Community input considered at Rockwall County Open Space forum

(ROCKWALL, TX – July 20, 2015) Rockwall County’s Open Space Alliance held an informational meeting for residents last Wednesday at the courthouse. The key purposes of the meeting were to share the results of an online survey conducted in April of this year and to get further community feedback on the placement of new parks and trails around Rockwall County.

Kevin Shepherd, Principal Engineer at a community consulting firm called VERDUNITY and Stephen Hammond, Director of Planning at Wallace Roberts and Todd Design presented the survey results to the attendees, and then asked them to participate in the second phase of the data collection process by voting for the placement and types of upcoming open spaces.

Shepherd launched the meeting by pointing out the necessity for open space planning due to projected population growth. According to the 2010 census, there are over 77,000 people in Rockwall County. The population forecast for 2040 is over 166,00, a 114% increase. Without allowing for specified natural areas, Shepherd pointed out, the county could become subject to urban sprawl.

“It will affect all of our property values,” Shepherd said.

Hammond explained the details of the online survey, which received over 600 responses from all of the cities in Rockwall County.

Hammond said 95 percent of respondents agreed upon the importance of maintaining quality open space within the community. 54 percent said the condition of existing open/recreation space was either “excellent” or “good.” 14 percent said public access to open space was sufficient, while another 59 percent said it was sufficient, but could be improved. When asked to rate how well their needs were being met, walking/running trails rated averaged 2.9, nature trails 2.44 and off-street bike trails 2.34. When asked if Rockwall County would benefit from a regional trail system, over 78 percent of respondents said yes.

“There is significant room for growth here,” Hammond said. “There seems to be a need for a larger Open Space Amenity.”

Hammond cited comments from the survey that suggested Harry Myers Park was overcrowded. He said providing a new space that would serve the largest possible portion of the community would require some cooperation.

“It’s difficult for individual cities to think about what a region-wide amenity would be,” Hammond said.

The survey also indicated multiple historic areas residents wanted to preserve, including downtown Rockwall as well as the city’s namesake, the actual rock wall. Most of the wall is currently buried underground, but open space planners are considering making sections of the wall available to the public.

Before polling the attendees, Shepherd explained that there are five different types of open spaces: nature conservation, riparian corridors, lake-oriented, mixed-nature, and community parks. He expressed the necessity for a community meeting that would allow residents from all over the county to touch base with city planners and voice their wide array of opinions.

“Each time we have one of these, we whittle things down,” Shepherd said. “We are listening and trying to refine this into a plan.”

Residents then used stickers and large charts to cast their votes for open space decisions. These included:

• Potential County-Wide Trail Connections
• Trails Settings
• Trail Uses (biking, hiking, running/jogging, walking, horse-back riding)
• Open Space Opportunity Areas
• Riparian, Utility, and Transportation Corridors
• Open Space Types

There was also an open forum for residents to post comments on existing trails and open spaces.

“I’m looking forward to connectivity from one planned community to another, so that residents may enjoy nature,” attendee Shirley Smith said.

“We are excited they are putting on this program and we have a chance to participate,” attendee Marilyn King said. “It’s certainly very informative.”

King said she hopes to see more parks in the near future.

“Especially one on the lake, I think that would cover all age groups,” she said.

Rockwall resident Nicholas Grant said he hopes the Open Space Alliance will continue to protect the community form over-development.

“I really think that this group needs to be more politically active, especially when developers are violating Open Space agreements,” Grant said.

County Commissioner Cliff Sevier said the meeting seemed like a big success to him.

“Everyone has been very active,” Sevier said. “This is one of the big meetings that the county has been looking for. We are coming to the end of collecting information. I think it has absolutely been very, very successful.”

After the attendees voted, they reconvened with the WRT and VERDUNITY representatives to ask questions and voice observations or concerns.

Nell Wellborn, Co-Chair of Open Space Alliance closed with a few comments.

“As you drive through town, it seems like Rockwall has lots of green areas,” Wellborn said. “But each of those is owned by someone who has the right to develop it. It’s a simple matter of economics. I got involved in city politics because I wanted to protect the value of my property.”

Story and photos by Julie Anne White, Blue Ribbon News reporter.

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