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History of the Site
On August 4, 2009, Louisville experienced a historic weather event when more than seven inches of rain fell in just 75 minutes. While thousands of homes in West Louisville were flooded, Maple Street between Dr. W.J. Hodge and 26th Streets was devastated, with some residents needing rescue by boat. This low-lying area overlays a streambed that was encapsulated with a combined sewer in the early 1900s.
Following a presidential disaster declaration, flood mitigation funds became available to improve public health and safety. Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) secured a $9.75 million FEMA grant to acquire and raze up to 128 homes in the Maple Street Flood Mitigation Area, allowing residents the opportunity to move out of harm’s way. When the grant closed in Fall 2020, 118 eligible homeowners had taken advantage of voluntary program.
While the FEMA grant enabled homeowners to move from a flood-prone area on and around Maple Street and removed structures that could be damaged by future flood events, land acquired through the grant is now “deed restricted” under federal regulations and must be permanently conserved as open space to allow the soil to naturally absorb rainwater. In addition, ownership of the Maple Street properties is limited to entities with a conservation mission; or public entities so long as the property is transferred with a conservation easement (this is a legal agreement that permanently limits use of the land to protect its conservation value).
Acceptable uses under the FEMA deed restrictions include:
• Parks for outdoor recreational activities
• Wetlands management
• Nature reserves
• Unimproved, unpaved parking lots
• Buffer zones
There are restrictions on all future development to prevent flooding of new structures. New structures are restricted to:
• Public restrooms
• Public facilities that are open on all sides and functionally related to open space or recreational use
• Other structures compatible with open space
History of Community Engagement
From 2016 - 2018, MSD gathered extensive community input
that explored residents’ aspirations for the Maple Street area.
More than 400 people completed paper and online surveys
through 20+ public meetings, community events, YMCA camps, and
door-knocking. An advisory committee made up of neighbors,
government representatives, and other stakeholders also met
regularly to discuss acceptable uses.
As the table below illustrates, residents placed the highest priority
on greenspace that allows for walking trails, exercise stations,
playgrounds, and picnic facilities. The need for athletic fields (and
once again walking facilities) was also prioritized, followed by space
for festivals and outdoor performances, and community gardens
with both fresh food and flowering plants.
Where We Are Now
Given the FEMA limitations, and results of the original community engagement, the Louisville Parks Foundation has partnered with Louisville Metro and MSD to explore the possibility of converting this vacant land into a public greenspace. Public greenspaces are powerful tools that strengthen the fabric of urban communities, positively impact health and the environment and spur economic revitalization. As communities respond to the public health crises of systemic racism and COVID-19, parks and greenspaces must be considered vital civic infrastructure in long-term recovery efforts to foster more resilient cities. Yet in historically disinvested communities, where their benefits are most needed, park amenities are often the most limited. To help all residents thrive, we must invest equitably and create public spaces to help all people heal and flourish.
The Maple Street partners are now poised to achieve these goals, and the Louisville Parks Foundation is honored to be the nonprofit partner on this unprecedented opportunity. The new public greenspace will address longstanding inequities and enhance the health, wellbeing, and quality of life for thousands of people in the California neighborhood, where just 1% of the land is dedicated greenspace.
Working together, this project can transform acres of vacant property into a vibrant greenspace that supports the community’s vision for the future. Over the next two years, efforts will focus on:
Intentional and inclusive community engagement
Completion of planning, design, and capital fundraising
Construction of Phase 1 activations
Maple Street represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support the community in designing a new greenspace that reflects their desires and identity, strengthening the social fabric and health of the community.
Children's Input from Wheatley Elementary
Voices of the California Neighborhood