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SELMA – It may just be tumbleweeds and a ponding basin now, but Selma city staff has a vision for the property it owns now on Floral and Dewolf avenues west of town known as Rockwell Pond.

The city is in negotiations with Fresno County to acquire another possible 28 acres to develop a sports park that would alleviate crowding among city leagues that are crunched for space now. Since Selma High is getting closer to a major renovation project on its stadium, more sports teams will be displaced even more.

During the Sept. 17 Selma City Council meeting, Mikal Kirchner gave an update on the steps leading up to the current land negotiations. Kirchner is the director of the city’s Recreation and Community Services Department.

It’s been since early 2015 that a definite effort’s been made to purchase land just north of the ponding area. The city took ownership of the ponding area from the Consolidated Irrigation District around this time.

The city manager at the time was Ken Grey and he and Kirchner made a presentation to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors’ review committee. The purchase was approved but since there were changes in Selma’s city manager, the process was delayed, he said.

There were only enough funds to consider buying seven acres at the time though, Kirchner said. The city applied for some remaining Proposition 84 dollars to buy more land, but at the time it wasn't successful.

“We applied for 12 acres for a grant. If the grant was going to pay for it, then we might as well get more acres so we can build a larger park. Unfortunately, we did not receive those grants funds.”

The park’s location was revised to be situated past the pond and slightly to the east and closer to Highway 99.

Ideas have been bounced around about having walking and biking trails along the top of the ponding basin and a water feature and bridge as part of the park’s features. But nothing’s written in stone and no specific plans have been drawn up at this point.

“Everything’s conceptual because there’s no point in paying $50,000 to $70,000 for a designer to design a nice park, and then the supervisors say no. It’s an expense the city doesn’t want to make until we get this approved first,” Kirchner said.

Also, there were two community input sessions to gather ideas for a public park. Those were held back in May 21, 2015, and Sept. 21, 2016, and open space for sports was still a high priority.

Since much of the property the city already owns in the Rockwell area floods during the rainy season, there’s a limit as to what could be constructed on the basin floor.

“If we were to use the ponding basin, we’d be limited based on flooding. You can’t put lights and restrooms and playground equipment on the bottom of the ponding because once it floods, because of the electricity, there’d be a lack of use from the general public.”

Now that Isaac Moreno’s been named the interim city manager, Kirchner said the process to build a sports park is back on track.

It’s been since the mid-1980s that Selma built its last community park - Shaffer Park. Coaches in the audience at that meeting said all the city’s parks are overflowing with athletes of various sports all year long.

The next step now is the negotiations with Fresno County to purchase land above the ponding basin. If this is successful, it would give the city much more leeway in developing multiple sports fields.

“In principle, the city of Selma and Fresno County have come to an agreement in their negotiations. You have four acres coming in north [of the basin] and then there’s the area where you drive in and then you have 20 acres of park,” Kirchner said referring to a map outlining the desired land.

A purchase price wasn’t revealed immediately, but will be brought back to council once the county agrees to a price.

“The Board of Supervisors has received our information and will be voting on this soon,” Kirchner said. A vote was scheduled for the last week of September. “We’ll get their approval and this will come back to City Council for approval.”

Money from the city’s parks fund, Prop. 68 funds and Transient Occupancy taxes will be tapped to make the purchase, he said. Also, staff will look at upcoming grants such as the land-water conservation fund for more funding.

Councilman Scott Robertson said some concerns have been raised about what Fresno County might do with the rest of the property it owns near the basin. Since the idea of a juvenile detention facility has been floating around, he’d like to see if that can be prevented.

“There were talks about it being a public works facility, but at this point, we don’t know,” Moreno said.

City Attorney Bianca Sparks Rojas said she’d look at wording the agreement to give the city a right to object to certain developments near the park.

“If there were certain sensitive uses, like a juvenile justice facility or something of the like we don’t want adjacent to it, we could try to discuss that with the county, but whether or not they agree is up to them,” she said.

Kirchner said if the land deal does go through, they could build two 200-yard football fields next to each other on every seven acres of land. And with 28 acres of land up for negotiations, coaches say it would make a huge difference in sports across the community.

Soccer coach Frank Hoyt was among coaches frustrated that there’s simply not enough room for all their athletes to play.

“The one thing that frustrates soccer the most is we’re the largest youth sports in Selma by far. We have 812 kids this year and we have nowhere to play,” Hoyt said. They practice at Jackson School, but must pay a fee to do so.

“We’re just trying to get flat land so the kids can play, keep active and out of trouble. If we can get however many acres, anything’s possible. And with them ripping out [Selma High’s] stadium next year, they’re pretty much kicking us out of Abraham Lincoln. We won’t have a soccer league because we’ll have nowhere to play.”

Diego Haro chairs the City’s Recreation and Community Services Commission and also coaches soccer. He said there’s been talk of getting a sports complex built for the past 18 years and urged the council to make progress.

“Mr. Avalos I’m begging you. We need this. We don’t need another correctional facility built for kids. I think that says it all. We’re building more prisons because there’s less parks.”

Developer Cliff Tutelian cautioned the council that they needed to consider maintenance costs of such a large park so that it doesn’t fall in to disrepair and attract homeless people who may camp out if the park is not well monitored and maintained. He also suggested they should look at a way to have the park pay for itself and move earth around within the ponding basin so the flat areas are closer to commercial development.

“If you do a park and if we did a shopping center, you have two pieces. If they’re planned with community interest in mind and strategically so, you’d have one big powerful entity between the park, the pond and the development. That’s what’s going to make the money, that’s where the city’s going to prosper and that’s what’s going to allow us to bring tenants so you can have a shopping center.”

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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