Ordinance would allow private parks as permitted use in residential districts

oaklandsealBy Bill Short

The Oakland Board of Mayor and Aldermen has unanimously passed an ordinance on first reading that would allow private parks in the town’s residential districts.
Board members took the action during their Sept. 19 regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Billy Ray Morris and seconded by Alderman Kelly Rector.
The proposed ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing and final reading at the board’s Oct. 17 meeting.
It would amend the Oakland Zoning Ordinance by adding private parks as uses permitted on appeal, as well as defining private common open space and adding it as a permitted use in the residential districts.
It would define “common open space” as any portion of land or water that is not part of a lot or tract and that is designed for the common usage of residents or owners.
This definition could include green open spaces, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, cart paths or pedestrian walkways, but not improved playgrounds, athletic or play fields or picnic areas.
Maintenance of such areas would not be the responsibility of governmental entities. It would be guaranteed by homeowners or property owners associations, or similar private entities, in the form of restrictive covenants or other legal instruments.
The proposed ordinance would allow common open space as a permitted use, regardless of minimum lot area, and private parks as uses permitted on appeal, with no minimum lot area.
During discussion shortly before the vote, Alderman Karl Chambless asked how Oakland would “benefit” by approval of the ordinance.
Town Planner Chris Pate said it would “open up” the Municipal Code to allow a residential subdivision to create a park. But Alderman John Troncone wondered whether that would prevent Oakland from having a large park for the entire town.
Mayor Chris Goodman said it would give each subdivision the opportunity to seek permission from the Board of Zoning Appeals to create a park.
In response to a question by Troncone, Pate noted that “several planned developments” in the past had proposed parks labeled on their construction plans. He said that is not a permitted use under the current Zoning Ordinance.
The “flip side” of the private competing with the public, he said, is the question of whether Oakland wants to invest taxpayer money for “private facilities” in every subdivision.
Under the proposed ordinance, Pate said, a walking trail would be considered common open space and not a park, which would have to be reviewed by the BZA.
He noted that the review would be necessary, because a park could potentially be established after a subdivision was constructed. At that point, he said, there might be concerns about parking, noise or location of athletic fields in relation to houses.
In response to a question by Morris, Pate said he is unaware of any private parks in the town’s residential subdivisions. When the alderman asked about “that big one” in The Oaklands, Goodman said that is not a private but a “city-maintained” park.
Under the proposed ordinance, Pate said, any “private entity” could establish a park inside or outside a subdivision. So, it would be in residential districts, not necessarily subdivisions.
In response to a question by Chambless, Pate confirmed that the residential district or subdivision would be responsible for the park’s maintenance, and the town would not have to be involved in it.
Citing Burton Place as an example, Chambless asked whether an adjacent resident would be allowed to walk in a park established in the subdivision.
“Not if it was private,” Pate replied. “It would be within the conditions established by whichever entity owned or controlled the park.”