Prairie Grove Park on Wednesday afternoon.

WATERLOO — Dozens of residents packed a Waterloo Leisure Services Commission meeting Tuesday to support keeping city parks intact.

More than 1,800 residents also signed petitions opposing a proposal from the city’s planning department to sell portions of Prairie Grove, Sulentic and Castle Hill parks for housing development.

“Waterloo has always been known for their park system and has a great park system,” said Bob Krogh. “I don’t think the city wants to lose that.”

The Leisure Services Commission is an advisory board asked to make a recommendation to the City Council, which ultimately would decide whether to market land on the perimeters of the parks for sale.

Many neighbors of those parks have been calling and emailing city officials in opposition to the proposals but got their first chance to speak publicly about the plans during the morning commission meeting in City Hall.

Many residents talked about the value of the parks to the city’s quality of life and economic development efforts, while others noted they bought their homes along parks with an implied commitment the parks would remain.

Mary Sue Adams, who uses a wheelchair to get from her home at Harmony House to Prairie Grove Park, paid for special transportation to get to City Hall and plead for the park to stay as it is.

“It is a place to get away and be out with nature and feel at one with something I left when I had my stroke and had to be put in a nursing home,” Adams said.

Other Prairie Grove neighbors said all areas of the 23-acre park at West Fourth Street and Shaulis Road are used regularly.

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Eric Petersen spoke for residents living near Castle Hill Park, where the city is considering a proposal to sell a wooded lot or two at the park’s northern edge.

“Surely there are other existing Leisure Services assets that could be more readily and profitably developed than a single or multi-building site in an old growth Iowa forest, which can only be reached by old blacktop roads and narrow, rutted driveways,” Petersen said.

Petersen and others noted the land was donated to the city in 1948 for use as a park. Even though the covenant has expired, he said it would be a “dangerous precedent” for the city to discount the intent of the donors.

“I think we all understand what your legal rights are with that,” he said. “I think there’s an integrity issue that pretty seriously needs to be considered.”

Dale Patnode was one of several residents opposed to the city selling a 1.5-acre lot bordering Sulentic Park just west of the Westridge Child Care Center and Preschool. He said that portion of the park is used as well.

“To take this away from us and put neighbors in our back yard, that’s not what we bought our houses for,” he said.

Commission member Bob Bamsey made a motion to recommend against selling the parks but got no second. Other commissioners preferred to have the panel’s parks subcommittee study the matter further before bringing it back for a commission vote in June.

“Failure to get a second on the motion is not a negative,” said commission member Tom Christensen. “This is the first we’ve even looked at things. This is a start. It’s not anything other than that.”

Leisure Services Director Paul Huting said it was gratifying to hear so many residents supporting the parks he and his staff oversee daily.

“To see the response from the community in favor of keeping the parks as they are is almost overwhelming,” he said.

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Waterloo City Reporter

Waterloo city reporter for the Courier

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