By Sheila McLaughlin
Enquirer Staff Writer
SYMMES TWP. - A proposed park on Blong Road could become a roadblock in the state's plan to widen Montgomery Road.
After a pointed discussion that included accusations of park levy misspending, eight residents in Calumet Farm asked trustees to designate the property as a "significant" park for the township, even though it will include 40 parking spaces for nearby Union Savings Bank and a small memorial to victims of the 1999 tornado.
That designation would force the Ohio Department of Transportation to look at alternatives, including realigning the road to avoid the park.
Frustration in Calumet Farm boiled over this summer after residents learned in May that the department will begin appraising eight properties as part of the 61/2 -mile widening project in Hamilton and Warren counties.
Calumet Farm residents have objected to widening in their area - from two to five lanes near the subdivision and seven lanes at nearby Kemper Road - saying the project will push traffic closer to their homes, take portions of their property and reduce property values. Calumet Farm sits just north of Kemper and abuts the Blong park property.
"You have the opportunity to stop this tonight," resident Ken Bryant told trustees Tuesday.
Trustees said they will research the issue. However, Administrator Gerald Beckman recommended to trustees Tuesday that they designate the property as "insignificant," so that ODOT can proceed with its plans.
Law Director Robert Malloy said the park limits ODOT's ability to take the additional right of way that it needs unless trustees consider it an insignificant piece of the township's park system. Beckman said the road would cut into the land 20 to 30 feet.
Jon Wiley, an engineer with KZF, which is ODOT's consultant on the road project, said the Blong property would have to meet several conditions to be considered significant park land. They include whether the property is a wildlife preserve, an active recreational park or a significant historical site.
He said ODOT wasn't aware that the Blong property was bought with park levy money until Bryant brought it to his attention in June.
"We have to look at every issue very seriously, and that's what we are doing," Wiley said.
"If they feel like it is a park and needs to be protected, we have to look at whether it's feasible to avoid it. Maybe we can't. It may not change the alignment at all. There's no way of knowing that until we go through the process."
Trustee Eric Minamyer said the township needed the Blong land to keep billboards away from the Kemper Road intersection and to shut down a portion of Blong Road to reduce access to Montgomery Road and improve safety. They intended it to become a small passive park recognizing the destruction of the 1999 tornado because it is in one of the areas that was hardest hit.
An agreement with Union Savings Bank, which sold less than an acre to the township for $163,000 last year, requires trustees to allow bank employees and customers to use 40 parking spaces. Union Savings Bank refused to sell the property unless there was a guarantee of parking space. The township also agreed to install a plaque noting appreciation to the bank for its cooperation. In exchange, the bank has agreed to put in a connector road from its office to the parking lot and sidewalks along Kemper Road.
The bank's property was among three pieces the township acquired along Blong since 1999 using nearly $500,000 in park levy funds. Beckman said the township's use of park levy money to buy the land was legal.
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