2015-04-03 / Community

Neighbors circulate skatepark petition

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Opponents of plans to build a 7,100-square-foot concrete skate park at Parsons Field are not letting any grass grow under their feet when it comes to blocking disruption at the town’s historic green space.

Although selectmen are slated to take up a final design proposal for the new site at their April 14 meeting, local residents have already begun circulating a petition in hopes of going over their heads and appealing directly to voters.

The urgency is driven, in part, by deadlines for getting a referendum question on the June 9 town meeting warrant.

“The deadline I gave them, which is pretty much set in stone, is April 6, to get their signatures to me for validation,” Town Clerk Merton Brown said in a March 30 interview.

Brown would need to get the signatures validated by April 8 in order to place the item on the agenda for the April 14 selectmen’s meeting. That session is about the last at which selectmen could order items placed on the June 9 warrant, given a state law which requires absentee ballots be ready 45 days before a vote.

According to Kennebunk’s Town Charter, the petitioners will need to collect signatures from registered voters equal to 7 percent of the number who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election. That, said Brown, means 422 names.

If that threshold is met, selectmen could then order the petitioners’ question put on the June 9 warrant. It reads: “Do you favor the town allocating green space in Parsons Field to construct a new skateboard park rather than improving the current skateboard park?”

The charter does give selectmen the power to refuse the petition if they decide that its purpose is unlawful, if it deals with personnel matters or appointments, if it involves a budget article or appropriation not on the most recent annual town meeting warrant, or if it deals with “rules and regulations governing the internal functioning of the board of selectmen.”

The appropriation for the skatepark project was not on the most recent town meeting warrant. It appeared in June 2013, when residents voted 394-213 to borrow $1.28 million for various road, sidewalk and park projects. Listed among the items to be funded was “skateboard park improvements,” for which selectmen had earmarked $100,000 of the bond money.

Many of the people who oppose building a skateboard park in Parsons Field — and even a few in favor of it, such as Selectmen Richard Morin and John Kotsonis — say the exact wording of the 2013 warrant for “skateboard park improvements” means, or was understood at the time to mean, making improvements to the existing facility on Factory Pasture Lane.

However, Town Engineer Chris Osterrieder said he reviewed 10 town properties as potential homes for a new park, eventually narrowing the list to the existing site and Parsons Field, located off Park Street in downtown.

Osterrieder stumped for the latter location because the original park can’t be expanded much beyond its 2,400-square-foot border without encroaching on wetlands. Selectmen gave Osterrieder the nod to proceed with plans to place the skatepark in Parsons Field at a September 2014 meeting.

That decision was trumpeted in local papers, including the Post. However, when residents living near Parsons Field gathered at the March 9 selectmen’s meeting to object to the project, many said they were unaware a skateboard park would soon be rolling into their neighborhood until they were invited by Osterrieder to a Feb. 26 informational meeting for abutters.

“There doesn’t seem to be a sense that the immediate community has been brought into this,” said Grove Street resident Sara Clinehens. “A lot of people who are very involved had no idea this was happening.”

That claim has been a particular source of frustration for selectmen, who maintain that all of their work, including meeting agendas, minutes and archived video coverage, is posted on the town website.

While some neighbors did speak in favor of moving the skateboard park to a more central location, most who spoke at the March 9 meeting objected to paving over a large section of the park, especially given that much of the site is in the town’s historic district.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of support in the immediate neighborhood for this project,” said Grove Street resident Sara Clinehens, at the March 24 selectmen’s meeting. “I have concerns about removing grass for cement. In a lot of places people are fighting to preserve every square foot of green space, so I’m very concerned we would be paving that over.”

Others who spoke at the March 9 session predicted an intolerable level of noise, traffic and local disruption, even though all agreed the existing park should be replaced.

“In its current form it is kind of a dump,” said Park Street resident Shiloh Schulte, at the time.

“It needs to be fixed,” he said. “The kids in this town deserve better. But what we voted for were skatepark improvements. If I tell someone I’m doing home improvements and then I go build a new one with that money, that’s quite a different project. We can have this be a great addition to the town without changing the fundamental use of the other parks.”

Town Manager Barry Tibbetts has said he checked with Town Attorney William Dale, given concerns expressed at the February abutters meeting, to find out how much flexibility selectmen have in interpreting the 2013 warrant article.

“He said it’s really up to the board how to interpret that,” Tibbetts said, suggesting that improving the park could just as easily mean building an improved version elsewhere as renovating the current site.

When announcing the petition drive at the March 24 selectmen’s meeting, Schulte said the purpose was not to block relocation of the skateboard park, just to verify that moving it to Parsons Field passes muster with a majority of Kennebunk residents, who may have interpreted the 2013 warrant question differently.

“This isn’t saying we don’t want a skateboard park in town,” he said. “It doesn’t bring up any budget issues or anything else. It just says, ‘Do you want a skateboard park at that location?’”

That said, Schulte did ask selectmen, who made no comment following his presentation during the “public comment” portion of the meeting, to explain the resumed “cost overruns.”

Although Osterrieder has yet to present a detailed project budget, many opponents of the move have expressed doubt that a 7,100-squarefoot skateboard park can be built for the $100,000 set aside in 2013.

Sandy Noble, whose Kennebunkport company, Who Skates, built the Factory Pasture Lane location, said she hopes to get the cost down to $20 per square foot, if hired to build the new site. That would mean an outlay of $142,000. Meanwhile, a similarly sized skatepark recently built in Portland cost $325,000.

If the petition drive is successful, and if selectmen do place the skatepark question on the ballot, the town charter calls for a public hearing on the topic to be convened at least 10 days before the town meeting vote.

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