Public vs. Private: Playground battle at Defiance polls

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DEFIANCE, Ohio (WTVG) - A fight over a playground in Defiance has been decided by voters. It boiled down to a question of what's public versus what's private.

Representatives from St. John Lutheran School tell 13abc children have almost been hit during recess, as cars drove by. Others say that the kids shouldn't be there in the first place.

“To buy property across a busy alley and then say children play in the alley isn't about child safety,” Dave McMaster from Defiance said.

“We're trying to do what's best for the safety of the children,” Kate Webb said. “Period, end of story.” Webb is the vice president of the St. John’s School Board.

Dave McMaster got Tuesday’s referendum rolling. His back yard (for more than 25 years) runs up to the alley. Plus, all of his kids once attended St. John. Kate Webb is against the measure - and her kids go here now.

“They were driving through when preschoolers were out… and we took action,” Webb said of an unknown driver last school year.

Before all this, both sides say there was an understanding: just avoid the road during play time.

“About a year ago, reinforced gates were being put in,” McMaster said of what changed the issue.

“It stays closed. The only time we open it is for weekend church,” school principal Shellie Kosmerchock said.

The principal says the school followed all the rules, but McMaster disagrees. Plus he says the school uses the alley for deliveries as kids play outside.

“To say it's for children's safety even while they're continuing to block everyone but themselves from using it as a driveway, is disingenuous and it's deceptive,” McMaster said.

“It's been vacated to us by the homeowners so it is private,” Kosmerchock said.

On Tuesday, voters decided against the measure, effectively reopening the alley to traffic.

“Private businesses can leverage public property into their pocket with scare words or scare tactics,” McMaster said of what’s wrong with the system in Defiance.

The McMasters live three doors down on Jefferson. But most of surrounding property is owned by the school and church. Still Dave McMaster says this all boils down to a land grab. .

Dave McMaster is running for Defiance City Council. He said this battle made him interested in running, and that he's not using an issue as a tool to win an election.

(A previous version of this story read, "If Tuesday’s measure passes, that would mean the public/private alley would again be open to cars." That information has since been corrected.)