Very rarely does a community’s park system become a point of community-wide contention and debate. Sure, on a neighborhood level, there might be some small scuttlebutt on whether slides or swings would serve the neighborhood better, but issues of citywide concern don’t occur very often.
However, city parks do become an issue when the popular discussion revolves around placing a water tower in a city park. There are plans in the works to construct a 750,000-gallon water tower, which is 200 feet tall, in the park.
At first notice, it may sound a bit curious to put a water tower in a park. There is certainly nothing recreational about a water tower and it seems to take away from the visual serenity that a park, in theory, should have.
Yet, the city has had experience in building water towers in parks. I remember as a youngster when I was a carrier for the Troy Daily News, the city decided to retire the Race Street water tower, which was wedged in between the grain elevator and the railroad tracks.
I remember the tower vividly: it was blue, small and rusty. It was something that had obviously put in a few good decades of service and the site would not allow for a bigger tower, which is what was needed (or at least what was built).
In 1990, a decision was made to build a 75-foot tower at Herrlinger Park, which is located in the southeast corner of the city. It’s pretty much surrounded by old paper factories on the south and east sides, the railroad to the west and a few houses to the north. If you had to build a water tower in a densely developed older neighborhood, the park had the space and it made sense.
Now, I am not sure how big Herrlinger Park is, but it’s got some size to it; it takes up the size of a really big city block. If you take a look at an aerial photograph of the park and the surrounding neighborhood, Herrlinger Park can’t be missed. The park is that massive.
But it’s still hard to level whether building a water tower in Carriage Crossing makes sense. The Herrlinger Park location is in a predominantly industrial area. In fact, if you looked at the city’s zoning map, the park is zoned for industrial uses. A water tower would could certainly be argued as an industrial use.
Carriage Crossing is different; it’s a residential neighborhood. Granted, it is right next to an industrial area, but it’s still residential. In fact, if you looked at the city’s zoning map, the park is zoned for residential uses. I doubt you could get a zoning certificate or a variance for building a water tower in a residentially zoned area.
All of this makes me wonder if a cellular phone carrier bought a parcel out in Carriage Crossing and decided that it would make the perfect spot for a new cellular phone tower, would the residents be upset? Absolutely! And furthermore, the city’s zoning codes and processes have specific regulations on such cellular phone towers “to protect residential areas and land uses from potential adverse impacts of towers and wireless telecommunication facilities” (Troy Zoning Code, Section 1151.13 (a)(3)) and “to the greatest extent feasible, ensure that towers and wireless telecommunications facilities are designed in harmony with natural settings and in a manner consistent with current development practices.” (Troy Zoning Code, Section 1151.13 (a)(6)). In all likelihood, a cell phone tower in a residentially zoned area would be denied.
Now, I understand that sometimes the needs of our community should be greater than the needs of an individual neighborhood; I am sure that a new tower on the city’s northwest side is merited. The city hires professionals to figure these sticky issues out. If these educated individuals say we need a tower, these professionals can determine the size and capacity of such a structure. Their advice should be welcomed. However, at the end of the day, I think the question that needs to be asked is this: If you can’t build a cell phone tower in a residential neighborhood, should you be able to build a water tower there?
William (Bill) Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.