04/19/11 — Citizens gather to speak on street closing

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Citizens gather to speak on street closing

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on April 19, 2011 1:46 PM

When Mayor Al King pounded the gavel to begin Monday's City Council meeting, the chambers were packed with nearly 70 additional citizens who turned out for public hearings on issues ranging from the proposed Park Avenue closing to the site plans for a commercial children's activity center.

It was clear, however, that the Park Avenue agenda item, a proposition to permanently close the roundabout going through Herman Park, was the issue that drew the most attendance, as following its discussion, there were barely 20 people left in the audience.

Citizens are permitted three minutes each to speak on the subject being discussed during council meetings.

Seven citizens spoke against the street closing, in remarkable similarity to the same proposal that was voted down in January 2002. At the public hearing for the street closing in December 2001, nine spoke out against the proposition, which Councilman Chuck Allen had proposed as a safety precaution. One person spoke for the closing at Monday's meeting.

Allen took a moment before the public hearing to explain where the second coming of the Park Avenue closing had originated.

He said former Parks and Recreation director Ruben Wall approached the council about six months ago wanting to close the roundabout to protect children playing in the park.

Allen said he dissuaded Wall from pursuing that track, as his venture to close the road attracted the ire of the park-loving community almost a decade ago, but that Wall returned the next month asking again for it to be closed.

Wall closed the gates and eventually replaced it with barriers that allowed for pedestrians and cyclists to pass through, but when the Park Avenue renovations were noted as part of the street renovations project, Allen said he suggested there be a public hearing, since the street had not been closed in the proper manner.

This was not lost among those who spoke out against the closing. Citizen after citizen approached the council, explaining that disabled and elderly persons were inconvenienced by the closing and couldn't admire the flowers and fountain. Some who spoke, like Barbara Hood Hatch and Mike Farfour, were speaking in the same spot they had stood nine years ago when the street closing was first considered.

A petition, with more than 330 signatures, was presented and one speaker even evoked Ronald Reagan's message to the Soviet Union's head of state during the Cold War, pleading with the council to "tear down this wall."

But the mood of the hearing turned definitively following Alison Platt's message to the council. Ms. Platt, chairperson of the Goldsboro Historic District Commission, spoke against the street closing and offered suggestions for other ways to make the park safer. She pointed out that since the park was a Victorian park in the historic district, any additions to the roundabout would need to be from the Victorian era. She also suggested more lighting, the implementation of crosswalks and additional police patrols.

"That would still allow this park to be the gem it is for the city," she said.

King then spoke, noting that since creating a master plan for the city of Goldsboro, Ms. Platt had offered him free advice concerning planning moves.

"I love free advice. Especially competent free advice," he said, invoking applause when he added her voice had caught his ear. "Whenever she speaks, I listen."

The Planning Commission will have a recommendation for the council at the next meeting, May 2.