May 4—PORTSMOUTH — Residents of Portsmouth have come together to save a community treasure from being demolished.
After word got around that Portsmouth Metropolitan Housing Authority (PMHA) planned to remove part of the green space next to Bannon Park and turn it into a parking lot, residents, community leaders and the 14th Street Community Center have been fighting to save the green space and continue to give children a safe place to play.
Bannon Park, located in Farley Square, has served as the center of the North End and is utilized by the residents, youth, and children in the community for activities such as cookouts, birthday parties, soccer, kickball and softball. Many community organizations utilize the space, including Watch Me Grow, churches and the 14th Street Community Center.
"Let's not get rid of the only safe space we have in this community," President of the Scioto NAACP, Andre Sappington said in a Facebook live video that has been circulating on Facebook since May 2. "We demand that you put a stop to this, and this will not become a parking lot by any means necessary."
Since the livestream, residents in the community have started a petition to send to the housing authority in hopes to save the green space at the park. The petition, which can be found on Change.org, is hoping to reach 1,000 signatures to present to PMHA.
"We understand what PMHA has to do, but we do not want them to cut up any part of this park because this is all we have," Director of the 14th Street Community Center Maxine Malone said in the livestream. "We want to work together with PMHA to see what we can do to find a solution for Bannon Park."
Since the petition was created, it has received more than 750 signatures in support of keeping the green space. According to the petition's description, the youth of Wings of Hope was currently in the process of fundraising to make the area more appealing for the youth to play.
"The housing authority does have plans to create a small parking lot," Portsmouth Metropolitan Housing Authority Director Peggy Rice said. "The ballfield next to Bannon Park belongs to the housing authority and we do not have any ball teams that use it on a regular basis."
Rice shared due to accessibility issues at the current managers office, where residents pay rent, the housing authority is looking into moving the office to the community building.
"That building you can just walk up, there are no steps," Rice said. "What we are looking at doing is putting in five or six spots so there would be handicap accessibility. According to the law if there is not parking then it is not handicap accessible."
Rice shared the preliminary plans stating that behind the 1219 building, where the rightfield would be they would place a small access drive up to the community building where five or six spaces would be placed.
"The rest of that space would remain green space," Rice said. "This is all preliminary. We are trying to find a solution for accessibility and still keep green space and trying to address an issue we have struggled with many, many years."
Rice said she is currently working on informing residents who live in the buildings near the park in Farley Square about the possible plans and waiting to hear their feedback. Rice also hopes to work with the City to help enhance Bannon Park.
"I would love to work with the city to try to enhance Bannon Park," Rice said. "What can we do to compliment what they have there. I know we will be keeping as much as our green space as we can on our end."
Rice also hopes that the housing authority will also be able to update some of its play equipment in their part of the park and work with the city on getting picnic tables and benches.
"The housing authority has always tried to be a good neighbor and that is our desire to be a good neighbor," Rice said. I have people we serve that we are responsible to answering to and I do need to make everything accessible to them also. It is balancing those two things to figure out how to get there."
Along with a petition circulating on social media a community meeting has been planned for Thursday at 5 p.m. at Bannon Park by organizers hoping to keep the green space.
Reach Adam Black at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1927, or by email at email@example.com.
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