Marion City Council OKs new parks and recreation plan

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Marion City Council adopted a new parks and recreation master plan, which was developed over the summer and replaces the plan from 2006.

This new plan, which was based on feedback from the public, called for the creation of a parks and recreation department for the city of Marion and recreational programs at existing facilities. Although the city is not be able to make some of these ideas a reality right now, this new plan will help guide future decisions regarding parks and recreation in Marion.

“It’s a proposal for what could be,” said Planning Director Heather Cotton.

The effort to develop this plan was led by intern Rosa Fowler, who is a Marion native now attending college at Oglethorpe University. During the summer, she worked on this document and sought input from Marion residents. She and other city officials got feedback and ideas through surveys, community meetings, interviews and outreach at Marion’s summer events. This feedback helped the city to determine priorities for future parks and recreational facilities and future services.

Since 2006, the city of Marion has made improvements to the Community Building’s park and built the Catawba River greenway, created four neighborhood parks and the Mount Ida Wilderness Area. But many say more should be done.

“There is a real need for programming for our youth,” said Cotton.

During the summer, the feedback from the public indicated that “parks are very important to citizens.” More than 80 percent of the people surveyed said they would be willing to pay for recreational programming, if it was provided at existing facilities.

“Rosa was very thorough in her interviews and getting feedback from the community,” said Cotton.

Recently, Fowler and Cotton presented this plan to the City Council to review and consider. On Tuesday, Cotton gave a presentation on behalf of Fowler, who is now back at college.

The plan’s proposals include:

• Updated facilities that are certified with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

• additions of sidewalks and bike lanes to link neighborhoods to parks

• start programming within parks, especially for older youth

• increased marketing and media to advertise parks

• add a parks and recreation department to the city of Marion.

To do this would require a consistent source of funding besides grants. Marion does not provide funding for recreational programming or have access to funding from outside sources for programming. The city now allocates just 1 percent of its operating budget for parks and recreation needs. This covers routine maintenance and modest improvements.

To create a parks and recreation department with full-time staff, the city would have to increase the budget from 1 percent to 3.3 percent, which is equal to $316,996 in fiscal year 2016-2017. And to provide this funding, the city would need to shift money from other departments or increase the property tax rate. Marion’s property tax rate has stayed the same for 49 years straight.

“While excising a new tax may not be the right fit from Marion, staff would recommend that the city continue to seek a viable long-term fiscal solution to support expansion into recreational programming, and in the interim continue to identify opportunities to offer recreational programming at community events and neighborhood parks both independently and in partnership with other organizations and volunteers, which has been done over the last several years,” reads the report from Cotton.

“Full implementation of the plan, to include a parks and recreation department and recreational programming is likely not feasible in the short term, due to cost reasons, but could be a consideration long term,” said City Manager Bob Boyette.

After hearing this presentation, council members said they support the plan’s goals but wanted to acknowledge the costs of implementing it. They added they are willing to consider making these proposals a reality, as funding is available.

Council voted unanimously to adopt the plan with added language acknowledging the costs and their willingness to make it a reality when the funding can be found.

“We’re committed to moving forward,” said Mayor Pro Tem Billy Martin. “This is another thing that needs to be done.”

The city is already working to make the Community Building’s park for accessible for the disabled.

“I think it would be wonderful for the city of Marion to become known as the city with parks available for people of all types of abilities,” said Mayor Steve Little.

In addition, Councilman Everette Clark talked about trying to bring back a movie theater in Marion. He read an article published in Sunday’s McDowell News about how the community in Burnsville came together to support their downtown movie theater and how it is doing good business now. He said Marion should do the same thing.

A few years ago, officials from the city, McDowell County and the McDowell Chamber of Commerce recruited a movie theater consulting and development company to work on the construction of a new state-of-the-art six-screen theater for Marion. In December 2014, the head of this company and his partner outlined their plans to open a new movie theater and entertainment center, complete with a bowling alley, next to the Big Lots store.

But since then, nothing has happened there.

Clark said the city should consider getting the digital equipment so a theater in Marion could start showing movies again. Marion and McDowell County have been without a movie theater since the closing of McDowell Twin Cinemas on the five lane.

Boyette said the city tried to work with the owner of the McDowell Twin Cinemas about staying open but that theater closed anyway. He added that building had some structural problems back then and it’s been sitting empty since.

Clark said a new building could be erected or some other existing structure could be converted into a theater. Other city officials said MACA is showing movies on some weekends and perhaps something could be done in cooperation with them.

In other business, the Marion City Council:

• Held a public hearing about the closing of a small portion of Crawford Terrace. Westmoreland Funeral Home asked for the closing in order to build a retaining wall for the new parking lot under construction. After hearing no comments, council ended the public hearing and approved the closing of this small portion of Crawford Terrace.

• Held a public hearing about the zoning for the Missionary Alliance Church property at 760 Airport Road, which was recently annexed into Marion. After hearing no comments, council ended the hearing and assigned the R-2 residential zoning to this property.

• Heard a presentation from Steve Bush, executive director of the McDowell Chamber of Commerce, about a new marketing proposal that would involve McDowell County, the city of Marion, the Marion Business Association, McDowell Economic Development Association and the Tourism Development Authority. After hearing from Bush, council agreed to support this marketing plan. Bush said he will ask for a commitment from the McDowell County Commission in November.

• Heard from Charlene Hollifield and Tony Long, operators of Shucks Pearls on Main Street. They asked for council to come out and enjoy the fall block party, which has been held in downtown Marion on the second Thursdays during the autumn season. The next one will take place Thursday, Nov. 10. The fall block party includes local businesses staying open after regular hours with special sales and offers. There are dinner specials at participating restaurants. “We’re working together to do what we can in downtown Marion,” said Hollifield. “It’s word of mouth and social media.”

• Heard from Beth Hall, who talked about the problems with speeding and reckless driving on Fleming Avenue. She said in Asheville there are signs with the message “Slow down. We live and play here.” Asheville also has digital indicator signs that track your speed as you drive by. She hoped something could be done to slow down traffic on Fleming Avenue and make it safer.

• Approved the burning of a dilapidated house on Spring Street for firefighter training. Fire Chief Jim Neal said the burning would take place Saturday, Nov. 5.

• Approved a resolution supporting more local control of the school calendars. Councilman Don Ramsey asked this resolution be adopted which states “state law has removed local control by imposing a one-size-fits-all mandate on how school calendars are to be set.” The resolution calls this authority to be returned to local boards of education.

• Heard a presentation from Cotton about a stormwater education program by the STEM class at East Middle School. Cotton said the class wishes to spray paint messages on the stormwater drains in Marion urging folks not to dump pollutants in them. Council gave their approval for this to be done.