The future of Chicken Yard Park on Starr Hill is in question over quirky lot lines that run a driveway through a kids playground.
Juneau’s Parks and Recreation Director George Schaaf shot video in June of private contractor trucks in the playground while a young girl played among the vehicles.
“We didn’t know what was going on and it made us realize that we had a serious issue with motorized vehicles, cars, trucks and equipment in a playground,” Schaaf said.
Vicki Van Fleet and her husband own the house behind the park.
“We were having a concrete pad poured and I got a letter saying basically they were going to shut off my access,” she said. “Like totally blockade it.”
The house’s front door opens to a city staircase but any vehicle access runs through the park.
The Juneau Assembly briefly discussed this odd arrangement in 1980.
No action was taken and about eight years later, a playground was built.
The half-acre park gets its name from when nuns working at the nearby St. Ann’s Hospital raised poultry.
Black-and-white photos showing a car with 1932 plates parked in a driveway built decades before the park existed.
The nuns and chickens are long gone and the park was created in 1950 after neighbors raised the money to buy the land and ceded it to the city.
“There’s been a long history of cars and trucks driving through this property, through this park and this playground,” Schaaf said. “There’s a city ordinance that says you can’t do that and the owners that live next door here say they’ve been allowed to do it for many, many years.”
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department sent a letter this month to neighbors, noting $90,000 in sales tax money waiting to be spent to rebuild the playground. But the city might not be able to keep the park as-is unless the vehicle issue was resolved.
“If the community decides that it should not be a park anymore, then the parcel could be used for something else,” Schaaf said Tuesday. “It could be offered for sale or it could be used for another purpose.”
“That’s what got everybody riled up. Us, everybody,” Van Fleet said. “I mean, Juneau needs more parks, not less.”
The city’s received at least 17 letters urging the city to keep the park open.
“The hard part about it is that everything’s non-conforming,” said neighbor Tom Fletcher who penned a letter to the city. “The streets are very narrow, I’m much more concerned for my kids when they were little and my dog, just walking down to the park on that steep street than inside the park itself.”
The homeowners have rejected an offer by the city to sell them a parking place above the park.
And they’ve hired a lawyer to fight to keep their driveway.
Off-street parking is scarce on Starr Hill.
Schaaf said he understands there’s a lot of support for the park and even sympathy for the driveway.
“The challenge we have is that, being such a small park, there really isn’t enough room for vehicles to move safely through a lot this size and at the same time have children using a playground,” he said.
Schaaf asked the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee to weigh in with a recommendation to the Assembly, which didn’t happen after about 50 people showed up to the Tuesday evening meeting.
“The next step, logically, is to have the neighborhood association and people who are interested in the Chicken Yard Park is to sit down with the Parks and Recreation Department and see if they can find common ground and develop up some solutions,” advisory committee chair Chris Mertl said Wednesday morning.
In the meantime, the city has removed the playground’s slide and posted signs warning residents about vehicles in the park.
Editor’s Note: George Schaaf sits on KTOO’s board of directors
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