GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — People who live near John Ball Park started a petition over the weekend opposing parking changes that could be coming to the neighborhood on Grand Rapids’ West Side.
Kent County owns the land the park and John Ball Zoo are on. The zoo’s master plan must therefore be approved by the county board every 10 years. Its current plan, OK’d in 2015, does indicate some green space would be replaced for paved parking due to an increase in visitors.
The newest proposal would expand the paved parking to several green spaces, including the field near the basketball courts on the west side of the park. The zoo said the plan aims to direct about 200,000 vehicles away from neighborhood surface streets.
“This amendment keeps traffic in the adjacent neighborhoods to a minimum while allowing for more parking at John Ball Zoo, which has less paved parking now than it did in the 1960s despite the tremendous growth of the Zoo and Kent County,” zoo CEO Peter D’Arienzo said in a statement.
A proposal to the Kent County Board of Commissioners Finance and Physical Resources Committee says John Ball is the fifth fastest-growing zoo in the nation.
D’Arienzo also noted that the plan includes picnic pavilions, restrooms and walking and biking trails.
Tina Femeyer, who lives across from the park, said the zoo did very little to alert the neighborhood of its proposed plans. While there were several community meetings held over the summer by the zoo, Femeyer said they purposely used vague language in the notices.
“They weren’t presented by the zoo as master plan input meetings,” she said. “They were, ‘Come find out what’s happening at the zoo.’ And at no point from the mailers that we received as neighbors did it say, ‘Come to this meeting to voice your input and specifically if you don’t, then the master plan would include paving your park.’”
The petition has collected nearly 350 signatures since it was created over the weekend.
The zoo has used the green fields as additional parking during popular events like this summer’s Lantern Festival.
“I would prefer parking on grass over permanent pavement,” Femeyer said. “The zoo only operates seven months a year with full-time hours on the shoulder seasons… I don’t think there’s a need to have paved space for only a partial year business.”
The zoo’s master plan is up for a vote at the finance committee meeting scheduled for 830 a.m. Tuesday at the Kent County Administration Building in downtown Grand Rapids. There will be time for public comment. Femeyer said she will be there and will ask the board to delay the vote to allow for further community input.