Warner Robins council discusses recreation at daylong session

chwright@macon.comMarch 22, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Friday’s daylong work session wasn’t exactly what City Council members envisioned, but they said it was chock-full of good information that included a first look at Recreation Director James Dodson’s vision for city parks.

“It’s going to be a question of priorities,” said Councilman Mike Brashear, adding there are still due diligence questions that need to be addressed regarding land being purchased for recreation. “It’s going to be an ongoing discussion.”

The review session was held at the Recreation Department, where nearly a dozen speakers covered several city topics. Most of the time, council asked informational questions. But Dodson’s presentation earned the most push back, as council members debated how a piece of land being purchased should be used.

In January, City Council agreed to purchase 64.9 acres at South Houston and Elberta roads for $850,000. Council members said the property would be the site of a long-awaited sports complex that originally was slated for land near Ga. 247 and Russell Parkway.

But Dodson’s plan, estimated to cost $8.7 million, was a bit different. The plan had ball fields, but only two were for youth baseball. It also had two high school baseball fields, four adult softball fields, a splash pad and picnic area.

None of the council members objected to the splash pad or picnic area. But some said all the fields were supposed to be for youth, so the city could attract travel ball tournaments, which would provide an economic boost.

“I promise, you can take this out to the people who are playing travel ball, and this is not what is going to draw people to Warner Robins,” said Councilman Mike Davis.

Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins and Councilman Mike Brashear seemed to agree with Davis that the Elberta Road land should be dedicated to youth softball as a way to bring people to the city.

Councilman Paul Shealy argued the city should aim to make sure the park serves local children before making money.

Councilman Mike Daley did not comment. Councilman Daron Lee was not present.

Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen pointed out the city can’t use 8 acres of the land because it’s wetlands.

“That still leaves 57 acres,” Davis responded. “I promise you there are not a lot of youth sports complexes in Georgia that are 57 acres.”

Dodson also presented plans to expand Memorial Park to 15 adjoining acres. The expansion would include three youth football fields, a splash pad and horseshoe pits. It would cost $12.2 million, according to Dodson’s estimates.

Dodson also updated council about a multi-use park to be built on Corder Road near South Houston Lake Road. It would include dog parks, a disc golf range, a BMX track, a skate park and sand volleyball. Dodson estimated the price tag at $756,000.

The recreation director said updates of Sewell, Fountain and Peavy parks are also in his vision.

Dodson told council the Corder Road project is the most ready to begin. But Robbins said she was not ready to give the go-ahead because funding sources are not ironed out.

Shaheen seemed frustrated no decision was made. He said that’s what council had the work session to do.

Council members previously had asked the mayor for more in-depth work sessions where they could spend more time on individual topics, and they stood by that notion Friday.

When asked at lunch what Shaheen thought of the council’s feelings, especially given each segment ran ahead of time, he said, “They have all the time they want.”

Other issues

Other topics discussed at the session included redevelopment efforts, Houston County industrial development, a new fire station, special purpose local option sales taxes, natural gas and public transit. Also discussed was the possible designation of the city of Warner Robins as a City of Ethics.

Brashear said he found the presentations on compressed natural gas and public transit the most informative.

Jessica Bird, city transit employee, gave City Council an overview of the transit study conducted last year. Richard Jones, chief executive officer of the Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority, followed with a review of Macon’s system and a message that Warner Robins could have an inexpensive and beneficial system, too.

“People are, and become, where they live,” said Alex Talley, a Warner Robins Housing Authority member who thanked council for reviewing transit.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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