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Limbo for the skatepark?

Brattleboro Selectboard tables decision on downsized design

BRATTLEBORO—The town committee charged with constructing a skateboard park at the Crowell Lot on Western Avenue is cooling its heels while the Selectboard considers whether to approve designs for smaller park.

Jeff Clark, chair of Brattleboro Area Skatepark is Coming (BASIC), says the process is in limbo.

Following more than an hour of discussion at the Oct. 1 Selectboard meeting, members voted 3-2 to table until Nov. 5 a vote on a BASIC request to reduce the park’s size.

BASIC voted at its Sept. 19 meeting to chop the skatepark from about 11,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet. The reduction, and the fact that the committee’s two-year zoning permit expired Aug. 15, compelled the committee to return to the Selectboard for approval before taking designs to the Development Review Board (DRB) for a new permit.

Opponents of the skatepark’s location told Selectmen that proposed scale changes warranted revisiting project siting.

“We are now at an appropriate juncture where thoughtful reconsideration of the project’s historical record could really help achieve what I understand to be what skatepark proponents had originally envisioned,” Barry Adams wrote The Commons on Monday.

Adams asserted the project, including the “arbitrary” site selection and “questionable DRB decision” to not require a conditional use permit, “was approved prematurely and ignored official town departments and committees such as the Brattleboro Planning Services Department, who offered written recommendations to the DRB prior to their vote to approve this project."

BASIC spokesperson Spencer Crispe said in an interview that taking on a municipal project such as this “is where the phrase ‘easier said than done’ comes from.”

For three years, the 10-member town committee has met with resistance over the placement of the park at the Crowell Lot, which the town school district owns.

The town School Board and Selectboard agreed to a skatepark at the Crowell Lot. The Selectboard then charged BASIC with installing a park at Crowell.

Clark said that although designs have stalled, fundraising for the project certainly has not. He estimates supporters have raised $75,000.

That said, the committee learned in September that the Vermont Land Trust had pulled its $25,000 pledge. Against the project’s delays, VTL said in a letter to BASIC that it was reallocating the funds to more pressing projects.

BASIC is now working to “repackage” the project for the Selectboard, said Clark.

“How do we overcome what we heard as objections [from the Selectboard]?” Clark asked rhetorically.

The new, smaller design would mean that the Crowell Lot’s existing play structures would not need to be moved, said Melissa Clark, BASIC secretary. She said she had expected this change to be a “plus” for everyone.

Design changes were predicated on slow fundraising.

Jeff Clark said that the Crowell Lot lease would expire after one-and-a-half years. With the clock ticking and the committee about $250,000 short of its goal, BASIC decided to reduce the skatepark’s scope and cost.

In addition, the DRB permit expired Aug. 15, he added. So regardless of the design, the committee still needed to seek Selectboard approval before returning to the DRB for a new permit.

“I’m optimistic we can work through [the process] again,” said Crispe.

According to Jeff Clark, BASIC started in 2005 as a grassroots organization of about 35. In 2009, the Selectboard approached the group saying it had a site for the park. The board then formalized BASIC as a town committee and charged it with constructing the park at the Crowell Lot.

Melissa and Jeff Clark’s sons were 13 and 15 when the couple became involved in building a local skatepark. Their older son is now in college.

Still, Jeff Clark said that he remains committed to a vision of the park.

In watching kids “land an ollie off a jump,” said Jeff Clark, their smiles beam as though they had knocked a home run at the ball field.

But, he said, “at the end of the day, the [Selectboard is] our boss. The committee will support the board’s decisions.”

Crispe, who has skateboarded for 28 years, said the sport has left a mark on his life. Skateboarding allows kids who don’t like competitive team sports to participate in a social, outgoing, physical activity.

“[I want to] facilitate people being able to have a place to do something that is so special to me,” Crispe said.

Any project has its struggles, he said. But he described the committee as steadfast, and in clear sight of its general mission to construct a skatepark in Brattleboro.

“No matter what happens, we’ll continue to hope for a skatepark in this town in some way,” he added.

For his part, Adams said he hopes a skatepark will come to Brattleboro eventually. He noted that even those who oppose the park’s proposed location have given of their time to finding a new site.

“I feel the town owes a skatepark to the project’s proponents. They trusted the process and followed directives they were charged with,” wrote Adams. “However, I do not feel what is currently being proposed is a good answer to what is clearly the result of poor planning and poor process."

Selectboard Chair David Gartenstein declined to expand on remarks he’d given at the Oct. 1 meeting: The skatepark, he’d said, “is a substantial matter” before the Selectboard.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #224 (Wednesday, October 9, 2013).

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