Raleigh leaders OK master plan for Dix Park

Raleigh leaders took the next step toward the creation of Dix Park on Tuesday when they unanimously approved a master plan for the sprawling area near downtown.

The decision was met with thunderous applause from park supporters, most wearing blue Dix Park T-shirts.

Approval of the nearly 250-page master plan is a critical step for the 308-acre park, and also a starting point for decades of development. The plan outlines a vision of the park and recommends uses for different areas, but those decisions will ultimately be up to current and future Raleigh leaders.

“We all care about Raleigh,” said Michael Van Valkenburg, president of the company hired to create the master plan. “And this master plan is about caring for Raleigh today but especially Raleigh has it heads into the future.”

Unzipping her jacket to reveal a blue Dix Park T-shirt, longtime park supporter Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane made the motion to approve the master plan.

“It was extremely heartwarming to see a full room of people supporting this,” she said. “To come up with a plan that 65,000 people gave input on and have unanimous vote (from council) really means a lot. Now we celebrate, take a deep breath and get started on the next part.”

Part of Tuesday’s decision includes implementation of the first phase — restoring the Rocky Branch Creek. The plan recommends expanding the creek from 30 to 100 feet, and moving it farther into the park and away from Western Boulevard. There’s also a proposal to build a land bridge over Western Boulevard to connect Pullen Park and Dix Park. A fishing pond, greenway connections and a boat pool and open lawns are some of the other suggestions for the park’s creek.

“Raleigh hasn’t had a great water feature,” McFarlane said. “A great water feature that kids can play in and people can enjoy. For that to be the first phase that we are working on it just going to draw even more people and feel even more connected to this park as a whole. So I am very, very excited about that.”

A selling point of the first phase is the creation of a water element and also chance for people to interact with animals and plants in their natural habitat. A funding source for the first phase has yet to be identified.

“I am excited,” said Council member Kay Crowder. “I think it has been a long and good journey. We have had a lot of citizen input. There has been desire for that type of park in my district. I believe it will have a real economic impact on an area that has needed it for a while.”

Despite more than 65,000 people providing comments and nearly two years of community meetings concerning the master plan, it wasn’t without its critics. Some worried about future development.

Adjustments were made to the draft plan to remove references to “revenue generation” except for sections of the plan that discuss funding the park. The plan clarified that all of the uses proposed are suggestions and not mandates, dissipating some of the concerns critics had.

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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