The Belo Garden -- slated to go in at the corner of Main and Griffin downtown, where the federal courthouse parking lot used to be -- has been plagued by soil-quality delays practically since plans began six years ago. But the park, funded by "Belo-related parties" in conjunction with public money, also faces opposition from residents at the adjacent Metropolitan Condos who say a 12-foot wall separating the park from their entrance driveway will be an eyesore and a safety hazard.
"I call it reverse philanthropy," said Wayne Garcia, a five-year resident of the building and one of the first tenants to move in. When I spoke with him outside the condos this morning, he said he believes the wall will create a kind of tunnel, encouraging urination, vagrancy and crime right in front of the glass-walled Metropolitan lobby. Garcia and some fellow homeowners call this the "wall of spite," because, they say, Belo has refused to negotiate with their new neighbors.
"We have asked for all kinds of solutions," Garcia said, including shortening the wall or limiting access to the Metropolitan driveway to reduce through traffic, but in what he characterizes as "patronizing" meetings, Belo reps have refused to listen.
I called Jennifer Pascal over at Allyn Media, who's handling press for the garden. She said the disagreement "bums [her] out."
"We have met with the residents and we have met with building management and the owners to talk about the whole garden in general," she says, adding that the wall is part of the original design of the park. Architects Hargreaves and Associates "spent a lot of time determining
the height of the wall based on the aesthetics of the Metropolitan building," she says, and also intended to keep cars driving down the Metropolitan driveway from careening into the park.
"They come through pretty quickly," she said, and the wall will protect the "people who would
be right there at the park." Because the park is not meant to be utilized for concerts, like Main Street Garden, a wall is necessary to preserve the intimate, garden-like feel. She also added that due to the grade of the land, a 12-foot height is an exaggeration, and it will be more like nine feet.
But Wayne Garcia said he has heard all these excuses before, and he's not buying it.
"The wall is excessively high," he says. A real-estate agent with a degree in architecture, Garcia believes "no architect in their right mind would design a 12-foot-high wall in a park in a downtown area." Garcia says car safety concerns could be addressed with a lower wall or restricted driveway access. He also wonders if the existing plan will create blind corners for motorists pulling away from the condos, putting sidewalk pedestriansat risk. Most of all, he fears a dark, tunnel-like space that could create "issues with urination and trash and criminal activity."
When I stopped by the condos earlier today, building management told me they're expecting to participate in a conference call with Belo folks this afternoon to discuss the park plans -- stay tuned for an update.
A Friend of Unfair Park sends along architectural drawings of the wall -- it's 12' 4"-12' 6", here: