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Brattleboro eyes new site for skatepark

Selectboard approves BASIC top choice at Living Memorial Park

Donations to the skatepark project can be made to BASIC through the Recreation & Parks Department, attn.: Director Carol Lolatte, P.O. Box 513, 207 Main St., Brattleboro, VT 05302. BASIC will host a rally for the skatepark during Gallery Walk on Sept. 5 at Pliny Park.

BRATTLEBORO—Potholes, U-turns, and roadblocks have littered the road to finding a location for a town skateboard park.

But the road may have finally reached the destination on Tuesday night, as the Selectboard unanimously approved a site in the lower northeastern corner of Living Memorial Park.

The board also approved asking Representative Town Meeting for $20,000 toward the project.

Jeffrey Clark, chair of the Brattleboro Area Skatepark is Coming (BASIC) committee, said the Theresa Brungardt Senior Area was the committee’s top choice of five potential locations.

While some residents living near Living Memorial Park remained concerned about noise, Brookside condominium resident Jane Sonntag thanked the board for not approving a more secluded site in the park situated closer to the housing community.

Finding the right location for a town skatepark has proven contentious at best.

“It’s really been very troubling to me how this issue has unfolded in town, said Selectboard chair David Gartenstein. “It was very hard to find any common ground.”

Conversations around the skatepark siting often turned disrespectful, he said.

Two years ago, residents near the Crowell Lot, a potential site, took the town to environmental court.

“Whatever we do is not going to make everyone happy,” commented board Vice Chair Kate O’Connor.

Board member John Allen, who tackled the skatepark issue when he first served on the board a few years ago, said, “The horse is dead — we’ve beat this thing year after year.”

He added that he felt all the years of acrimony around siting the park put BASIC “through the wringer.”

Board member Donna Macomber also acknowledged that not everyone would like the board’s decision and that she hoped the location would not hamper anyone’s quality of life.

But Macomber added that “community living necessitates give and take.”

A new host of challenges

Approving a location is only step one now for BASIC, which has worked for many years on design and fundraising for the park, as preparing the Brungardt area for construction could carry a number of fees and unknown expenses.

The Brungardt area borders Whetstone Brook. According to members of BASIC and the Town Planning Office, the stream bank requires stabilization. The area will also require extensive permitting.

Clark anticipates conducting feasibility studies and asking landscape architect Adam Hubbard of Stevens & Associates to help evaluate the land and offer advice on the permitting process.

Brattleboro resident Andrew Davis said during public comment that he hoped all the people who had worked on the “Re-Site the Skatepark” movement when the Crowell Lot was under consideration would now turn their efforts toward fundraising for the new location.

By a 4-1 vote, with O’Connor against, the board also approved a motion to ask Representative Town Meeting Members to approve $20,000 in funding for the preliminary site work needed at the Theresa Brungardt area.

Allen made the motion, saying that after all that BASIC and those committed to building a skatepark had gone through, the money was a small gesture toward helping the committee finish the project.

Town Meeting Members will decide the $20,000 at Representative Town Meeting in March.

A polarizing issue

After the board meeting adjourned, the audience that had filled the meeting room clustered in multiple separate groups discussing the decision. Some discussed the board’s vote enthusiastically; others, with more trepidation.

Time will tell if the night’s discussions will move the project forward or if the skatepark project has more community roadblocks ahead.

Over the past few years, opponents and supporters of siting a skatepark at the Crowell Lot volleyed arguments, with many arguing strenuously that the decision to site the park there had not followed a proper public procedure.

The delays resulted in BASIC’s two-year zoning permit expiring in August 2013.

The group returned to the Selectboard for approval of reworked park designs, a necessary prelude to the Development Review Board considering a new permit.

But the Selectboard instead voted to reopen the site selection process.

The board appointed a site selection committee. The citizen committee, working with the Recreation & Parks Department, presented its top recommendations to the board July 1.

The Elm Lot, currently a metered parking area at the intersection of Elm, Flat, and Frost Streets, received the committee’s highest recommendation, followed by the Crowell Lot.

Rounding out the top sites were two at Living Memorial Park: the basketball area and the upper field above the skating rink.

The Selectboard visited the top five potential locations as part of a special board meeting on Aug. 4. The meeting, like many others devoted to the skatepark issue, devolved into fierce words and frustration.

At that meeting, a fifth site — and the site that was selected Tuesday night — was added to the list: the lower area near the main parking lot.

BASIC members outlined their evaluations in a letter submitted to the Selectboard Aug. 27.

BASIC started as a group of citizens who wanted a skatepark in Brattleboro. Later, it was adopted as a town committee and charged with fundraising for and designing a park at the Crowell Lot on Western Avenue.

Clark submitted the letter on behalf of the BASIC members.

In the letter, Clark wrote, “As you may know, each site has its pros and cons and we understand that when a final site is selected, not everyone will be happy.”

BASIC offered its own ranking of the top five sites, listing the Brungardt area as the best location for a skatepark.

“This area is located within a mixed-use park and seemed to have the least amount of complaints from the public during the site visits,” wrote Clark. “We’re hoping that you will allow the upfront evaluation to be done on this site to see if it’s a viable location for the skate-park. If it turns out not to be a viable location, then we ask you to allocate us another site.”

According to Clark, BASIC considered siting a park at the Crowell Lot and a middle area of Memorial Park, near the basketball area, as acceptable.

“They’re in locations already being taken care of by the town, so ground maintenance is not an issue,” he wrote. “We do, however, understand that both of these sites come with ‘neighboring community issues’ which might put a hurdle in front of our fundraising.”

Under the heading of “least suitable,” BASIC listed the Elm Street Lot and an area in the upper part of Living Memorial Park.

In his letter, Clark said that BASIC members felt that Elm Street “is located in a ‘sketchy’ part of town and will most likely be a park targeting a majority teen age and older population.”

“Younger skaters and/or family and mix use park users will likely not be regular users,” he wrote of Elm Street Lot.

The upper part of Living Memorial Park, wrote Clark, was too remote from other family activities.

“We acknowledge that your decision will be made for the better of the overall community and we respect the final outcome,” concluded Clark’s letter.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #270 (Wednesday, September 3, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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