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David Longsmith, a longtime supporter of building a skatepark in Brattleboro, also expressed his unhappiness with the Elm Street Lot as a proposed site.

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Disharmony lot

As Brattleboro Selectboard, citizens view sites for possible skatepark, old tensions flare anew

BRATTLEBORO—“The repose exceeds the slope of the bank,” said Adam Hubbard, a landscape architect with Stevens & Associates, pointing to the back tree-lined bank of the Crowell Lot, which borders Union Hill.

Selectboard chair David Gartenstein looked quizzically at Planning Director Roderick Francis.

“Is that English?” Gartenstein asked.

Francis answered, “It means it won’t fall down.”

The Brattleboro Selectboard, with citizens in tow, visited the top five potential locations for a town skateboard park recommended by the Skate Park Site Committee as part of a special board meeting on Monday night.

The question of where to site a town skatepark has remained a hot topic in town for years.

About three years ago, the board and School Board reached an agreement to locate a skateboard park in a section of the Crowell Lot, which the school system owns.

When the clamor over this location reached a fever pitch amidst cries of no public process, the board reopened the site selection process.

Board members held the meeting to view the Elm Street Parking Lot, Crowell Lot, and three locations at Living Memorial Park, and to collect public comment.

Due to a technical difficulty with a voice recorder — it was left behind in the Municipal Center — Gartenstein explained that comments voiced during the hour-long meeting would not join the official record. He recommended people also make their comments at a regular board meeting.

Pros and cons

Audience numbers varied from location to location.

Recreation & Parks Department Director Carol Lolatte provided a description of where a 6,500 square-foot park could fit at each location.

Each site brings its own benefits, challenges, supporters, and opponents.

Some people loved the Elm Lot because it meant not ruining a “nice park.” Others disliked the area because it felt too industrial to be family-friendly despite its proximity to the Boys & Girls Club and New England Youth Theatre.

Voices started to rise at the Elm Lot over the topic of family friendly. Two audience members were still passionately discussing the merits of a skatepark in Fitchburg, Mass., as board members and audience members climbed into their cars to drive to the Crowell Lot.

At the Crowell Lot, Dora Bouboulis, a former board member and a longtime critic of siting the skatepark at Crowell, raised a point of order.

Bouboulis said that meeting discussion could not reference plans or designs previously developed for a skatepark at Crowell.

The siting committee started their work from scratch, so that puts the former designs for Crowell out of bounds, she said.

Bouboulis’ stance was met by multiple unhappy remarks from some audience members.

Once the meeting reached Living Memorial Park, the number of audience members had grown and tempers had shortened.

The site committee put forward three locations at Living Memorial Park: a lower area to the right of the pool and first parking lot, a middle area past the pool and near the swing sets, and an upper area near the Kiwanis Picnic Shelter.

A brief verbal squabble broke out between a father of young skateboarders and a resident of Brookside Condominiums, which borders Living Memorial Park.

“You raise my taxes 20 percent and then you put this in my front yard,” a frustrated member of Brookside said to board member John Allen.

For the town, however, the two lower locations at Living Memorial Park come with questions: how much money? How many permits?

The lower and middle locations border the Whetstone Brook. Stream bank reinforcement, storm water permits, rights of way, Act 250 concerns, concerns about flooding, and the unknown cost of building in an area affected by potential erosion would compose a large part of the equation.

Francis said the more prudent question is whether the town wants to invest half a million dollars to improve land in a flood area.

The exact cost of improving the land is unknown.

When asked for his opinion by a board member, Hubbard said that he could support the lower site if the Town were willing to invest money above what community fundraising efforts have raised.

Speaking of the potential challenges of constructing in a flood area, Hubbard said, “That can be overcome but it needs to be done with support.”

He reminded the audience that about $50,000 in designs and studies have been invested in the Crowell Lot.

Hubbard said he preferred the lower site to the middle site, which sits near a wetland and closer to Brookside.

The upper location struck critics of the Crowell Lot and the lower and middle sites as most favorable.

Cars rimmed the steep, curving road to the Kiwanis Picnic Shelter where a party carried on during the special board meeting’s upper-location discussion.

The field is used for skiing and sledding in winter.

“It’s a great site; we’ve got the area,” said Lolatte of the large field that could hold a larger-than-6,500-square-foot park.

However, in Lolatte’s opinion, the isolated area was not as good for a skatepark because “it’s not desirable to have a site so far out of the way.”

Christian Avard, a Dummerston resident and father of two, said, “I can’t tell you how much my kids want a skatepark.”

As the meeting adjourned, board member David Schoales remarked on the “disharmonious” nature of the meeting. He urged citizens to stay and discuss the locations viewed that evening.

Maybe, he said, they could reach a consensus.

As the board members walked back to their cars, the audience lingered to talk.

Back to the drawing board

The board formed the seven-member Skatepark Site Selection Committee last November.

Committee members identified 41 potential locations to build a 6,500-square-foot skatepark. After vetting the sites, the committee visited the 10 most feasible locations. Committee members individually ranked the 10 sites based on cost, size, location, and topography.

The Recreation & Parks Department reviewed the committee’s findings before the list of locations and rankings was presented to the Selectboard on July 1.

The Elm Lot, now a metered parking area at the intersection of Elm, Flat, and Frost streets, received the most points from the committee: 1,819.

The Crowell Lot came next at 1,518 points.

The two sites at Memorial Living Park, the basketball area (1,458) and upper field above the skating rink (1,428), came in a close third and fourth.

More than three years ago, the town charged the task of raising funds and building a skating structure at the Crowell Lot on Western Avenue to a citizen committee-turned-town committee, Brattleboro Area Skatepark is Coming (BASIC).

While BASIC’s efforts to raise funds for the park yielded substantial money — as of last year, the project had raised $75,000 — building the park was another matter.

Opponents to siting the park at the Crowell Lot claimed, among other issues, that building the park never went through a proper, fully public process. Park supporters have disputed this claim.

In August 2013, after years of opposition, BASIC’s two-year zoning permit expired. The committee voted a month later to reduce the park’s size from 11,000 square feet to about 5,000. These changes compelled BASIC to return to the Selectboard for approval before taking park designs to the Development Review Board for a new permit.

Fast forward to the Selectboard’s October 2013 meeting: At this meeting, opponents of the skatepark’s location at Crowell Lot said that BASIC’s changes called for reopening the location discussion — in other words, to reopen the discussion of siting the park anywhere else besides the Crowell Lot.

The Selectboard tabled the motion and approved the smaller park designs.

The board responded to the repeated no-public-process calls by establishing the Skatepark Site Selection Committee. The board charged the committee with evaluating sites. The committee’s meetings and site visits were open to the public.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #266 (Wednesday, August 6, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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