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DC Ranch gave the park land to Scottsdale in 2003. Now, Great Hearts Academies is offering $4.5 million to build athletics facilities on the property.
Scottsdale residents could gain a new public park in DC Ranch — but it comes with a catch.
The Great Hearts Academy charter school organization would have first dibs in scheduling events for Scottsdale Preparatory Academy’s sports teams at the park.
The piece of land, off 91st Street and Trailside View, was deeded as a public park in 2003, when the DC Ranch community developer DMB donated it to the city. However, Scottsdale never had adequate resources to finance the park after bond funds dwindled.
Great Hearts — which is made up of Scottsdale Preparatory Academy, Archway Classical Academy and other charter schools through the Valley and parts of Texas — has offered to invest $4.5 million into athletic facilities on the vacant 12.5-acre parcel.
Scottsdale would be responsible for the park’s maintenance and operation while the charter school isn’t using the land, according to the proposal, though the cost of that upkeep has not been established.
“The city would own and operate the park, like any other city park, and then Great Hearts will enter into a typical use agreement for a park — similar to all the other use agreements the city has,” said Jordan Rose, an attorney representing Great Hearts. “They have them with Scottsdale Unified School District and a variety of leagues and park users.”
But some residents are concerned the park wouldn’t truly be public if a charter school has priority to use the park. Others want to know where the city would get funding for the park’s upkeep.
The Scottsdale City Council will review the proposal on April 25 and vote on whether to move forward with talks between Great Hearts, DC Ranch and the city, including nailing down the cost to the city and what types of facilities would be on the land.
Concerns over ‘exclusive use’
A group of residents have been regularly emailing city officials in opposition to the proposal, including concern that the city is giving land away to Great Hearts.
“We said, ‘This doesn’t seem right. This is on city property,’ ” 53-year-old resident Marc Hudson said. “There’s the potential there for an unwanted expense.”
Scottsdale Councilwoman Linda Milhaven emailed the concerned residents to say the deal would essentially give residents a “free park.”
“If Great Hearts is willing to pay for a park according to the City’s standards, we get a free park that will be shared with the public,” she wrote in an April 8 email.
But Hudson said there was concern over when the public would actually be able to use the park.
A letter from Great Hearts to families from Scottsdale Prep and Archway Scottsdale added to those concerns, stating the school would have “exclusive rights” to the land and its use.
“The City is interested in entering into a joint agreement with Great Hearts to develop that land,” the letter says. “This would mean that we would bring the necessary capital to the project to build a field(s), parking, playground, etc. and enter into a long-term lease agreement that would give Scottsdale Prep/Archway Scottsdale exclusive rights to use the facilities based on its athletics calendar.”
A school official said the letter shouldn’t have used the word “exclusive.”
“I think it could have been written better, but it was exclusive rights according to our calendar,” said Erik Twist, Great Hearts chief innovation officer and senior vice president of advocacy.
Twist said the agreement would give the school priority on when certain portions of the park were being used.
For example, if a Great Hearts school had a football practice scheduled, the public wouldn’t be able to use the football field during that time. Once the practice is over, though, the public could use it.
Proposal for the site
Great Hearts’ original proposal was to build an athletic field for football, soccer and lacrosse, an oval running track around the field, a playground, sand volleyball courts, tennis courts, restrooms and locker rooms.
However, Rose Law Group withdrew the site plan on Wednesday after the DC Ranch Community Council sent an email opposing certain aspects of the park.
“Nearly 15 years ago, the developers of DC Ranch donated 12 acres to the city of Scottsdale for a future DC Ranch neighborhood park. DC Ranch — and the city — envisioned a park that would benefit all residents of our community,” the email says. “Currently, the Great Hearts site plan falls short of the character of a park our community deserves.”
DC Ranch spokeswoman Stacy Pearson said they would support the park if Great Hearts would work with the community in timing its light usage, so it wouldn’t disturb residents at night, and make sure the public could consistently use the facilities.
Twist said school officials will talk with residents to better understand their concerns and hammer out a revised site plan.
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