Muldoon Town Square Park Master Plan: Keys to a Successful Master Plan

by Van Le, AICP and Taryn Oleson MTSP Visualization Muldoon Town Square Park Adopted Master Plan 2016

Muldoon Town Square Park is a newly dedicated Community Use Park located in the heart of diverse East Anchorage at the southeast corner of the Muldoon and DeBarr Road intersection. The park encompasses 27 acres of natural and previously developed areas, including the South Fork of Chester Creek, outstanding views of the Chugach Mountains, upland forests and open meadows. The Muldoon Town Square Park (MTSP) Master Plan is a 20-year vision for the park to transform the property to a community space that embodies what residents want for Muldoon; a destination and escape from the everyday urbanism of a modern, last-frontier city. The Master Plan was created by residents with help from the Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) Parks and Recreation Department and planning and design consultants, Bettisworth North Architects and Planners and R&M Consultants, Inc. (R&M).

In addition to creating a new park for this diverse and redeveloping area of Northeast Anchorage, the Plan provides a blueprint for economic development and revitalization opportunities for public spaces in the Muldoon Town Center. More importantly, the new Park will provide a year round gathering place with a flex area for all users and ages, including a skating ribbon in the winter, bike track in the summer and a festival space for farmer’s markets and programmed activities.

The Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) approved the MTSP Master Plan in June 2015. Phase I construction began in summer 2016 and is anticipated to be completed in 2017. Future phases of the park will be designed and developed as funding becomes available.

KEYS TO A SUCCESSFUL MASTER PLAN

The MTSP Master Plan was a result of 18 months of work squeezed into 8 to ensure the legislative grant and matching funds requirements were met. It required commitment from the Parks Advisory Committee (PAC), MOA Parks and Recreation, project team and public to make the park a reality. The successful completion was due to:

    – A comprehensive park planning process;
    – A collaborative effort between Parks and Rec, the project team, citizen PAC and community;
    – An engaged community; and
    – Innovative community involvement methods.

Comprehensive Park Planning Process
With any planning or engineering project, a well-developed understanding of project development and approval processes is essential to project success. The planning process generally includes three major components:

    1. Information gathering
    2. Plan development
    3. Obtaining required approvals for implementation

The specific public involvement and park planning development process used for the MTSP Master Plan in shown below:

Plan Development Process Muldoon Town Square Park Master Plan Process

A complete understanding includes adopting the client’s mission into the process and product; identifying funding sources and restrictions; identifying key stakeholders who will champion the project or who may oppose it; anticipating obstacles to permitting and implementation; and understanding precedence and need for the project within the community and adopted plans and policies. A plan will face implementation challenges unless the process through which it was developed was sound and driven by the affected community.

Collaborative Effort Between Parks and Rec, Project Team, PAC and Community
Close coordination between Parks and Rec, the project team, PAC, agency stakeholders, the public and civil site development engineers throughout the park planning process allowed plan development, approval and implementation through design of the Master Plan elements within the same year. Key collaboration aspects included:

A “Plan to get to a Plan” Approach. By taking a “Plan to get a Plan” approach, it ensured the project team was not there to tell the community what was going to happen at the park, but ensures public trust and empowers community members to determine the plan’s contents.

An emphasis on Parks and Recreation Role. Parks are used by, advocated for and benefit the community they are in, and the agency is there to manage and maintain them. This relationship was a focus throughout the process to ensure the MTSP would be an improvement to the quality of life for East Anchorage residents.

Including Civil Engineers in the Process. As the preferred design alternative was drafted in the Master Plan process, our project team consulted with R&M’s civil engineers who would later design the front parcel of the park (Phase 1). Civil engineers were involved in the agency scoping meeting and worked closely with the landscape architect and project manager to ensure a feasible and constructible preferred alternative design. This close coordination and early collaboration allowed the site plan to be drafted early enough to take the design before the Urban Design Commission (UDC) in May 2016, after PZC approval in April.

A Defensible and Inclusive Process. When the draft master plan was before the PZC for approval, and the later for design approval by the UDC, the Commissions unanimously approved it because of the thorough, inclusive, community-driven plan development process. A sound process leads to successful approval.

Engaged Community
The Northeast Community Council and Muldoon residents have long sought for this area to be a community gathering area for East Anchorage residents to enjoy and bring needed green space to Anchorage’s most densely populated area. Excited to finally have this dream turn into a reality, community members were actively engaged throughout plan development. When a plan’s development is driven by the community and its contents (plan and design of the park) are chosen by them, a strong sense of ownership develops, leading to long-term appreciation, care and use of the park.

Due to strong community participation in the planning process, the public overwhelmingly supported the project. There was no opposition because the public, even if there were individuals who did not wholly embrace all elements of the Plan, understood its development process; knew about physical, agency or budgetary constraints; and could support the decisions made by their neighbors.

Innovative Community Involvement Methods
The MTSP planning process placed significant emphasis on meaningful public engagement to ensure the Master Plan met community needs and expectations. Public engagement focused on building core values that guided the plan process and allowing the character, use and features of the park to be largely determined by the community that had advocated for its establishment. The following community engagement techniques were used to capture the community’s needs, desires and expectations for this park and to ensure they were expressed in the Master Plan.

Park Advisory Committee (PAC). A significant and important community involvement approach was the use of a PAC. The 11 member PAC included residents, park founders and members from area community councils to advise the project planning team to ensure the plan aligned with the broader community’s desires. The PAC provided insight, information, recommendations and feedback to help guide the planning team. Most importantly, the PAC helped build consensus on a preferred alternative site plan.

The committee met monthly from August to December, during the most intensive community involvement and alternative design phase of the project. PAC members attended all public workshops, serving as small group facilitators guiding attending members of the public through exercises and helping explain the Master Plan process. PAC members were volunteering, advocating, providing outreach and fundraising support throughout the process, including posting more than 500 flyers throughout the neighborhood during the initial outreach phase.

Visioning Workshop. This workshop helped frame the community’s vision for the park. It included a large group visioning exercise and small group Power of 10 Exercise.

For the Visioning Exercise, the project team asked the community “20 years from now what would Muldoon Town Square Park look like?” The result of this exercise informed the vision statement that would carry the Master Plan through the rest of the process – “Muldoon Town Square Park is a gathering place and destination for East Anchorage and the greater community where families and people of all ages and abilities can access and participate in healthy park activities in a safe, clean and comfortable environment in a unique and beautiful setting.”

For the Power of 10 exercise, small groups were asked to identify 10 activities to activate the public space. They were prompted to “Dream Big” as if money was not a factor and to provide 3 additional short term, relatively inexpensive, clean and green improvements to activate the space.

MTSP Public Meeting

Design Charrettes and Community Design Workshop. A charrette is an intensive design process that captures ideas (in this case program, activities, uses and infrastructure) in a physical way, with rough draft designs describing usable spaces and places within park boundaries. Participants move around technically accurate and scalable templates to place desired elements in the design space.

For MTSP, the PAC held a three-hour design charrette facilitated by the planning project team. The PAC developed a series of concept design alternatives based on public input. Small groups worked together to place to-scale park uses on an aerial map of the park, fitting the pieces together to create their ideal park. The planning team took the resulting concept design alternatives, identified common themes and activities, and summarized them graphically to present at the second community workshop.

At the second community workshop, attendees focused on alternative development scenarios assembled from the PAC design charrette and feedback from the agency coordination meeting. In small groups, participants mixed and matched distinct alternatives for each of the three main park areas. For each area there were four concept design alternative options to choose from and participants were asked to work in groups to organize the various pieces into a cohesive community park. The results demonstrated overwhelming support for the Master Plan that was later approved.

V Le_PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT (Thumbnail)

Van Le, AICP is a Planner specializing in policy research and analysis, public involvement and land use planning. She has worked on projects ranging from regional transportation plans and comprehensive plans to area master plans and downtown development plans. As a former Municipality of Anchorage AMATS Transportation and Land Use Planner with more than 13 years of experience, she offers a range of planning experience in both private sector consulting and public sector planning and has been involved in all aspects of local and regional planning including site selection land use studies, site plan applications for capital projects such as public facilities, and parks and recreation planning. She has additional experience in public involvement, zoning and land development regulations and project management. Van is also a public involvement specialist with experience in effective and open communication style workshops and open houses to address controversial issues including impacts to private property, right-of-way, parking, speeding, stream crossings, drainage, loss of vegetation, and vehicular and non-motorized safety.

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Taryn Oleson is a Planner in R&M’s Planning Group. Taryn specializes in land use, transportation, and community planning and is experienced in educating diverse publics on a wide range of issues and technical projects. At R&M, Taryn is responsible for research and analysis of adopted plans and policies, compliance with site development regulations and planning applications, composition of area-specific master plans, functional plans and comprehensive plans, review and recommendations for multi-modal transportation projects and land use plans, and designing and implementing public involvement programs. She effectively coordinates with public and agency stakeholders, facilitates design workshops, and executes primary data collection and research.