Neighbors get OK for new park

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LEWISTON – Downtown residents will get a new neighborhood park on Knox Street, a replacement to one removed from Maple Street in 2004.

Now members of the Downtown Neighborhood Task Force will begin drawing up plans for the park, to be built at 69 Knox St., adjacent to one of Lots to Garden’s downtown sites while the city negotiates to purchase the land.

“People and councilors need to remember that a green space is good, but they can be very different,” said Jim Lysen, a member of the community action group The Visible Community. “You can have a big park, like Kennedy Park, and it’s great. But you need little parks like this for a neighborhood.”

The city removed the Maple Street park’s playground equipment in 2004 before demolishing the nearby Ritz Cafe building. That was part of a planned Heritage Initiative that called for building a boulevard through the area.

Neighbors protested, and the city backed off of the boulevard plan. But neighbors and the Visible Community have pressed the city to replace the park’s equipment ever since. Members of the Visible Community rallied before the council meeting and cheered the decision afterwards.

It was the first recommendation of the newly created Downtown Neighborhood Task Force. Councilors formed that group this winter to write a new master plan for the downtown.

Councilor Renee Bernier said she was concerned the group had forgotten its mission.

“I’m worried that things will come to us one at a time, piecemeal,” Bernier said. “I thought your job was to create a master plan and I don’t want to see that forgotten.”

But Task Force Chair Adilah Muhammad said the park fit well with the group’s overall philosophy. They are continuing to work on the master plan, but it will be a long process.

“We think the master plan will take a year, a year and a half to complete and then another few months to begin to implement,” Muhammad said. “But we saw this park as an immediate need the neighbors have been waiting for. It didn’t make sense for them to have to wait for two more years.”

The lot is owned by Constance Rousseau, City Councilor Normand Rousseau’s wife. City Administrator Jim Bennett said he would begin negotiations with Rousseau right away. Councilor Rousseau did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Bennett said he expected to bring the purchase agreement for the land to the council’s Aug.t 14 meeting.

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