2015-04-24 / Front Page

Voters will get opportunity to vet skatepark location

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Kennebunk resident Brian Tillman, 23, practices his skills Friday, April 17, at the town’s skateboard park on Factory Pasture Lane. Selectmen have committed $100,000 to improving the park, built in 1993, and have announced their intent to do so by building a new facility closer to town at the Parsons Field recreational park. However, that plan is now subject to voter approval in June following a citizen’s petition submitted to stop the move. (Duke Harrington photo) Kennebunk resident Brian Tillman, 23, practices his skills Friday, April 17, at the town’s skateboard park on Factory Pasture Lane. Selectmen have committed $100,000 to improving the park, built in 1993, and have announced their intent to do so by building a new facility closer to town at the Parsons Field recreational park. However, that plan is now subject to voter approval in June following a citizen’s petition submitted to stop the move. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — Among the items on the annual town meeting warrant in Kennebunk this June, voters will weigh in on whether they want a new skatepark built in the Parsons Field complex.

Plans to move the park from its current location on Factory Pasture Road have been gestating since 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 earmarked $100,000 of the bond money. After initially reviewing 10 possible locations, the board of selectmen last fall zeroed in on Parsons Field as the best alternative, and tasked Town Engineer Chris Osterrieder with reporting back with a plan by this spring.

However, by February, when Osterrieder began to poll neighbors of the park about his plans, a clear wall of opposition had gone up. Some abutters, claiming to have been taken unaware by the development, cited concerns ranging from an increase in noise to a decrease in green space.

Others took a different tack, declaring it had been generally understood by townsfolk at the time of the 2013 vote that improvements were to be made to the town’s existing skatepark, built in 1993. Erecting a new park was a different order of improvement they said, questioning the legality of the move.

The opposition quickly rallied and presented a petition, validated by Town Clerk Merton Brown, at the April 14 selectmen’s meeting.

Selectmen made quick work of moving the question onto the June 9 town meeting warrant. However, Town Attorney William Dale said the outcome of that vote may not be binding. That’s because the question put forth by petitioners seems more in the style of a public opinion poll than a call to specific action. 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?”

It would have been cleaner, Dale said, if the petition had been phrased to overturn the board’s September 2014 decision to locate a new skatepark in Parsons Field.

“It’s also a little bit tricky because there’s maybe a lot of, do you vote no if you mean yes and that kind of stuff to the way it’s worded,” Dale told selectmen. “But I think it’s perfectly lawful. Whether it’s binding is another question, but you can certainly put it on the ballot and let people vote on it.”

Whether selectmen would put the question to a public vote never seemed much in doubt. However, having done so, some board members saw little point in hearing Osterrieder’s presentation on what a skatepark in Parsons Field might look like.

“If the vote prevails, and we honor the wishes of the voting public, there will be nothing at Parsons Field, so why would we even be having this discussion,” asked Selectman Richard Morin, rhetorically.

“I spent two painful hours here last night with no conclusion on anything,” Morin said, referring to the previous evening’s joint session with the planning board. “I’d like to cut this meeting back by half an hour if I could do that, because we’re going to conclude nothing with this discussion as well.”

“It makes no sense at this time to hear a what-if presentation,” agreed board Chairman Kevin Donovan.

Instead of taking time to hear from Osterrieder, Morin said he’d prefer selectmen simply issue a fact sheet on the park for voters to review at the polls.

“But the source of all those facts on that fact sheet is sitting right over there,” Selectman Albert Searles said, pointing across the chamber at Osterrieder.

Selectman David Spoffard agreed, saying voters watching at home on public access television, or reviewing the tape later online, should get a chance to hear what Osterrieder had planned for Parsons Field. That, he said, was the only way for them to make an informed choice about whether to support the project.

“I want the public to understand what this project is, because I’ve heard all kinds of crazy things,” he said, claiming to have “firsthand information” about how petitioners “misrepresented” the project in order to instill fear of “the crazy skateboarders,” sharing Parsons Field with younger children.

“I want it on television. People like to watch television and they love to watch us,” he said, drawing laughter from his peers. “I want to waste my time getting the facts.”

“Well, Dave, before you waste any more of my time . . .” began Selectman John Kotsonis, touching off a brief verbal kerfuffle that prompted some quick referee action from Donovan.

Once feathers were unruffled, Kotsonis continued by saying he feared Osterrieder’s presentation demonstrated a presentiment for the Parsons Field location. That was important because, as Dale noted, while selectmen could distribute facts and figures relevant to the vote, they could not do anything that might sway voters to one side or the other.

In the end, following a debate that was not significantly shorter than the presentation itself, selectmen agreed to hear the presentation by a vote of 4-3, with Donovan, Kotsonis and Morin opposed.

Once Osterrieder finally took center stage, he gave three possible spots within the 7.3-acre Parsons Field complex that could host a skatepark. However, there was only one he seemed to consider truly viable.

In any case, the skatepark had been sharply truncated from previous plans, he said. Instead of the 7,100-square-foot number thrown out at previous meetings, the actual skatepark would be 4,140 square feet on a base measuring 69 feet by 60 feet. Although much smaller than previously announced, the site would still be almost double the size of the current park on Factory Pasture Lane.

However, plans to incorporate a cement bowl and a half-pipe ramp had been scrapped as “budgetary casualties,” Osterrieder said.

One of the three potential sites, a wooded area to the right of the playground, was immediately discounted, Osterrieder said, because it would break the budget to try and clear the land.

“You’re pulling the teeth of the tiger there and I’m not really interested in getting into that unless you ask me to,” he told selectmen.

A second spot, directly behind the teen center, could be built at the current scope for $91,000, which included a 10 percent contingency fund, Osterrieder said. However, that location has been discounted because of opposition from storeowners at the Blue Wave Mall, Osterrieder said.

That left an area adjacent to baseball field, next to the basketball court, across the street from the playground. However, that spot would come in over budget at $127,000, including the 10 percent contingency, in part because of the cost to reconfigure the ballfields.

Osterrieder said he has had only “very preliminary discussions with the Little League people.” However, he felt moving home plate to the lower corner of Parsons Field near the site entrance on Park Street would move the sun out of batters’ eyes.

Reorientation of the field would cost $22,000, Osterrieder said, while installing new fencing would run to $11,500.

“I would tell you, until that money is in place, to not move forward on the project,” Osterrieder told selectmen.

While selectmen stopped short of endorsing Osterrieder’s plan, at least one seemed to discount his preferred site, as well as the suggestion that fundraising could cover the shortfall to build there, or that selectmen might borrow from their contingency fund.

“It isn’t going to happen,” Donovan said. “The budget is $100,000. Improving or building, $100,000 — that’s it.”

Donovan also turned back requests from multiple residents who spoke during the selectmen’s meeting, asking the board to post construction estimates for other potential skatepark locations, including a do-over on the current site.

“No, that would muddy the waters,” he said. “There was a petition that came from the people. That is what will be on the ballot, solely.”

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