At a block club meeting Thursday night at Elizabeth Baptist Church, residents of Slavic Village's Hyacinth block club raged over the city's proposed dirt bike track at Marion Motley Park.
The proposed location for the track directly abuts the neighborhood, yet residents said they were never included in discussions about the proposal. There wasn't a single community meeting, as there had been in Garden Valley on the park's opposite side. Residents lashed out at Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland and members of Frank Jackson's administration. They felt insulted by efforts to justify the project after it had already been approved (narrowly and questionably) in City Council.
"Nobody here wants to hear it," said resident Scott Denham, when Community Relations Director Blaine Griffin asked if he could make a presentation on behalf of the city. (Some of Denham's remarks were captured by Cleveland.com
Denham kicked off what would be heated back-and-forths between residents and both Griffin and Michael Cox, the city's director of public works. They tried to present the proposal but were repeatedly interrupted by neighbors with questions and complaints.
The concerns were familiar to those who have been following the issue: For low-income youth interested in dirt bikes, how will they afford to participate? One resident asked. Others asked about noise levels and potential violence. Former mayoral candidate Ja'Ovvoni Garrison asked about upkeep costs: given that the city has never run a dirt-bike track, are officials aware of how much it costs to maintain? A common concern was the ability to enforce a city rule that riders must transport their dirt bikes to the track in another vehicle. Griffin said the city would be presenting a new plan to deal with dirt bike riders in the streets soon.
Sam Allard / Scene
Blaine Griffin tries to make a presentation about the dirt bike track.
The city's presentation, by Griffin, Cox and Matt Spronz, Cleveland's director of capital projects, highlighted the physical attributes of the park. They gave assurances that safety and noise concerns would be dealt with. The operator of the track would be required to keep noise levels below prescribed decibel levels, they said, (at which residents openly laughed.)
Furthermore, the city reps reiterated the idea that the track was as much about job training as it was about recreation. A component of the park will be a garage where youth and young adults can learn about small engine repair. Johnnie Burton, who already repairs dirt bikes and who started a foundation to teach bike maintenance to youth
, was in attendance.
Seated alongside residents, he argued in support of the project, saying that the park sent a message to youth that there was more to life than "being hard."
While some residents sympathized with that idea — some even said they supported a project like this in principle — they wondered why it was being placed so close to residential neighborhoods. Why not even up the road in the Industrial Valley? Why not along the Opportunity Corridor, where there might be room to expand? One asked if residents in Garden Valley honestly were in support of the project, as Phyllis Cleveland said.
"People in Garden Valley would rather hear a dirt bike than an Uzi," offered Johnnie Burton in reply.
Google Maps, Illustration by Sam Allard
Marion Motley Park with Hyacinth on the left, Garden Valley on the right.
One of the biggest issues for residents, though, was the way in which they had been totally excluded from the process. Marion Motley Park (represented by the red circle above) is directly adjacent to many of the neighbors who attended the block club meeting (represented by the blue rectangle on the left). City officials said a tree line, which would not be touched, would still protect neighbors from noise, but it was little comfort.
Phyllis Cleveland took the blame for the city's failure to reach out to residents during the planning phases.
"That was an oversight on my part," she said early on.
Indeed, and it's the regularity with which the administration has made similar oversights that's pushing residents toward outrage. Some of the complaints Thursday were ugly and racially charged — Denham, for instance, threatened to shoot or run over riders; one woman suggested that "decent children" wouldn't be participating in these activities — but most of them were perfectly legitimate. (Allison Denham said, in a later interview, that her husband Scott's remarks weren't intended to have any racial undertones at all. They were directed not at the park, but at the riders in the street.)
Many of the residents might even have been in support of a similar project if they'd been permitted to weigh in or offer alternatives. As it stands, it's clear that Mayor Jackson's project, however well-intentioned, is reviled in North Broadway.
Councilman and Mayoral challenger Zack Reed, who voted against the dirt bike track and who is following its progress with interest, said the track is reviled elsewhere too. He attended the meeting last night and said he'd seen reactions like it all across the city.
"This will be the Mayor's Achilles heel," Reed said, in a conversation in the hallway outside the meeting. "I don't care if I'm in West Park or in Hough. North, South, East, West, everybody hates this dirt bike track."
*This article has been corrected with the proper spelling of Scott Denham. (It ends with an m, not an n.)
*This article has been updated with a comment from Allison Denham.