Recreation Relocation D.O.A.

Councilman’s Flip-Flop Dooms Proposal

RIDGEWAY – Efforts to petition County Council to locate a new recreation facility inside the town limits died in a 2-3 vote during Town Council’s March 12 meeting, with one key supporter of the move, Councilman Heath Cookendorfer, changing course just before the vote.

“From day one I have been an advocate of this. I personally think it’s a good thing,” Cookendorfer said after Councilman Donald Prioleau placed the motion on the floor. “As much as I am an advocate of it, I have to understand that the town came and spoke. They do not want it, and I have to actually follow that.”

A clear majority of citizens, as well as people living outside the town limits, spoke out against the proposal during a public forum last month, with 13 weighing in against and seven speaking in favor. Council also received a petition of approximately 55 names that were opposed to asking the County to consider changing the location of the site from Highway 21 at Smallwood Road to the property at Church and Means street where the old Ridgeway School once stood.

A petition of 78 names in favor of the move, presented by Prioleau before last week’s final vote, received little consideration from Council.

“We had 55 (signatures) opposed (to bringing the recreation center into the Town),” Prioleau said. “We have 78 that approve of that being down there.”

And all of the proponents on this petition, Prioleau said, live inside the town limits, unlike many of the opponents.

“We still have to listen to our people,” Cookendorfer said, apparently ignoring Prioleau’s petition. “If I had people who came in here and said they were actually for it, I would weigh that as well.”

Councilman Russ Brown, who first brought the matter to Council in December and who seconded Prioleau’s motion, said the location inside the town limits made the most sense.

“You’ve got someone willing to invest in a nice facility that can be rendered the way we want it,” Brown said, “within our guidelines in the town where the population density is the highest and has ease of access, is visible and you have police protection from the Town and the County.”

Brown also said the Town’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Strategic Plan, both of which have been cited by opponents to block the move, call for recreation facilities inside the town limits.

“One thing that jumps out to me is the Comprehensive Land Use plan that was based on the 2000 census, and it says there are no public park facilities within the town limits, and a lack of park and recreation facilities is a concern,” Brown said. “Long-term goals the community wanted were recreation and a town park, community center and recreation facility. It says in 5 – 10 years there needs to be recreational facilities and a town park, and that was in 2000, so we’re past that.”

Nevertheless, Cookendorfer’s flip-flop doomed the proposal, which failed 2-3. Only Brown and Prioleau voted in favor of the motion. Cookendorfer, Councilman Doug Porter and Mayor Charlene Herring voted against.

“No one is going to win from this,” Cookendorfer said. “No one has won. I’ve seen the town turn on each other in the last couple of months. It’s very discouraging.”