and for the violation of which penalties are imposed, shall be made by ordinance and enforced as provided in this section."

Since squalid conditions in Mound Park pose serious threats to the well-being of its many visitors, the present state of the park is a concern of public health. Whether conditions at the park are conducive to physical injury by the nature of the property's disrepair or by the threat of a disrespectful, criminal element, the City of Portsmouth is obligated to improve the setting to prevent the potential of injury to visitors.

Section 115 of the charter outlines the duties of the City Planning Commission. This section states ...

SECTION 115.  DUTIES OF THE COMMISSION.    

"The Commission shall have full power and authority to make such investigations, maps, reports, and recommendations relating to the planning of the City as it deems desirable. In particular, it shall have authority, and it shall be its duty, to make recommendations concerning: (a) the location, extension, widening, and planning of streets, boulevards, parks, playgrounds, and other public places; (b) changes in, or vacation of, streets, alleys, or other public places, and the sale or disposal of any real estate owned by the City; (c) the construction of public buildings, bridges, viaducts, street fixtures, and other structures and appurtenances having to do with the convenience and beauty of the City..."

Part of the mission of the Department of Public Service is to maintain the city’s parks. The vision of the department states ...

"Our vision is to create and maintain a quality public service that will provide a sustainable community with a clean, safe, and pleasant environment that the citizens and employees of the City will be proud of, and will help the City maintain a strong sense of community into the future."

This mission is evidently not being fulfilled at Mound Park. Here is the contact information for the Department of Public Service:

Contact: Bill Beaumont, Service Director
E-mail availability at http://portsmouthoh.org/contact-us 

Teresa Harmon, Clerk Typist
55 Mary Ann St.
Portsmouth, OH 45662
Ph: (740) 354-7766
Fx: (740) 354-7767
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Emergency Ph: (740) 353-5419 (24 hours a day)


Mound Park is part of The City of Portsmouth’s Adopt-A-Park program. It has already been "adopted" by citizen volunteers. The program is also a responsibility of the Service Department. Its goals are stated in the following entry at http://portsmouthoh.org/site-page/adopt-park-program:

"The City owns and maintains 12 Parks that are available for the entire area to enjoy. We take great pride in offering this amenity to the community, and hope that the community values the opportunities that these parks offer.

"The Adopt-A-Park program’s goal is to get the community involved in keeping the City’s park system clean and visually appealing. Organizations are encouraged to put together a work plan that could entail scheduled clean-up days, landscaping projects, or other improvement projects in our parks. This plan can be tailored to the organization’s resources and could range from projects scheduled for 1-2 days a year, to efforts that would be on a more continual basis. The City is eager to discuss any opportunities there may be for an organization to get involved, and will provide guidance from our Service Director to assist in your improvement process."

Organizations have adopted other areas in Portsmouth such as Alexandria Park, Bannon Park, Buckeye Park, Cyndee Secrest Park, Labold Ball Fields, Martha Burton Park, Roy Rogers Esplanade, Sciotoville Community Square, Tracy Park, Weghorst Park, and York Park.  


The Department of Public Service in the City of Portsmouth claims it "recognizes the benefits of operating and maintaining clean and visually appealing parks, and "the Adopt-A-Park program is designed to facilitate community group involvement by keeping the City parks clean and litter-free."

According to City Council, Mound Park does not meet these conditions of safety and public health. Lack of promised service to the public is unacceptable.

Mr. Johnson, when you say "public indifference" has caused the dilapidated state of Mound Park, you should qualify your statement. The park has been in a state of decay for too long. It has been ignored for too long by its owners. Let's put the blame where the blame belongs.

Granted, some criminals and hooligans have contributed to the sad, broken-down conditions there, but the City of Portsmouth is responsible for maintaining and improving its own property. The Adopt-A-Park program is a fine benefit to Mound Park by concerned citizens; however, the city must make major improvements there beyond public help.

Portsmouth has failed to live up to its vision concerning this public area. It has failed to maintain "pride" and a "strong sense of community" at Mound Park, two of its stated goals.

I can hear the excuses now: lack of funds, lack of staff, budget cuts and simple oversight. These justifications may appease some, but the majority of the general public does not accept neglect as a valid justification for the demise of a wonderful resource in Portsmouth, Ohio.  

So, it seems as if three options exist ...

* The city can continue to show major indifference and minimal attention to the park, or
* The city can sell the park to local developers keen on building apartment complexes there, or
* The city can launch a extensive, new effort to repair fully and consistently maintain the park.

I ask you, what is the best choice? In fact, what is the only choice that guarantees improvements to the health, the recreation, and the aesthetic condition of the town? You and I know two of the three options for Mound Park would create more problems and would be a disgrace to the historical and social significance of the real estate. I think the choice is clear. Is the "pride" sufficient?



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