Selectboard Meeting Notes: Skatepark Location Remains TBD

The Brattleboro Selectboard officially heard the official recommendations of the official Skatepark Site Selection Committee at their Tuesday meeting, but questions from the board and the public remain, and second-guessing of the results began almost immediately. An official Selectboard decision should come by the end of August.

The Selectboard also set the FY15 tax rate, agreed to go forward with improvements at Union Hill and Western Ave, discussed upcoming funding options using money form VY, learned about the potential threat to our ash trees, bought fuel, and more in a long meeting for returning board member David Gartenstein.


Chair David Gartenstein was still recovering, but in attendance. Vice-Chair Kate O’Connor led the meeting, and all board members were glad to see him back. (David Schoales departed mid-meeting).

Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland expressed condolences to the family of Fran Duggan, mother of parking enforcer Cheryl Duggan.  

During Selectboard comments and committee reports, John Allen extended condolences to the family of former Selectboard member Jesse Corum. 

David Schoales said that the WSWMD would be working with local schools on composting and recycling.

Gartenstein used his time to say he was glad to be back after his “bad crash.” He thanked ace reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman, who had been riding with him, for taking care of him until the team from Rescue Inc. arrived, and thanked everyone else for their cards and thoughts.

Public Participation

Cassandra Holloway of the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition said her group had provided the Town Clerk with best practices for serving alcohol at events. She said it might be helpful to people planning events.

FY15 Tax Rate Set

The Brattleboro Selectboard approved FY15 municipal tax rates for the town. Finance Director John O’Connor explained the rates to the board.

The rate will be $1.1655 per $100 of assessed value to cover the expenses of the general fund, up 3.4%.

The state-mandated education rate is $1.6501 for homestead properties, and $1.5070 for non-residential properties.

The total rate, then, for homesteads will be $2.8156 and $2.6725 for non residents. (Non resident rates are set by the state.)

There is an additional, to be determined, rate for properties in the Downtown Improvement District.

The Tri-Park Special Assessment adds $6.8155.

John O’Connor considered it a fairly large increase, “mostly attributable to education.”

Skatepark Site Selection

The Skatepark Site Selection Committee completed their work of identifying and evaluating potential sites for Brattleboro’s skatepark, and at Tuesday’s meeting they presented their findings to the Selectboard. Almost immediately, the board and public began questioning their findings and adding their personal views about skateparks and locations.

Committee Chair Betsy Gentile said that after six months of public meetings, comments, suggestions, criteria-creating, site visits, and rankings, four sites out of 41 have risen to the top of the list. She said the committee was well-balanced, inclusive, and transparent. “Elm Street, by far, was the site of choice.”

The Elm Street Parking Lot was highest ranked by the committee with a score of 1819. The Crowell location (1518) and two spots at Living Memorial Park (near playground (1458) and on the hill (1428)) were also identified as possible worthy candidates.

Sites were evaluated on cost, size, location, multi-use, topography and other criteria. Lists of pros and cons for each site were presented to the board.

Recreation & Parks Director Carol Lolatte said the Rec and Parks board endorses their recommendations. “They worked very hard, leaving no stones unturned.”

David Schoales thanked them for their detailed work, but didn’t like any of the options. “I don’t see any of these as a good place for a skatepark. The cons on all of them are intense.” He wondered if they had considered the area behind the current parking lot for the pool at Living Memorial Park.

Carol Lolatte said she spoke with expert Adam Hubbard about that location and, because of the proximity to the brook, it was unsuitable. Schoales said he questioned that finding. “I think it is worth having another look, with someone familiar with the flood levels.”

“We spoke with the planning office,” said Lolatte. “We can go back and start over.”

Gentile spoke about Living Memorial Park. “The park has water, facilities, and so on, but it is tricky to find a spot there.”

John Allen wondered why the area by the basketball courts didn’t score higher. Elizabeth McLoughlin, vice chair of the committee, said it was hard to assess individual votes.

Allen said he didn’t understand people who choose to live next to a park complaining about park noises. “Buy a condo next to a park, you are going to have noise. It would be like complaining about helicopters while living near the hospital. It’s a perfect site. It’s a park! I’ll never understand it. For us to not be able to put a skatepark in an existing park blows my mind. It doesn’t sit well with me.”

Kate O’Connor asked how the ratings worked. Lolatte said everything was equally weighted, and scores from 1-10 were given for each criteria, then totaled.

“Would the committee feel good about any of the four being chosen?” asked Donna Macomber.

Gentile said she loved the Elm Street location and suggested it could increase revenue if people come into town with their kids. She said she did have a problem with placing it “in a community where it isn’t wanted, and people at each site have objections.”

“It’s a park,” continued Allen, somewhat to himself, but out loud. “You live next to a park.” He thought Elm Street would be a set up for failure.

Gentile said that Chief of Police Wrinn had liked the Elm street location as it could be patrolled hourly. Allen questioned whether that was an asset or liability for the site.

David Gartenstein praised the process for providing a framework for making a correct decision about the location. He listed some details the board would need to research before making a decision, such as how much parking revenue is lost if the lot goes away.

He added that new capital projects run the risk of additional costs for maintenance, and it is questionable to take on new expenses when basic needs of police and fire facilities cannot be met. “We need to think long and hard. This was necessary to bring the community together. It’s a great piece of work.”

O’Connor -agreed and said they would need to look more at “the grander vision of what we are thinking.” She said the board may may need their own criteria for looking at long term effects on the town.

The public then weighed in.

Jane, a condo owner at Brookside near Living Memorial Park said they considered noises coming from the park when they made their purchase. Noises such as laughter, or cheers of crowds, not “crashing into concrete.” She said she favored Elm Street.

Jeff Clark, the chair of BASIC, said he was speaking for himself while endorsing the idea of lower Living Memorial Park or Crowell. He worried that Elm street was too sketchy a neighborhood for parents to feel comfortable dropping their kids off, but could support it if it were part of a larger vision, with action and planning.

A woman named Anne said she favored Elm street.

Scott said he had spent his own time and money building a skatepark in his backyard. “Think about your hobbies. Imagine the lengths I’m going to enjoy my hobby.” How absurd for the skate community in town, he said. He didn’t like the Elm Street site, calling it sketchy and unsafe. “So much of this discussion has been based on fears.  Please just do something and get something done, soon. Chester has a skatepark.”

Anne Wright Parsons, a resident at Brookside, thought lower Living Memorial Park to be a poor choice, not due to skateboards or sound but because of possible drainage problems, and proximity to a pond. “The pond is very active ecosystem and needs consideration.”

Dan Sontag, also a member of the committee, said that while they put these sites forward as potential sites, “they each have pros and cons.” He said that the committee tried to include every site, but didn’t look at the Schoales option specifically.

Les Montgomery listed reasons in favor of the upper Living Memorial Park site, including availability of restrooms, open site lines, using an underutilized area of the park, space for larger skatepark, a central location, respectful of buffers with neighbors, has parking, and more. “A lot of pros to be aware of.”

Fric Spruyt said he’d prefer to have it located at Living Memorial Park than downtown, calling it a natural fit and closer to West Brattleboro.

Barry Lane told the board they needed to decide what sort of park they wanted, as the site will influence who uses it and how it is used. The downtown location will encourage a more down and dirty sort of park, whereas the others would be for people to come and feel safe. Samurai or geisha, he said, would be the equivalent martial arts question to ask.

“I don’t think there was a full vetting by skaters,” said Lane. “I want to focus on the maximal success, and that necessitates an inclusive environment for everyone to come away with a positive experience. If it is territorial, people get unhappy. Look at it from the point of view of the users.”

Steve Sontag, another resident at Brookside said, yes, we moved next to the park. “I hear hockey pucks being slapped on Sunday mornings, and hear music blaring from the skating rink,” he said, and had no problems in that regard. “My problem is that we were told years ago that the lower lot was done and off limits. I’m feeling lied to and am not happy with that.”

Another Brookside resident told the board to search online for lawsuits and skateparks and note how many were from those in close proximity of the parks. “If you want to invade people’s homes, put it in the lower park, but don’t be surprised what happens next.” He said drug dealers could be anywhere, so that wasn’t a valid issue. He suggested property values could drop 20%, and legal recourse would be possible. “I’m not in favor of a skatepark near where people are living.”

Wendy Creager said she liked the Elm Street location, being near the Youth Theater and eventually the music school. “It could create good urban development.” She said if there is a drug problem, development would help. She added that a temporary park could be there until the permanent site would be built. “Give it to them temporarily and see how it goes for a year. If it is a good location, build the park. If not, we can switch it back easily.”

“I share the concern about getting it done,” said Schoales. “We’ll keep after this, and honor the respect you just showed us with your comments.”

Patrick Moreland wanted to thank Carol Lolatte for helping to oversee the committee and the site selection process.

David Gartenstein suggested they hold special meetings and site visits, take additional comments, and make a decision by the end of August.

Emerald Ash Borer

The Selectboard received a bug update Tuesday evening.

Brattleboro’s Tree Committee has completed work on a preparedness plan for potential Emerald Ash Borer infestation. The Selectboard heard about the threat and options available to confront it.

Ash, the board was told, account for about 6% of hardwoods in Vermont. The insect bores into the tree and sucks out resources. Woodpeckers go after the bug, and chip away at the bark. Some Vermont insects eat them too, but not enough to keep them in check. The Emerald Ash Borer can live in the trees for many years before detection.

The plan estimates 4,000 ash trees at risk within Brattleboro town right-of-ways.  Sixteen downtown ash trees (10 in Harmony Lot, 4 in the Preston lot near the Co-op, one at the Post Office, and one near the Holstein building in Plaza Park) may pose a safety issue if untreated, they determined, and possible remedies include replacement, inoculation, or doing nothing.

Values of having trees can be calculated, the committee told the board.

To protect those 16 trees using an insecticide would cost between $1320 and $3960 annually. It can cost $17,000 a year to take care of all the residential ash trees. It could need 12 years of chemical protection to consider a tree safe. The insecticide seems to be working in other locations.

Proactive removal is another option. Trees can be removed before or after the bugs arrive. The cost can become a huge burden on a municipality, and the Tree Advisory Committee suggested making plans now.

Quarantines of ash materials such as wood chips or firewood may be necessary.

Gartenstein said he was in favor of taking immediate steps to save existing trees. He hoped they would look at costs more closely and urged the committee to bring forth proposals.

David Schoales asked if utility companies would get involved, and was told that they have an interest in protecting their lines.

John Allen asked a simple but unanswerable question. Why, with the Emerald Ash Borer in all surrounding states and Quebec, is Vermont spared. “I’d rather not see a tree cut down. I’d rather save the tree than cut it down as a precaution.”

Dan Adams, Brattleboro’s tree warden praised their work as a great plan. He warned that it was a lot of trees, and decisions would need to be made to prioritize trees and find money for the work that would be done. “It takes decades to get good sized trees. Not saving them costs money.”

Donna Macomber asked about organic options, and Tad Montgomery asked in homeowners could do any treatments themselves. Organic options have not yet been approved in Vermont, and homeowner versions of treatments weren’t found to be very effective, they were told.

The expected outcome, regardless of approach, is grim, and ashes may go the way of chestnuts and elms.

Donna Macomber suggested townspeople sponsor trees for ash protection.

The committee will work out specific of dealing with the 16 downtown trees as well as long-term options for ashes in the community.

Union Hill/Western Avenue Safety Improvements

The Department of Public Works was given the go-ahead to gather permits and begin the work of improvements to the Union Hill and Western Avenue intersection.

To get to an approved plan, the DPW hired Holden Engineering and went through a process of public meetings, reviews of historical solutions, and plan revisions with the Traffic Safety Committee.

The unanimously suggested solution involves significantly narrowing the entry to Union Hill from Western Ave. to about thirteen feet per lane. Traffic will continue to go both up and down the hill.

Western Ave. will also be narrowed to give extra space for cars coming up Union Hill to stop before turning. The narrowing may also slow traffic on Western Ave. Sidewalks will be readjusted, and the current crosswalk across Western Avenue will be moved further east of the intersection.

There will be no stop signs, nor a crosswalk west of the intersection. The project must meet Federal and state design standards. Vtrans won’t currently fund a crosswalk crossing button, for example, but one could be added later.

Highway Superintendent Hannah O’Connell and Public Works Director Steve Barrett gave the board a Powerpoint presentation showing photos of the intersection with cones being used to indicate where the new curb lines would be located. The cones alone had an impact on the speed of traffic.

They expect the work to begin late this fall or next spring. The board generally liked the plan.

VTrans Highways, Roads and Bridges

Each year, the state asks for confirmation of our investment in roads and road maintenance. They also want us to affirm our commitment to road and bridge standards.

The Brattleboro Selectboard approved the FY15 Financial Plan for Town Highways, and certified our compliance with town road and bridge standards.

Summer Paving Contract

Lane Construction will receive $164,922.90 for summer paving in Brattleboro. The Northfield, MA, firm will be paving on Fairground Road, Chapin Street, Grove Street, Birge Street, Guilford Street, and Cotton Mill Hill.

This project involves 10,800 square yards of cold planing, 1439 tons of bituminous concrete paving, and other smaller items.

DPW tries to do a combination of light milling and overlays on roads with less damage, and more serious work on more damaged roads. Amount of traffic and use can impact how much a road wears.

Barrett says Western Ave will be its own bid and project. The work will happen before snow flies, he said.

Heating Fuel for FY15

The low bid for FY15’s 82,000 gallons of heating fuel was accepted by the Brattleboro Selectboard. Discount Oil of Keene, NH, will be delivering our #2 heating fuel for the year at a cost of $3.159 per gallon.

This number is lower than what the board budgeted.

NEA Our Town Grant Update

Planning Services Director Rod Francis told the Selectboard about the NEA Our Town Grant. Kate Anderson joined him, but let Francis do most of the talking.

The grant calls for creative placemaking among public and private community partners. To date, Brattleboro has used the grant for Cultural Asset mapping, and Cultural District planning. The final phase is focused on Public Art, and the board wanted to know more.

Francis said the final step of the grant was to do public art, “a community arts project to express community vision through art,” he said. “If you set aside the museum, there isn’t much public art on display in Brattleboro.” He said the location and selection of such public art remained to be done.

“It won’t be us choosing an artist. It will be a juried process,” said Anderson.

David Gartenstein asked if an arts district was still planned.  Francis said some time was spent “tossing around the idea, but we’d need to be more resolved about a cultural tourism strategy, then focus on a neighborhood or district.” He said it was hard for the arts community to decide where it would be located, too, and ultimately thought it wasn’t as high a priority as before.

“So there’s no way to support the arts through zoning?” asked Gartenstein.

It’s not the approach the arts community is most eager to pursue, said Francis.

Recreation & Parks Staffing Level Review

Tom Cote, program coordinator for Recreation & Parks, has resigned, and like other town staff changes, it triggers a Selectboard review of the level of staffing in the department. This is part of a semi-new effort by the Selectboard to better understand what each position does within a department.

Carol Lolatte, Recreation & Parks Director, said the department has nine full-time employees, and that the Program Coordinator is an integral part of the staff, organizing youth leagues, adult programs, and special events as well as recruiting volunteers.

Gartenstein again mentioned the cost of programs vs. revenue brought in, and fees for non-residents.

The board seemed to agree, and no action was taken. The position will be filled again.

By the way, there will be a parade and a day of activities before fireworks on Friday. Donations will be collected and accepted to help cover the $8-10,000 of costs. The events are privately funded; the town does not fund the day.

Town Clerk’s Office Staffing Level Review

A vacancy in the Town Clerk’s office also triggered, you guessed it, a staffing level review. This one was a bit different, though.

Town Clerk Annette Cappy said the department is limited to three full-time positions. The assistant town clerks each have specialties, and the vacancy is with the position that deals primarily with land records.

Brattleboro land transactions have been trending downward, the board was informed. The economy is stagnant and mortgage refinancing has dried up. This means less income from land transactions and a reduced workload.  

Due to the sustained reduction and some technical improvements in how records are handled online, Town Clerk Annette Cappy suggested the position’s hours now be reduced from 37.5 to 25 hours.  Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland agreed.

The board was pleased with the decision and associated savings. 

Remember this come budget time, joked Annette Cappy.

Community Justice Grant

The Brattleboro Selectboard accepted and appropriated $290,000 from the Vermont Department of Corrections to provide general operating support for the Brattleboro Community Justice Center. The grant will be spent in FY15 and FY16.

Discussion of Vermont Yankee Funds

The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) and the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) will hold a public hearing on July 10 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. in the Selectboard Meeting Room at the Municipal Center.

The meeting will be on the question of VEDA establishing a revolving loan fund with some of the $10 million made available from the $2 million a year disbursement from VY for Windham County.

David Gartenstein said he put this on the agenda to find out if the town should take a position. “But, it is late.”

Kate O’Connor said the state originally had discussed giving out the money as grants, then they switched to talking about loans, and would likely end up with some sort of mix, but couldn’t be certain. She said the deadlines had been extended for taking applications until the end of September. The meeting on the 10th, she said, would deal with the issue of creating a revolving loan fund. “A loan fund means paying it back, and some would prefer grants to loans.”

SeVeds, however, has an alternative plan, and Patrick Moreland outlined the basic structure for the board.

First, he said, remember that $10 million is a drop in the bucket compared with the tax losses coming from losing jobs at VY. “But, it is rare that cash is on the table, and incredibly important that we advocate strongly for use of the funds which helps to leverage additional resources. Every dollar is important.”

He said the SeVEDS idea was to target the money for a business accelerator program, like the Maine Technology Institute, where funds would be made available to research and develop new technologies and services. “Rather than a generic loan program, it prioritizes entrepreneurship and potential growth.” He said health care, green building, and tech assisted manufacturing were potential growth areas for the region. “Our objective should be what’s most effective.”

“Hw does it impact Brattleboro?” asked Gartenstein. “That’s a regional concept.”

Kate O’Connor said the heart of the issue was who got to make the decision about funds, and whether there is a consideration of how each town feels.

“We’re in this together,” said Moreland of the surrounding region. “I can invite SeVEDS to come and meet on the topic.”

The board agreed it would be a good item for a future agenda.

Committee Appointments

The Brattleboro Selectboard made committee appointments, sending John Wilmerding to the Connecticut River Transit Board, Tad Montgomery and Robert Rueter to the Energy Committee, David Petrie to View Fences, Kathy Urffer to the Planning Commission, and Helene Henry to the Tree Advisory Committee.

Vermont Open Meeting Law Changes

Changes in the Vermont Open Meeting Law “casts a wide net” and “generally applies whenever a majority of the members of a municipal board, council, commission, committee, or subcommittee have a conversation or make a decision about municipal business.”

So says the new Vermont League of Cities and Towns Municipal Assistance Center in a document given to board members regarding the changes, now in effect.

The changes are significant and ample, and worthy of their own story.  

Moreland said major changes include the manner in which a member can participate electronically in meetings, that meeting minutes must be posted within five days of a meeting, and that an agenda must be posted 48 hours in advance of a regular meeting.

He said the town is working to make sure all town committees can comply.

“We like to comply,” said John Allen.

Comments | 12

  • Points

    I thought some really good points were brought up last night with Barry Lane questioning what kind of park is it you want exactly (especially given the allotted 6500 sq. ft. basic starting point.), but I still favor Elm Street even though in reality it may very well in turn favor the Samurai type skateboarders who desperately need a challenging outlet. I feel strongly this is where the need is the greatest here in town, and perfectly located as a future asset and attraction, after all it is a skateboard park were after, right.
    Other modes of wheel friendly sports have other opportunities elsewhere and are not as restricted, so let’s make it happen, think positive, think of skateboarders on skateboards.
    I think way too much has been made of this the Elm street site being located in a 100 year flood plain, do you see successful businesses like Cultural Intrigue. NEYT, motorcycle shop, Dotty’s, Experienced Goods, COOP and countless other businesses getting up and relocating? The concern about contaminates has been over inflated when well aware and knowing the old diesel building will soon be torn down and capped with environment funding slated for this area to make it safe.
    If you are going to try and please everyone ie. other types of wheeled sports, it has to go in Upper Living Memorial Park, the only place I see that can properly accommodate and has the space for such a project.

  • and the beat goes on...

    The skate park situation becomes more and more ludicrous! Now it appears that the SelectBoard is questioning the recommendations of the very group that they chose to investigate potential park sites. How many more years is this ‘discussion” going to continue? It’s a skate park! The town is not being asked to allocate space for a toxic waste site or a maximum security prison or any of the other dozens of scenarios that would warrant this kind of endless process. It’s a skate park- it’s a good thing. It shouldn’t be this difficult – decide on a site and start building it. There is never going to be a “perfect” spot – there will always be objections from some people. Entire cities have been built in less time than it is taking this town to decide where to build a park. Come on…can we not make a decision and do something positive for the youth of this town? Skate parks encourage kids (and adults) to learn skills, to be physical, to do something outside -away from the endless and mind numbing action of sitting at a computer playing games or watching TV.Just build the thing!

    • A clear decision had been arrived at by the SSSC

      ….it was overwhelmingly chosen to be Elm Street, now this decision that has by way of a long and arduous road (100% open to public participation, it clearly offered the most opportunity for transparency and inclusiveness to date) has finally reached the Selectboard is suddenly not being respected, shot down like by a row of duck hunters and I think that is a major mistake for the sake everyone involved, the momentum has taken a serious blow by a boat load of hesitation and scrutiny as if prime real estate and scenic byways will be sacrificed for this site. It’s a perfect spot, has great potential and would be an appreciated gift from the town recognizing skateboarders if people can come to their better senses and think positive, yet to some, it’s never good enough, good luck with that attitude, just remember all those skateboarders town wide you represent itching to ride at this very moment.

  • Two Sites, Perhaps?

    It crossed my mind that we could split the difference and take the highest and lowest scoring of the top four and give them to BASIC for skateparks, plural, solving the problem for the next 50 years (as we like to do). It would address the multi-styled approach to skating Barry mentioned.

    BASIC could have Elm St and the top of LMP, for two parks, and could plan and raise fund accordingly. It would be up to BASIC which to do first.

    Part of the skatepark plan, it seems, must include an ongoing plan for maintenance being paid for privately (and other rec areas in town will need to start paying their own way, too) if the project is to be approved by their Selectboard in this budget climate. They really don’t want to add any new costs to running the town, if they can be avoided. A plan showing how these would actually generate money for the town would amaze and astound them.

    • The good old days

      I can’t even begin to imagine how long the powers that be would have to discuss TWO skate parks. The kids that would actually use it would likely be grandparents by the time a consensus was reached!
      “Kids, when Grandpa was young we used to hear talk about this thing called a ‘skate park’. Never actually saw one but it sounded nice…”

    • Hmmm... I like it!

      You might be on to something.. what if the Elm Street site was a “blue square/black diamond site” and a more “green circle” site was built in the LMP? The noise would be less of a factor (not that I consider that a factor) and it could be like skateboard training before running with the big dogs.

      Let’s move on this either way. Elm Street can work out, especially if we are all excited about it. It is not the prettiest or best spot, I prefer the park for a MULTITUDE of reasons, but I think this thing actually has a shot at gettng of the ground on Elm St. The park location will be tied up in complaints and litigations until we are all old and cranky…

    • Great ideas Chris and Lise

      Supervision = Skate Park Income, but seriously, I can’t take much more of this, another delay, but maybe worth while, I don’t know anymore!!!

    • Top 2?

      Why the 1st and the 4th and not the 1st and the 2nd?

      • ...a little catch called

        …a little catch called funding and community support somehow overlooked last time around. You can’t be that close to residents and not expect resistance and back lash, Crowell Lot, a perfect case in point. To put it back there is just shooting yourself in both feet or CRZ in my opinion, then how do expect to skateboard. Why they persist, I do not know, that location has nothing worthwhile to offer them at this point, it will remain green.

        • Victory!


          I’m excited for folks to get the fundraising part because there were so many Crowell neighbors who said they would step to the front to help raise the necessary funds if it were not in their backyard. I so hope those same folks sprint to the front.

          • It is my understanding that

            It is my understanding that some already have. Several I know support several local institutions in town, with both tax dollars and private donations.

  • Tonight's the night!

    Don’t forget, come to the Municipal Center in the Select Board meeting room at 6:15 pm to show your support for the Brattleboro Skatepark! What will YOU DO to contribute to this invaluable project once the location has been chosen?

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