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      Neighbors protest City of Oneida's plan to remove Higginbotham Park basketball court

      Early Wednesday morning, DPW crews were cutting into the blacktop at Higginbotham Park in the middle of Oneida. They uprooted roughly one third of the basketball court, with initial plans to completely remove it as soon as possible.

      Several neighbors responded by coming out to the park armed with basketballs, ready to play. The took over the far half of the court, away from the work crews, forcing city employees to stop demolition and leave the park.

      Justin Bender lives in Oneida. He says he has obtained more than 150 signatures on a petition in an attempt to save the court. He says his voice went unheard at the meeting.

      Several businesses surrounding Higginbotham say they support a plan to turn it into a â??quieterâ?? park. They say loud profanity can be heard from games on the court, and some female employees have reportedly had issues with harassment from men who play there.

      The city plans to put in park benches, and possibly space for quieter games such as bocce. Many businesses support this, saying it could potentially increase the number of professionals who visit the area on their lunch hours and could in turn stop in their stores.

      Wayne Winchell, a local youth group organizer, says the city has issued an order temporarily halting the work, citing the response from the community. But Winchell says he wants to see the temporary order become permanent and the basketball court fully restored. He says the city needs places like Higginbotham Park for kids to go to when theyâ??re not in school, instead of them hanging out in the street and getting into trouble.

      Oneida Mayor Alden â??Maxâ?? Smith issued a statement on the park issue Wednesday afternoon, saying â??The plans to remove the basketball court at Higinbotham Park are being put on hold pending a broader conversation with regard to our intentions. It is my position that repurposing this park into a â??passive parkâ?? is a very good alternative. There are at least four other locations to play basketball within the City of Oneida, none of which are inaccessible or difficult to access. If the City of Oneida is to move ahead with renewed economic viability, we have to look at changing what we have done in the past. While many are uncomfortable with change, we have to be willing to embrace changes that will move us forward as a community.â??