An “exploration” park for Autistic children and their families is being planned on 32-acres in southwest Collierville.
Mark’s Park will be a private, non-profit park north of Holmes Road and west of Rowen Oak Drive, less than a mile south of Carriage Crossing.
The town’s Planning Commission has granted Joe and Gayle Ennis a conditional use permit to use their property on 10251 Springmont Trail as a place of public assembly.
The Ennis family currently lives on the property, which they purchased in 2006, and will manage and operate the park.
The main entry for the property is from Springmont and the service entry is off of Holmes.
A report to the Planning Commission states that Mark’s Park “will serve the community but is not considered an active recreation park, rather it is an orderly, structured, controlled, calm, natural, humorous, uplifting, wholesome place to explore, learn and fellowship with very special people.”
The park’s namesake is the Ennis’ 36-year-old son, who was diagnosed with Autism as a baby.
Joe told the Commissioners that the park will offer “humorous nature trails,” a picnic station, a creek bridge and a gathering room attached to the residence.
“Most projects we’ve seen come before you tonight involve a lot of money,” Joe said. “Not this project. This project is about getting paid in smiles, laughs and learning from the kids that need them.”
The property contains two ponds, a section of Nonconnah Creek bisecting the site and is heavily wooded.
“We would develop programs where such special kids could come and tour the shady pathways through the woods posted with funny directional signs and rustic decorations,” Joe said. “All along there will be tables and benches to sit awhile and read, just like Mark found so laughable when he was a kid. He has at least a thousand children’s books that would be available and given to each child. They can also fish with supervision in the ponds and even plant and pick flowers and vegetables from the gardens.”
A handful of residents expressed concern over the potential increase in traffic. However, Joe assured that the park will be available by appointment only and is limited to 25 attendees at a time. It will also only be open two to three days a week.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen will vote on the park at the Jan. 8 regularly scheduled meeting.
Joe said he has already deposited $500,000 into a dedicated account at Wells-Fargo Bank for the park as seed money for its construction and development.
“We do not intend for there to be any admission charge for the children or their parents or guardians,” he added. “It is also our plan to hire at least two employees to help run and maintain the park and gardens.”
In related news:
A new independent living community for seniors was also approved by the Planning Commission on more than 13 acres on the west side of Byhalia Road, south of Collierville Road.
The three-story facility is comprised of 164 living units in 100,188 square feet of building space. The units will vary in size from one to three stories.
Amenities will include dining facilities, bistro, café, indoor and outdoor activity areas, postal services, salon/barber, library, fitness rooms and multi-media rooms.
Site enhancements will include landscaping, tree preservation, walkways, screening, fencing, site lighting, signage, utilities, drainage, parking/pavement, and access drive connections to Byhalia Road.
Multiple drive connections to Byhalia Road have been proposed in order to satisfy the town’s fire code and to enhance connectivity to adjoining parcels when future development occurs to the north and south.