Common council members hear proposal to sell part of Laurie Park

Members of the Huntington Common Council want some time to think about a proposal to sell off part of Laurie Park.

The first step toward reducing the size of the east side park was taken on Sept. 26 when the Huntington Plan Commission, on a 3-2 vote, approved changing the land use designation for the south half of the park from open space to low density residential.

That would allow the city to sell that half of the park property to be used for housing - something Mayor Brooks Fetters told council members would be a "more productive" use of the property.

The city would no longer have to spend money on mowing the large open field, Fetters said. Having privately owned homes there would bring in more property tax revenue for the city budget, he added.

Although the proposal won plan commission approval, it must also be approved by the city council. And council members voted on Tuesday, Oct. 8, to table any action until their next meeting.

Council President Joe Blomeke said he'd be interested in hearing what neighbors of Laurie Park think of the proposal.

"I don't think it's going to save us a lot of money," Councilman Jack Slusser said. "My opinion would be to keep the park intact."

The open field, he said, is used by neighborhood youth for games of baseball and football.

Councilman Jim Long noted that there are currently six empty houses in the area around Laurie Park.

"I don't think anyone's going to build there," he said.
Councilman Charles Chapman, who also serves as a member of the plan commission and as a member of that panel voted in favor of the proposal, said it's possible that new development in the area could help spur sales of existing homes there.

"I think that when we talked to Mr. (Bob) Caley (director of city services) there's a plan to look at all parks, to see if some of them could be pared back," Chapman said.

That, Chapman said, would allow the city to better use its resources elsewhere.

Laurie Park, located at 524 Swan St., was established in 1939. Its current 1.83 acres includes a playground, pavilion, basketball court and restrooms, along with the open area targeted by this proposal. The open area encompasses just under an acre of the total park.

In other business:

• The council took no action on a plea by Rocky Murray, of 1144 Charles St., that he be allowed to keep the ducks he has at his home.

City ordinance requires that city residents have at least five acres in order to keep farm animals. Last month, two city residents asked that the ordinance be amended to allow chickens on smaller lots. Murray asked council members that, if a change is made, ducks be allowed as well as chickens.

"If that doesn't happen, we have no choice but to enforce the ordinance," Slusser said. "If it does happen, your ducks will probably be included."

Murray says he is being treated for cancer and that caring for the ducks helps keep his mind off his illness. He presented a letter from his radiologist, who noted that the ducks "have provided him psychological well being/healing" and asked that Murray be allowed to keep the ducks.

Murray said the ducks are not registered as service or therapy animals and that he can't get that certification now because of the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Murray told council members he has had the "13 or 14" ducks for about a year and didn't know until recently that keeping them was prohibited by city ordinance.
He received a visit from the animal control officer after a neighbor notified her that the ducks were making noise in the morning and evening. A raccoon had gotten into their enclosure, Murray said, adding that he's since fortified the enclosure to keep other animals out.

• Council members approved the issuance of up to $18.6 million in bonds to pay for the next phase of improvements to the city's sewage treatment system.

This phase, scheduled for construction between 2020 and 2026, will include construction of a holding tank at the sewage treatment plant. When large amounts of sewage come into the plant, it would be held in the tank until it can be treated. Currently, sewage sometimes bypasses the treatment facility and is dumped directly into the river.

The project will also include installation of sewage lines along LaFontaine, State, Market and First streets.

• The council approved a 10-year tax abatement on a $500,000 piece of metal forming equipment to be installed by Huntington Sheet Metal, 1675 Riverfork Drive East.

The new equipment, company President Daniel Drummond said, should be installed by the end of the month. It will result in the hiring of two, and possibly four, new employees, he said.