Facing a vocal and hostile group of residents, proponents of a regional park west of Maricopa tried to spell out the purpose of the plan Thursday night.
Though there have been meetings and discussions about a possible park since 2007, when the Open Space & Trails Master Plan was approved, and the meeting at Copper Sky Multigenerational Center was the second open house in four months, many in the room said they knew nothing about a Palo Verde Regional Park.
They were angry about what they felt was lack of meeting notification in the rural area and they were angry about the park concept itself.
“This is BS,” said Mike Johnson, who said his property is near the 23,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management territory being considered for the park. “We don’t want to pay for something we already get for free.”
Johnson also said bringing more people into the area would increase the danger from drug-smuggling spotters in the mountains.
Kent Taylor, director of the Pinal County Open Space & Trail Department, and Michael Park, landscape architect with Environmental Planning Group (EPG), bore the brunt of the push-back from about 15 residents. An equal number stayed silent or spoke up for the park concept.
Planning for the park began last fall.
Taylor said the open house was a continuation of the information-gathering stage. As residents continued to complain about lack of notification and question the impact on taxes, lifestyle and law enforcement, Taylor repeatedly encouraged them to write their concerns on the comment forms provided at the meeting.
A handful of those attending saw the park plan as an improvement in public safety.
The most popular items on the list of possibilities for a Palo Verde Park were non-motorized trails, according to an online poll conducted by the OS&T Department.
“Trails are fairly easy to build and will probably be in Phase 1,” Park said.
The county could also regulate the shooting area that already exists and develop campsites.
“The county gets a lot of its funds from camp fees,” he said.
Most other activities proposed for the parkland have been spoken of as fee-free. The Open Space & Trails Advisory Commission has hosted field trips into the BLM land to create more discussion on the recreational possibilities of a park.
County Supervisor Anthony Smith said creating the park would be funded by development impact fees. Smith spoke to the crowd off the cuff. Though Maricopa city staff was present, they did not wander into the fray.
Johnson said it was all just another government money-grab.
Taylor said the park proposal would not come to a public vote but would go through intermediate county staff before ultimately coming to a vote of the Board of Supervisors.
The next public meeting on the park plans is scheduled for June 9. There will be a preliminary meeting for stakeholders June 2.