Urbana residents petition for closure of park

Urbana residents petition for closure of park

URBANA – Residents concerned about large numbers of rowdy youths congregating at a minipark near King Elementary School and a recent nearby shooting have petitioned the city to close the park.

The petitions, signed by about 65 residents, were presented to the Urbana City Council this week by Rosalind Lewis, the wife of Alderman Robert Lewis, D-Ward 3. The Lewises live at 803 N. Goodwin Ave., near the city-owned minipark at the southwest corner of Goodwin and West Beslin Street.

Rosalind Lewis said as many of 20 youths sometimes gather at the minipark. The petition asks that the park be used instead as a house site.

"Groups of six to 20 congregate there, hanging out in the park," she said. "The language and level of conversation is very loud and disruptive."

The park, which includes two wooden benches, has been an issue for several summers, Lewis said, but the problems were brought to a head earlier this month, with a shooting that occurred near the park.

On May 9 at about 2 p.m., in the 1200 block of West Beslin near King School, Tony Mann, 30, of Champaign is alleged to have shot a 20-year-old man, Robert Moore, in the back. The two had been involved in an earlier argument. Moore was hospitalized until last Friday at Carle Foundation Hospital.

Mann has been charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and one of aggravated discharge of a firearm. He is being held at the downtown Champaign County Jail in Urbana with his bond set at $500,000.

"This (shooting) incident kind of brought it to a head," Lewis said. "We don't want this kind of activity going on in the neighborhood."

Assistant Urbana Police Chief Pat Connolly said the shooting didn't occur in the park, but just west of it.

"They're seeing more and more problems from people who congregate in that location," Connolly said. "We certainly understand the concerns of that neighborhood, but we've had trouble with people hanging out at the 'big rock' at King School, too. People tend to congregate at different places and sometimes there's trouble associated with that."

Mary Rose, who lives in the 1200 block of West Beslin, said she signed the petition, but isn't sure now she wants the park closed. She said youths waiting for the bus will often sit there.

But youths hanging out at the park have caused problems, she said.

"The first warm day, about a month ago, there were probably 50 kids out there and they were arguing, cussing, screaming and drinking," Rose said. "We called the police several times."

Her granddaughter was riding her bicycle and, as she neared the park, Rose said she saw a beer bottle thrown from the crowd that just missed her.

"A young man from over there came and said 'I'm sorry, I don't know what's wrong with him (the man who threw the bottle),'" Rose said. "I kind of unloaded on him, but then I apologized."

On May 9, the day of the shooting, Rose said she saw a man ducking and running west down Beslin Street, and then heard several gunshots. She said she saw a number of people fleeing the minipark.

"Before that, I heard some kids talking big talk about what they were going to do and how they had a gun," she said.

The city council asked the Community Development Services Department and city police to try and come up with solutions for the area.

Mayor Laurel Prussing said a long-term solution to the problem might be the development of a community center for the King Park neighborhood, which would be a place where youths could go and stay out of trouble. She said the city's Neighborhood Safety Task Force will also examine the issue.

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