Brattleboro development review board OKs parks

Skatepark plans move forward after long and tortuous history; smooth sailing for dog park

BRATTLEBORO — A town skatepark took one step closer to reality last week when the Development Review Board approved plans for a 6,500 square-foot park.

DRB members also approved plans for an 8,000-square-foot dog park, planned for a site across the road from the skatepark.

After more than five years of contentious debates, false starts, more than one last-minute kibosh, and mediation over where to put the skatepark, the Selectboard earlier this year approved locating the skatepark - which will cost an estimated $180,000 to $200,000 - for the upper section of Living Memorial Park, a location that came after more than a year of siting assessments and feasibility studies.

The DRB approved the skatepark plans 5-2 at its June 15 meeting. Board approval came with two conditions: that the park's noise levels not exceed those in a town ordinance, and designs consider storm water runoff.

“I'm very conservative about where we stand,” said excited but cautious Brattleboro Area Skatepark Is Coming (BASIC) committee chair Jeff Clark.“It's nice to be one step closer.”

Clark has served on BASIC since both his sons, avid skateboarders, were in high school. The two boys have since started college.

Recreation & Parks Director Carol Lolatte will take the plans to the Town Planning Department to review the park against the Town Plan, Clark said.

If the Planning Department gives its okay, then Town Manager Peter Elwell will come next, said Clark. Elwell could provide final approval or send the plans to the Selectboard.

Clark believes the skatepark, as designed, meets state and local criteria for water runoff. He said that all the decibel-level checks have showed that noise remains below the town's ordinance of 70 decibels at the property line of Living Memorial Park.

Clark said he monitored noise with a sound meter during annual Go Skate Days at the Crowell Lot, where the noise stayed “well under what it needed to be.”

“A skatepark does not make that much noise,” he said.

Modern construction practices and materials help keep the sound down, he said. A skatepark's surfaces are smooth and make less noise compared to a skateboarder traveling over a sidewalk.

BASIC invested in working with a design firm to produce the plans that the DRB reviewed last week, he said. The firm took water runoff and noise into consideration.

“We've met the present criteria,” Clark said.

Fundraising remains on hold until BASIC receives final approval, he said. So far, the effort has raised $29,000 in cash donations and grants. An anonymous donor has also pledged $10,000.

Siting a dog park nearby sits well with BASIC.

“We like the idea of having another activity in the area,” Clark said.

Some proponents of the skatepark had expressed concern about siting the park in a more isolated section of Living Memorial, so the more activity near the park, the better for BASIC, Clark added.

Social space for dog owners

Rachel Selsky, who has worked on the dog park project for a little more than a year, expressed excitement for the dog park clearing the DRB hurdle. She also expressed amazement at the speed of the process.

“This is all really happening much faster than I expected,” said Selsky, who was accompanied at the meeting by Marianne Guerinot and a small group of people on the Brattleboro Dog Park Facebook page.

Selsky, the owner of a German shepherd named Adah approached Carol Lolatte last year about the feasibility of a dog park in town. Selsky specifically wanted to find town-owned land for the park, partially because it would require less fundraising.

Last spring, Lolatte suggested the patch of land at the top of Living Memorial Park, she said.

Although the available land was a smaller tract than Selsky hoped for, she recognized it would also be the most realistic location.

The infrastructure required for the park is minimal, she said. Constructing a fence will take the largest chunk of the estimated $17,500 required; also included in the plan are benches, access to water, waste bins, and poop bag supplies.

Selsky said the park shouldn't create extra work or expense for the town. The Recreation and Parks department already mows the grass, maintains waste receptacles, and performs maintenance in the area, located near the picnic shelter at the top of Living Memorial Park.

The DRB awarded its OK on the condition that the dog park provide waste bins and waste bags, Selsky said. Ongoing fundraising will likely cover those costs.

“This one will be pretty basic compared to other dog parks,” Selsky said.

The park will fulfill a necessary social need for local dogs, Selsky said.

Dogs and their owners have many wonderful opportunities for solo activities in the area like hiking or swimming, she said.

But “Socializing is such an important perk of being a dog owner,” Selsky continued. Dogs often like group activities; they're happier, have time to play off-leash, and exhibit better behavior, she added. Socializing is good for dog owners, too.

The park might serve an added benefit to Brattleboro as a tourist stop, said Selsky, who said she will often stop at dog parks for “lunch and a run” when she's traveling to give Adah a chance to blow off steam before going to a friend's house.

As for the conditions that the dog park organizers cover the expenses of bins and bags? No sweat, she said. Those items already existed in the park's plan and estimated budget.

Fundraising starts soon. Selsky expects to approach local businesses.

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