The Cass County Jail is proposing a parking lot expansion on the north side of High Street where Stonewall Park is located.
Officials say Stonewall Park would need to be removed with the construction of the proposed parking lot. The east end of the park contains a plaza and the “Orange Grasses” sculpture, while its west end is currently green space.
Stonewall Park was completed in 2012 to serve as a trailhead for the Eel River Run, but the stone river wall itself was first constructed in 1984.
According to the applicants, “the parking will be needed so that the jail can construct a building addition in the near future.”
Cass County Commissioner Jim Sailors appeared before the Logansport Board of Zoning Appeals on Monday evening to request a variance from requirements in the Downtown Overlay District.
“All the parking spaces will be gone that we currently have in the parking lot right now,” said Sailors. “Without this parking lot, there would be no land available for the jail to provide parking.”
The county is looking to repurpose the park in anticipation of the Cass County Jail’s expansion into its current parking lot. The proposed parking lot would consist of 77 spaces. ADA-complaint parking would be provided on the south side of High Street adjacent to the Cass County Jail.
The requested variance relates to off-street parking located along the frontage of Eel River Avenue occupying more than 20 percent of the street frontage. Based on the county’s application, proper setbacks and other code requirements would be maintained.
Logansport mayor Dave Kitchell said that even if plans go through with the parking lot expansion, the city would look to relocate Stonewall Park rather than remove it outright.
“Part of the issue today is Stonewall Park and the Grasses sculpture in there,” Kitchell said. “If this goes through, in whatever form, we don’t want to destroy the park — we’d move it and put it someplace else. There are a couple alternatives.”
Cass County formerly owned the land that Stonewall Park spans at Fourth and High streets before giving it to the city. However, Logansport Parks and Recreation officials agreed to give the downtown park back to the county, and in May of 2017 passed a resolution to that effect.
Jim Brugh, an attorney and resident of Logansport for 36 years, appeared before the Logansport BZA, asking the board to deny the county’s petition.
“When I walk out my front door, to the north I see the Grasses sculpture and I see Stonewall Park, and I consider it a thing of beauty,” he said. “However you want to say it, it is the destruction of that park, and it has a long history of being a park. I don’t agree with the removal or the relocation of it.”
Paul Willham, communications director for Logansport Landmarks and a local business owner, noted that both the County Building and the Cass County Jail are located in a floodplain.
“In 2013, FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] issued a report that concluded both the county building and the Cass County Jail should be relocated due to their proximity to a flood plain so that in the event of a disaster, needed services could be provided,” Willham explained. “So, is this a good use of dollars to start with to build a jail in an area where we’ve been told by federal authorities is a bad location?”
Willham added that the removal of the park could lead to run-off issues in the area.
“Is it also prudent and wise to tear down a park which serves as a buffer zone to help deal with run-off,” he asked. “As we all know, when there’s a heavy rain, run-off comes down from off the street, and is absorbed into the park’s grass before it reaches the water.”
Jail and state prison populations continue to increase along with a rise in community corrections cases. For many county jails, the money generated from housing federal inmates make up a large portion of revenue. Because of that, more than 30 Indiana counties in Indiana are contemplating new or expanded jails.
A continuance was granted to the county to further evaluate plans and discuss what options are available. The case will be continued at the Logansport BZA’s next regular meeting on Aug. 19 at 5 p.m. in City Council chambers at the City Building.
The greatest flood in the city’s history was in 1913 when one-third of the city was under water and 1,200 families had to flee their homes as the Eel River reached a height of 25.5 feet.
Reach Quentin Blount at email@example.com or 574-732-5130.