The Nebraska City City Council unanimously approved going forward with fundraising for proposed soccer and ball field improvements on property west of Wyuka Cemetery.
The council held a public hearing on the project during its Monday, March 18, meeting.
Residents spoke for nearly two hours for and against the plan.
Steve Baltensperger of the Nebraska City Youth Soccer Club expressed his appreciation for the work the Nebraska City Cemetery Board has done on the project thus far.
“There is no perfect solution,” said Baltensperger.
He noted that the land is essentially sitting there unused and that about 15 acres would remain for cemetery use before the soccer and ball fields would have to be removed.
“The community can do both the cemetery expansion and the ball fields that are urgently needed,” said Baltensperger, who asked the council to support the project.
John Hodges called the proposed fields “a temporary fix to a permanent problem.”
Hodges said he was not 100-percent in favor of the location near Wyuka, but Nebraska City lacks other flat ground that would be suitable for the project, which Hodges described as “in the best interests of the community.”
Dan Mauk, executive director of the Nebraska City Area Economic Development, told the council they had the opportunity to make a decision that would improve the community while preserving cemetery space for the future.
Mauk added that youth sports are “big business now” and that expanded recreational facilities would help Nebraska City with economic development in the future.
Nebraska City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Patrick Wehling told the audience that community members have been searching for about 20 years for a site for a sports complex.
He added that the soccer fields used now by youth soccer are on private property and that he would like to see the soccer program move to city property to reduce costs for families whose children play soccer.
Nebraska City Cemetery Board member Roxie Barker spoke against the project.
Barker said the board wants the land to be left as it is.
“I feel like there is better land [near the transfer station] for ball fields,” she said.
Former Nebraska City Parks Commissioner Jeff Crunk encouraged the council to partner with the community in order to get the project to move forward.
“If we sour the taxpayers, you won’t see another partnership in this town again,” said Crunk.
He cited some of the work that went into the Steinhart Aquatic Center project in terms of site selection and community buy-in.
Crunk said that a site near Wyuka was considered for the pool project, but it was rejected due to safety concerns.
“We didn’t want some kid to get clocked on a bike while riding to the pool,” said Crunk.
After the public hearing closed, council members expressed their thoughts about the project.
Mayor Bryan Bequette said he would like to see some sort of barrier between the fields and the cemetery property to keep soccer balls on the soccer fields.
Finance Commissioner Gloria Glover suggested scaling the project back and removing the ball fields from the concept.
Streets Commissioner Vic Johns commended his fellow commissioners and the audience for making good points during the hearings, and he touched on the idea of partnership.
“Partnership has to involve give and take,” said Johns, “and all I’ve heard from the cemetery board is ‘no.’”
Public Works Commissioner Paul Davis, whose children are involved in youth sports, called recreational facilities “a community driver.”
“Unfortunately, youth facilities is not one of them” in Nebraska City, said Davis.
“We as a community have to look at something we can practice and play on,” said Davis. “If we start now, it’s better than waiting.”