Adding a public park to a subdivision that used to be a golf course takes a substantial amount of planning.

But a team of dedicated Royal Oaks residents have now reached a significant milestone, transforming an ecologically-minded park project from an idea of what their neighborhood could be to a map of what it might be.

After months of working with planners and talking with residents, the Royal Oaks Conservancy team has published several maps detailing what could be the next public park in the Maryville city limits.

The Conservancy is a group of Royal Oaks residents — made up of seven board members and two homeowners association representatives — trying to reserve abandoned golf holes for green space.

The organization became a 501(c)(3) in June of 2018, allowing it to raise money for the project which is meant to help enhance both the subdivision and the city.

Now, with a comprehensive design created in partnership with the East Tennessee Community Design Center and a series of maps proposing greenways, bike paths, dog parks, playgrounds, meadows and other elements, they’re earnestly planning their next step: raising at least $1 million in 2020 to buy the land.

“We think a million is a pretty reasonable price based on the amount of acreage we’re looking for,” conservancy president Matt Jagnow said.

Most of the land belongs to Tinker Richmond and his daughter, Marnice.

Safety first

Jagnow said the project has received general enthusiasm from Royal Oaks residents, but because it will be a public park, one large issue remains: safety.

“That’s the concern that people come in with and I think we’ve alleviated that concern for the most part,” he explained.

Though the project mainly revolves around sustainable design, the ETCDC assessed security matters as well. A report submitted to the conservancy shows design elements have to make boundaries between park space and homeowners’ land clearly defined.

But it also needs to be open enough so that anyone with criminal intentions can be seen and apprehended.

The ETCDC plan shows lighting, fencing, murals, foliage, building design and many other factors have to be considered for the park to be both enjoyable and safe.

The plan deferred to the National Institute of Crime Prevention in its approach to creating a safe park noting, “The proper design and effective use of the built environment can lead to a reduction in the fear and incidence of crime.”

Needs and pledges

The conservancy has tasked itself with the next phase in the Royal Oak subdivision’s evolution: becoming more and more open to the public.

For years, the subdivision was gated off, more of an area exclusive to homeowners. The new vision is to make it both more amenable to residents and to visitors, connecting it to a wider ecosystem of outdoor spaces for Maryville residents.

To that end, Maryville City Manager Greg McClain and Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Parks and Recreation Director Joe Huff are consulting on the project.

Jagnow has talked about partnering with both entities at some point.

“I’ve been there to kind of give them some of the needs we have,” Huff said. “That whole group is passionate.”

Both Huff and McClain said they attended conservancy meetings mainly to listen to the group.

But if the park is successful, they may have to do more than listen at some point in the future. Jagnow has talked about the possibility of the city maintaining the park once it is finished, but the process is not far along enough to know details like that for certain.

“At some point they’ll want to present (plans) to city council because I think there’s some desire on their part for there to be a partnership,” McClain said. “There’s a lot of those details that haven’t been sorted out.”

He added the park would be a tremendous amenity to the community and said that, from a personal standpoint — as someone who grew up in the area and who is on the planning commission — he tries to put himself in the position of people who moved there.

“They bought into a golf community,” McClain said. “So, with the golf course now gone, the idea of ‘This beautiful fairway that used to be behind me could turn into more rooftops,’ I think that doesn’t feel good.”

He also said he understands the owner’s desire to maximize what he can get for the land but thinks the conservancy is proposing a potential win-win situation.

“We’re really hitting on this being a community or public park,” Jagnow emphasized. “This isn’t something we’re just wanting to build and hold in our own neighborhood. .... We’re trying to present this as an opportunity for Maryville.”

The group wants to raise money partially on a pledged-based model in order to meet its goal. Jagnow said they’re giving potential donors the option of pledging money over a five-year term.

How much do they have committed right now? An average of $2,000, Jagnow said.

Meanwhile, the group continues to reach out to potential corporate partners to invest in what could be the one of the largest ecological public projects in the city’s recent history.

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