Skate park controversy heats up

Published 10:23 am Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An Albert Lea husband and wife on Monday presented police data in opposition to a proposal to move the city’s skate park from City Beach to Frank Hall Park.

Mike Larson and his wife, Vicki, said they went through police reports as far back as 2005 related to the skate park and found there were an average of six calls for service per year between 2005 and 2012 related to the City Beach area. In 2013, there were 24, 14 of which were directly tied to the skate park.

The Larsons, who reside up the street from the skate park, have a 12-year-old son who uses the park. They said of the 14 calls to police in 2013, 11 were tied to kids being in the skate park after it was closed, likely because of inconsistencies in signage in the area. There were no arrests.

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“There were no drugs, no violence, no vandalism and no weapons evidenced in any of these reports,” said Mike Larson in front of the Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

The calls were of significance, they said, because a group of residents living near the park have claimed they have experienced foul language, fights, vandalism and even drug sales. They are seeking to move the park to another location and have submitted a petition in favor of doing so.

“There’s no data to support its move based on police calls for service,” said Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels.

The presentation came after the advisory board last month voted to recommend moving the skate park from City Beach to Frank Hall.

The couple said they thought the present location was safe for the children using the park and that the sound levels there were considered normal. They said the skate park was established before some houses were built and that there has not been a reduction in market value of the homes near the skate park.

Mike Larson said if the skate park is moved to Frank Hall Park, the children who use the skate park would have to interact with older youths and even young adults.

“We feel if you mix that group of kids with these older kids that are going to Frank Hall to play basketball, you’re going to have major issues,” he said. “There’s drugs, there’s knives, there’s arrests. We don’t have that at the beach park area.”

They presented police calls for service to Frank Hall Park, some of which included vandalism, fighting, suspicious people, weapons, drinking and drugs.

Resident Sharon Nelson, who helped gather signatures for the petition and lives near the skate park, disagreed with the Larsons.

“I do live there, and, yes, the volume does get high,” Nelson said. “I have company that comes to visit, and we sit out on my patio. The language is unbelievable.”

Cindy Gilbert, who lives directly above the skate park, said she has given up reporting problems at the skate park because she has not seen any results.

She said she sometimes can’t even hear her own TV in her living room and has been woken up in the middle of the night because of noise coming from the park.

Vicki Larson questioned how the advisory board made the recommendation to move the park without hearing both sides of the issue.

Parks and Recreation Director Jay Hutchison said he did not think the board was ready for a vote but someone made a motion anyway and the vote was approved.

“I did not want a vote. The City Council was not asking for a vote,” Hutchison said.

The Larsons submitted a letter from the Freeborn County Assessor’s Office stating the skate park has had no effect on the market value of homes in the area, along with other letters of support to leave the skate park at its present site.

They said there were some easy things the city could do to try to remedy some of the problems, including installing signage that clearly identifies the open and close times and possibly installing sound-reducing material on the fence on the east side of the park.

The issue will come before the Albert Lea City Council for a public hearing at its Nov. 12 meeting.


Police response

Albert Lea Police Department calls for service for the City Beach, parking lot, city fireworks, city and county dock and skate park area:

2005: 1

2006: 10

2007: 7

2008: 6

2009: 9

2010: 2

2011: 2

2012: 6

2013: 24