2018-02-23 / Front Page

Skate park may roll into rejected site

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — They say that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

It’s taken two attempts to get a skate park committee rolling in Kennebunk since 2015, when voters told selectmen they did not want that park located in Parsons Field. And now, two years after that referendum vote, the same downtown park is on the short list of places picked by the reconstituted committee.

Speaking on behalf of the seven-person committee, Jim Trentalange told selectmen at their Feb. 13 meeting that the group had narrowed in on California Skateparks from among five potential vendors to build a replacement for the current skate park, located on Factory Pasture Lane. California Skateparks, he said, asked the committee to present soil samples from at least three potential sites.

“In Kennebunk, there’s not really three potential sites for this park, so, we narrowed it down to two,” Trentalange said, noting that the cement park would be, “about the size of a tennis court.”

Those two locations are Parsons Field, near Park Street, and the sledding hill atop the old landfill near the public works garage on Sea Road.

In June 2013, voters gave the go-ahead to improve the existing park, created two decade earlier and showing its age. That nod came in the form of $100,000 earmarked out of a of a $1.28 million capital improvements bond that passed at that year’s annual town meeting, 394-213.

The exact wording of the town meeting warrant referred to “skateboard park improvements,” and several selectmen later said they took that to mean rehabbing the existing park, not building an entirely new one in a new location. Voters, they theorized, must have presumed the same.

Even so, Town Engineer Chris Osterrieder was charged by then town-manager Barry Tibbetts with site selection, in part because the original park can’t be expanded much beyond its 2,400-square-foot size without encroaching on wetlands. Instead, from a list of 10 potential sites, Osterrieder proposed putting a new 7,100-square-foot skate park next to Parsons Field, in a spot between the teen center and Blue Wave Mall.

But some downtown business owners reportedly nixed that plan, and the park was eventually aimed at a smaller 4,140-squarefoot spot inside the 7.3- acre park complex, directly adjacent to the ball fields.

At that idea, local residents rose up to oppose the design Osterrieder presented to selectmen. Chief among the naysayers was Park Street resident Shiloh Schulte, who organized a citizens’ petition he said was meant to impress upon selectmen that they were on the wrong side of public sentiment.

The question, successfully placed on the June 2015 ballot, read, “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 answer was a resounding no, with 69.8 percent of voters against the idea.

Schulte, who subsequently decided to also throw his hat into the selectmen’s race, rode that wave of public opinion into office, placing third among six candidates for three open seats that year.

It was not until that fall when selectmen finally got around to the question of how to proceed in light of the town meeting vote rejecting the Parsons Field proposal. Deciding they were “not under the gun” to make a decision, the board put off any decision until it came time to craft the next municipal spending plan. But then budget season came in the winter and spring of 2016 with no further reference to the skate park.

In October 2016, selectmen agreed to create a new ad hoc skate park committee, replacing the one that had originally stumped for a new park. But things never seemed to come together, due at least in part to the June 2017 resignation of economic development director Mat Eddy, who had taken on the role of committee facilitator.

That summer the ad hoc committee was reconstituted, with Schulte agreeing to serve as liaison to the board of selectmen.

In his Feb. 13 presentation, Trentalange said the committee settled on the two finalist sites because of a need to locate on town-owned land, thus preserving the $100,000 in available funds fully toward park construction, without having to divert any to land acquisition costs.

However, Trentalange wanted to know if a final site selection would have to go to voters. Selectmen agreed a public vote was not legally required, although some said polling residents might be the politically prudent thing to do.

“We all remember what happened the last time,” Selectman Ed Karytko said. “It didn’t go before voters and then there was a petition put out and the voters had to vote on that.”

“If it’s a change in the use of the space — and in this case, regardless of where that would be, because of the history of this project, and just because this is how I think it should be done for our public spaces anyway — if there is going to be a large, permanent structure in a town space, I think it should go before the voters,” Schulte said.

Perhaps suspecting the outcome of a public vote on Parsons Field, Trentalange then asked selectmen if they would be willing to kick in more than the approved $100,000 for an alternate site, should it come to that.

“If the board of selectmen is not willing to make a difficult decision — but an easy financial decision for the town because other spaces might be financially more involved — then might the board be willing to help phase in recommendations of facilities and infrastructure costs for another site, and help us with our fundraising efforts?” he asked.

“That would have to be voter approved, because it involves taxpayer money at that point,” selectman William Ward said.

Schulte said the exception might be for a relatively small ask, which selectmen could appropriate from their contingency fund.

Trentalange said Parsons Field again rose to the top of the site-selection list due to a variety of factors beyond the fact that it town-owned land. The committee wanted a site that would be easy for most kids to ride their bikes to, with high visibility on all sides and infrastructure like sidewalks and parking already in place.

“What we looked for was the simplest way that we could use all of our funds, and not use any more town funds, and raise some more money to get a nice skateboard park in town,” Trentalange said.

However, recognizing that Parsons Field “would be a difficult decision for the board,” the committee tried to come up with at least one other alternative. As it turns out, the committee decided the current skate park site, on Factory Pastre Lane, “is the worst place in town,” on which to build such a project.

“There’s no sidewalks. There’s no infrastructure,” Trentalange said. “You’re on a busy road and a road now that some people are excited might get even busier. And when you are coming down the hill around that corner on a big town vehicle, you can’t see anybody.

“We have one person on our committee who has been on those trucks and come down that hill and their thoughts were not only, ‘No,’ but, ‘Hell, no,’” Trentalange said. “So, that place — you can dress up a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

Instead, Trentalange said the committee picked the sledding hill as its No. 2 preference.

“That hit some chords, but it has some infrastructure issues,” Trentalange said. “You can’t touch the [landfill] cap, but if we stay away from the cap, we’re pretty good.”

A digital mock up of a potential park showed the skating area located just off the parking area and to the left, about 50 to 100 yards before the landfill cap and the sledding area.

Trentalange also said Rotary Park might be possibility, but asked selectmen to give their nod to moving forward with Parsons Field and the Sea Road sledding hill area. That, he said, would allow the committee to take soil samples to send to California Skateparks for testing. The company would then come to Kennebunk to scout both locations. The committee will report to selectmen with a final recommendation, picking one site or the other, by “mid March (to) later March.” Trentalange said.

“We want to be building by August,” he said. “We want a skateboard park. It’s been a long time coming.”

However, some selectmen suggested Trentalange’s proposed timeline might be a bit aggressive.

“Do they (California Skateparks) know we still have winter here?” board chairman Dick Morin quipped. “I’m serious. They don’t mind coming out and doing site assessment under snow cover?”

“I think they’d rather do this from California,” Trentalange said. “They’d rather be here in late spring. But we want to move this process along. As soon as we can get a good visual on things, I want them here.”

Trentalange asked selectmen if they had a preference between the top two sites, but the board collectively declined to weigh in. The recommendation should come from the committee, which “has been through the whole nine yards,” Karytko said.

“You know what the situation is,” he said. “I don’t think you are going to put yourselves, or us, in a position where you are going to pick something that’s really out of line.”

“He wants to pick Parsons Field. Are you willing to back him up on that?” selectman Dan Boothby asked.

“Well, it’s like the police department, Danny. If they feel they need something, they’ve got to say what they need,” Karytko said, turning back to Trentalange to add, “If you feel Parsons Field is 100 percent the best place, and maybe Sea Road is No. 2, and you probably know that you are going to hit the same objections on Parsons Field, then don’t know where you would stand on that. I would think you would probably steer away from it.”

Schulte said one of the concerns he and other residents had with the original Parsons Field proposal was that it envisioned moving and re-orienting the ballfield now in the park in order to accommodate the skate park.

“There were quite a few other issues, but the biggest concern a lot of us had at the time was that there was not a sort of comprehensive plan for that whole park and area,” Schulte said. “It was just, ‘Let’s put it here because we can,” and it worked in the context of the park, but not in terms of everything else that was going on there.

“I think if this was to be put forward again (for Parsons Field) it would have to have, not just, ‘We can put up a skate park here and here’s the square footage,’ but what would all of Parsons Field look like in the context of this significant change and permanent structure that we’d be adding to that place.

“And that almost certainly will add additional costs, and maybe that would be a good thing if it (a plan) was done well, but it’s not something that’s going to go forward if it’s simply, “Let’s try again and maybe we don’t have to have a vote on it,” Schulte said. “I can guarantee you there would be a (citizens’ petition) question this summer on the June ballot again. Whatever the board had to say about it, I know that would happen. I know enough of my neighbors to know that would definitely occur.”

Trentalange suggested one solution might be to put the skate park in place of the “back section of the (teen center) building, which is falling down.” There has been talk anyway, he said, of the town tearing down that section of the center.

Even without taking time to draft a full plan for all of Parsons Field, there are factors that that could well derail Trentalange’s hopes to have kids rolling in the new park by this fall.

According to Osterrieder, whichever site the committee ultimately picks, the project will have to go through the town’s site plan review process if it creates more than 5,000 square feet of impervious (i.e. paved) area, or if it disturbs more than 10,000 square feet, total.

“So, if you create a walkway 1,000 feet long and 5 feet wide, you’re getting there. So I would anticipate that will be a necessary part of the process,” he said.

Selectmen said Rotary Park was out of the question — “I don’t think Rotary would think fondly on that, knowing some of the Rotarians,” Selectman Christopher Cluff said — and accepted Trentalange’s assessment that the fields behind Kennebunk Elementary School and Lloyd Nadeau Field in West Kennebunk are both too far from downtown for most kids to access easily. Lafayette Park was ruled out because of the summer concert series and “other competition for that space.”

Rachel Phipps, who lives near Parsons Field, said she thought the area behind the teen center would be ideal, but Schulte suggested business owners will again push back.

“I we’re talking about putting it back in that space, it would be very much an uphill swim.” Schulte said. “If you are going to go down that route, it’s reducing the probability of getting this in at all by a very large degree. If there is going to be any chance of success at all, it is going to have to be presented very differently than it was last time, as part of an overall of the whole Parsons Field area.”

In the end, the committee will need support from the town — selectmen, residents, and businesses — once it gets soil samples back and a spot is chosen, group member Christine Burgess said. Business owners and abutting homeowners need not fear skateboarders, she said, predicting a new skate park will be viewed as an amenity for the town, not unlike the Waterhouse Center

“I have kids who are 41 and 36 who still skateboard. It’s a family activity,” Burgess said. “Skateboarders have a bad rap, but if you look at the children in the back of this room, do they look dangerous? This can be an asset to the town, not just (a question of) where are we going to put those darn skateboarders.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

Return to top