by Dennis Dalman
A city-owned public basketball court in “The Wilds” neighborhood of Sartell will be moved next spring to Pinecone Central Park.
The Sartell City Council at its Sept. 13 meeting agreed unanimously to take that action. Four residents from that neighborhood spoke up at the council meeting, as did five residents at the Aug. 23 meeting. The controversy over that basketball court first came before the council 18 months ago. About a year ago, the council voted to keep the park within the neighborhood while hoping a solution to the residents’ complaints could be found.
Some speakers spoke forcefully for keeping the court in the neighborhood, and one man presented the council with a petition signed by 68 of the residents there who are in favor of keeping the court, which has been there for 20 years. One woman, however, who lives by the court, said the city should move it because of problems that include increased traffic, loud verbal noise, loud music, inappropriate language, incidents of public urination, playing loudly after park hours and other disruptions. The woman said she has three children and is concerned as to what they could be exposed to.
Another woman, however, said she has never witnessed any problems in regard to that court and that she has met and talked to “kind and talented” athletes who play there, many who happen to be Black young men who do not live in the neighborhood. The woman said the controversy is likely to give Sartell a reputation for being “a wealthy, non-inviting White community.”
Two men also spoke in favor of leaving the court where it is. It’s good for the kids and good for the neighborhood, and solutions to any problems that arise can be worked out, they said. One of the men, the one who presented the signed petition, said he lives down the block from the court and hasn’t heard or seen anything upsetting since the concerns were raised 18 months ago.
The “court issue” began when the virus pandemic caused many recreation places in the greater St. Cloud area to shut their doors. As a result, more young people from other areas began coming to Sartell to use the basketball court at The Wilds.
Some of the complaints mentioned by residents to the city council at that time were increased noise; foul language; public urination; at least one case of indecent exposure; trespassing on the lawns of the houses that virtually surround the park; intimidation of other park users; roller-hockey games being played; increased traffic on Grizzly Lane; lack of peace and privacy for residents; and hesitancy of some residents’ young children to use the park.
During a long discussion at the Sept. 13 meeting, all council members expressed empathy for both sides of the issue, but all came to an agreement that something must be done even though problems at the court do not affect most of the people in that neighborhood.
Council member Tim Elness began by saying the developer had created that court and park many years ago right next to residents’ homes. That kind of proximity, he said, was bound to create problems sooner or later, with so many someday coming to use the court.
Council member Alex Lewandowski agreed.
“It’s time to take action on it,” he said, adding that it’s a hard decision to make. “We’ve talked about it for a year and a half. The issue, he said, is an example of “regional” vs. “neighborhood” in which a large amenity like the basketball court attracts too many people to a quiet neighborhood.
Council member Jill Smith said a significant number of people near that court are upset, and the council cannot ignore their complaints. Relocating the court to Pinecone Regional Park would be advantageous because it is only a few blocks away from The Wilds neighborhood.
Council member Jeff Kolb said he respects the viewpoints of all the neighbors there, but the fact remains some neighbors, those closest to the court, have been directly affected by the increased use of the amenity – thus, the council should do something to help them.
Mayor Ryan Fitzthum acknowledged it’s not an easy decision to make but the heavily used “regional” amenity, the court, has caused some deterioration of the neighborhood park.
The council then voted 5-0 to move the park. The cost to the city to move the court to Pinecone Central Park will be anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.