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Top planner sees progress in city's parks.

Byline: CITY BEAT/EUGENE By Edward Russo The Register-Guard

If you're lucky, you have a dream job.

Andrea Riner counts herself among the lucky ones.

Riner began her present job with the city of Eugene in early 1999, just a few months after voters passed a $25 million bond measure to improve the city's parks.

For Riner, a landscape architect hired to be the top planner in the city's parks division, that money helped make it a wonderful job.

"It doesn't get much better," she said.

Voters approved the property-tax funded bond with the understanding that the money would finance a long list of projects, including a new Amazon Pool complex, youth sports facilities at several schools, and many new and renovated parks throughout the city.

Riner and other parks employees have spent much of the last six years fulfilling the bond issue plans.

Now, Riner is preparing to leave Eugene to become the top parks planner for the city and county of Denver.

It's a big promotion for Riner. Her pay will jump from $72,000 a year here to $81,000 a year there. She'll supervise more employees in a department that manages 20,000 acres.

But that doesn't mean it's easy for Riner to leave Eugene, especially to bid goodbye to the friends she made at work.

"A lot of it was really great," she said, emotions breaking her voice. "My staff and my colleagues."

Riner, 43, said she is proud of what her staff accomplished - the development of sports fields, Bethel Park and several other parks, and the acquisition of 400 acres of parks and open space lands. Much of that land was acquired to extend the Ridgeline trail in the south hills.

Parks division manager Johnny Medlin said Riner will be missed because she is an "incredible parks advocate" who helped influence Eugene's parks development.

Riner has been the "primary visionary," in parks planning, Medlin said, collaborating with other city employees and with residents to get them "excited about what our parks system could achieve and what recreation opportunities we can provide."

"She really likes to reach for the stars," he added.

For example, Riner and her staff a few years ago were working on a master plan for Skinner Butte Park. They began talking about the city's lack of a notable children's play area. The conversations led to the idea for RiverPlay, the extensive playground now under construction in Skinner Butte Park.

"I just felt that this community needed a real special place for kids," said Riner, who is single and has no children. "We had two major parks (Skinner Butte and Alton Baker Park) that really didn't have that. And we just decided to think big."

Riner also is part of a team of officials and residents who fashioned a comprehensive parks and open space plan. The plan will lead to another wish list of future park projects. Voters next year may be asked to pass a bond measure to pay for the improvements.

Not everything went smoothly during Riner's time in Eugene government, however.

Santa Clara residents succeeded in persuading a narrowly divided City Council last spring to drop the parks division's plans - outlined in the 1998 bond issue - for a large community park on the city's northern edge.

A developer had agreed to give the city 77 acres near Northwest Expressway and Irvington Drive in exchange for the ability to build several hundred homes and a shopping area on the adjacent 120 acres of agriculturally zoned land that lies outside the urban growth boundary.

But many residents opposed the deal. They were worried that the development would overcrowd schools and exacerbate traffic congestion on River Road.

Riner was surprised by the objections and disappointed in the outcome.

She worked on the proposal with some area residents before it got to the City Council. In hindsight, she said, it might have been wiser to share information earlier among more residents, especially neighborhood activists.

Still, Riner had many more successes than failures. In an e-mail announcing that she will leave work on Aug. 19, Riner told colleagues: "I feel your future is very bright. And I am lucky to have been a part of it for so long."

Edward Russo can be reached at 338-2359 or erusso@guardnet .com.
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Title Annotation:Government
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 31, 2005
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