Access to park in Santa Rosa stirs debate

  • Tony Garcia with Estate Landscape Services removes weeds from the Linwood Neighborhood Park in Santa Rosa on Friday, March 21, 2014. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Santa Rosa officials are willing to allow a homeowners association to relocate an entrance to a private park near the fairgrounds, despite some neighbors' objections that the change is meant to discourage public access.

The issue of public access has sharply divided the Linwood Owners Association, which governs a 207-unit development of newer homes south of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Divergent views of the plan expressed at a public meeting Thursday spilled over into the homeowners association meeting that evening where a shouting match erupted over the issue, according to attendees.

"It was just so ugly," said Kristen Wood, a resident who opposes the proposed new walking path near her home on Nectarine Court.

As issue is whether the homeowners association should be allowed to redesign a private park at the northern end of the subdivision in a way that limits access to the park for those outside the association and increases access for its own residents.

Senior planner Erin Morris, acting as the city's zoning administrator during a Thursday hearing at City Hall, said that while she found the change "awkward," she was inclined to approve the elimination of the path connecting the park to Linwood Avenue.

"Although I as a planner like this connection, there is a community preference that it be deleted," Morris said.

Morris stressed that while planners prefer to see more connections to create walkable communities, the city was not in a position to require the association to build the Linwood Path as originally approved in 2003.

"From the city's perspective it is, at this point, a private park," Morris said. "There is no right of public access."

That's not the way it was meant to be. When the Planning Commission approved the project, the intent was that the public would have access to the park, explained city planner Susie Murray.

Longtime Linwood Avenue resident Rick Wantuk says the park, which is right across the street from his home, was "specifically advertised and presented as public space" when the development was proposed. Now, he said, "the tables have been completely turned" and the space is being characterized as purely private property.

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