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Community garden in Lower Swatara? Township seeks feedback on parks

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 11/19/19

Since September, Lower Swatara has been holding meetings to develop a comprehensive plan for its parks.

The most recent meetings were Oct. 22 and 29, in which the township examined how Lower …

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Community garden in Lower Swatara? Township seeks feedback on parks

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Since September, Lower Swatara has been holding meetings to develop a comprehensive plan for its parks.

The most recent meetings were Oct. 22 and 29, in which the township examined how Lower Swatara’s parks measured up against national standards and connectivity between the parks.

At the next recreation board meeting, Tim Staub of HRG said officials will gather recommendations for the parks and programming and the “overarching ideas” for the Shireman park. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 26.

HRG is the township’s contracted engineering firm.

The township might hold a public meeting in early 2020 to get public feedback.

HRG’s Allison Hanna studied Lower Swatara’s demographics, its parks, and how the parks and its facilities measured up against National Recreation and Park Association standards. She presented the results during an Oct. 22 recreation board meeting.

“Part of the benefit of the study — you’re comparing to some standards across different communities than this. And it’ll give you some ideas in here. The community gardens isn’t something we’ve talked about to date in these meetings. So it’ll be good to evaluate what’s suggested, what we have, where we differ, and what information we need to argue for that,” said HRG’s Shawn Fabian.

The standards are based on the number of residents in the township. Hanna said the township had one park that qualified as a “mini-park,” or a park between 2,500 square feet and one acre. The Rosedale Park is 0.6 acres. Hanna said by National Recreation and Park Association standards, the township was deficient of eight acres of mini-parks.

Most township parks are classified as “neighborhood parks,” or parks of 1 to 15 acres. By the national standards, the township needs 9 to 18 acres of neighborhood parks, and there were 32.2 acres of neighborhood parks in Lower Swatara.

The third category is a “community park.” They have recreation facilities such as athletic complexes and swimming pools and are 25 acres or larger. Lower Swatara has 68 acres of “community parks,” according to Hanna’s report.

“It’s just their recommendation. It’s not something that’s set in stone,” Hanna said.

The National Recreation and Park Association also has national standards for the “average” community. In her report, Hanna cautioned that the comparisons of the township to the average community shouldn’t be absolutes because recreation demands vary.

She presented both the new and old standards, which included different facilities and population comparisons.

Under the new standards adopted in the 2000s, the township should have a certain amount of facilities per population (such as one playground per a population of 3,706 people). Hanna’s report indicates that Lower Swatara has a surplus of playgrounds, basketball courts, baseball fields and soccer fields. It has the right number of tennis courts and softball fields, and a deficit of multipurpose fields, dog parks, tot lots, community gardens, multipurpose courts, and football fields.

Members of the Lower Swatara Township Athletic Association have advocated for more softball fields, saying that there aren’t enough fields, particularly for the older girls.

The new standards indicate that the township should have one softball field per 11,160 people.

“That standard should be revisited,” said Jeff Lawrence, vice president of LSTAA Baseball.

“That’s what we have. One. And that’s not good,” added Dennis Fausey.

During the Oct. 29 meeting, recreation board member James Kazacavage asked if they could consider putting in community gardens, specifically at Greenfield Park, where the 2017 Comprehensive Plan recommended reverting lawn not used for soccer fields to meadow.

“We have a lot of soccer fields, in my opinion. I think we need something for the older folks and the people that like to garden and do things like that. They are in the township. You build it, I think they’ll come,” Kazacavage said.

Will Foster, Middletown Area Recreation Alliance recreation programs supervisor, said he was looking to establish community gardens in Middletown.

The Oct. 29 meeting was centered on connectivity in the township.

Staub said three things divide the township — West Harrisburg Pike, Route 283 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

“That makes connectivity very difficult to achieve,” Staub said.

Recommendations include bicycle and pedestrian facilities along road and bridges, over and under Route 283 and the turnpike; along Rosedale Avenue between the residences and the Linden Centre; near Penn State; along Fulling Mill Road and the business parks; and North Union Street, according to Staub.

Commissioner Chris DeHart advocated for more walking trails or ways to get between the parks, maybe using the township sewer right-of-ways.

DeHart, who works for UPS, said he’s seen a Phoenix Contact employee jogging on roads including Fulling Mill Road and Route 441 and bicyclists on North Union Street.

“Definitely if we can get some kind of walking trail down in the industrial park area because the people in the industrial park walk all the time,” DeHart said.

The board suggested focusing on connectivity within the parks, too, to make sure residents can get to all the facilities within the park.