Public Weighs in on Rec Site

RIDGEWAY – With the cons outweighing the pros by about half, the townspeople of Ridgeway had their say Tuesday night about whether or not Town Council should ask County Council to consider locating a recreation facility, currently targeted for Highway 21 S. near Smallwood Road, to the center of town at Church and Means streets, the site of the former Ridgeway School.

While some speaking out against the move cited the potential noise and traffic the facility would bring to the residential neighborhood surrounding the in-town site, Angela Harrison, Chairwoman of the Town Planning Commission, told Council that putting the facility on the old school property would violate several of the Town’s ordinances.

“It is just a metal building,” Harrison said. “This breaks with the Town ordinance code 506.1, letter D.”

Harrison said the ordinance requires buildings to “contribute to the image of the town and its unique visual character. This metal building will not achieve that process.”

Harrison said letter P of the ordinance requires new buildings to be compatible with surrounding structures, which in this case are of brick and wood construction. Harrison also said the setback of the building would not meet the ordinance, and the building would impede scenic views, also contrary to the ordinance.

“Not only does the old school site break the ordinances that Town Council has set in place, it breaks the Town’s comprehensive plan as well,” Harrison said.

Cal Harrison, meanwhile, told Council that the 4.8 acres of the old school property would not allow for growth or expansion of recreation opportunities, while the current site on Highway 21, which is approximately 30 acres, would.

While several citizens said they were concerned that the facility on the old school site would mean the destruction of the archway – the last remaining vestiges of the old school – Councilman Russ Brown said that was not the case.

“In the last meeting, everybody on Town Council agreed that we want to preserve and enhance that arch,” Brown said. “So the arch isn’t going anywhere.”

The minority speaking in favor of relocating the facility into town cited the value of recreation for youth and adults, especially within walking distance of much of Ridgeway. An in-town facility would also be an attraction for industry, they said.

“Where we have the (Rufus Belton Park) down in Longtown, that’s too far for us to go to carry our children,” Doretha Hannah said. “Proceed with your plans and see if we can accommodate our center here in Ridgeway.”

The new recreation center, as part of the County’s comprehensive recreation plan to spend $500,000 in each of the seven voting districts, is designed to serve all of District 1. Noting that, Councilman Donald Prioleau suggested Council and District 1 County Councilman Dan Ruff hold another public forum for the district at-large. Council agreed, but set no date Tuesday night.

“I think you’re going to have to learn to share that area,” Brown said. “You’ve got 5 acres over there. It’s going to have to be shared. People are going to have to understand that. You’re talking about a 4,400-square-foot building, which can be improved, be changed and made attractive.”

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