Several Waitsfield residents challenged the town’s plans to construct a pocket park on Bridge Street at the site where Tropical Storm Irene destroyed a small photography studio between the covered bridge and the Peasant restaurant building.
Town residents Neil Johnson, Larry Corthell and Chessie Stevenson sent a letter to the select board asking for the opportunity to discuss the pocket park, which has been estimated to cost $199,984 to build. The town’s share of that is 10 percent.
Johnson, Corthell and Stevenson submitted a proposed drawing for the park, which they said would cost no more than $9,000.
At the select board’s November 30 meeting, Johnson said he supported the idea of a pocket park but questioned the expense.
“I read your letter and I wonder if you’re aware that we’re not allowed to have anything in that park that is not bolted down because it’s a flood plain. The picnic tables, benches and chairs you’ve shown in your drawing are not allowed,” board member Logan Cooke said.
“We can’t have stuff in there that can become a debris trap. If the water is moving that stuff can become part of the debris,” board member Kari Dolan added.
“Yes, or you could move them back,” Johnson said.
A LOT OF MONEY
Johnson went on to question how the proposed concrete park could cost upward of $100,000 when to pour a foundation for a house costs about $30,000.
“Yes, it is a lot of money,” board chair Paul Hartshorn said.
“I think that we, as a community, if there wasn’t a grant involved, would find a solution that had more cost benefit and was less expensive,” Johnson added.
“Our portion is a 10 percent local match. A lot of the costs associated with the park come from the grant administration work. The grant people want to spend more money to do the extra environmental and planning work. But your point is well taken, though. It’s a lot of money,” Cooke said.
Town administrator Valerie Capels pointed out that the grant was based on a very creative conceptual design and said that now that the environmental review process had begun, it has become obvious that many parts of the park plan that had raised costs would not be allowed by the state.
COSTS UP OR DOWN?
“The project is likely to get simplified and costs will go down,” Capels said.
“I think costs are going to go up,” board member Scott Kingsbury countered.
WEST SIDE SIDEWALK
Johnson also raised the issue of a sidewalk proposed for the west side of Main Street in the village that will run from the Valley Players Theater to Farr Lane. That sidewalk, also 90 percent grant funded, has raised concerns because it reduces the number of parking spaces in the village (including the two spaces that Waitsfield Wine Shoppe has), will result in the removal of a shade tree between Village Grocery and Waitsfield Wine Shoppe and will also result in a loss of the green space in front of Village Grocery.
Kevin Russell, municipal project manager for the sidewalk project, has presented plans for various alignments of that sidewalk to the town, noting that previous studies and surveys the town has conducted necessitate the reduction in parking and other adjustments.
Russell has also espoused curb extensions at various parts of the sidewalk to both join crosswalks and alert drivers to changes in the traffic patterns.
DO NOT WANT IT
Johnson said it was his impression that the businesses affected by the sidewalk did not ask for and do not want it. Hartshorn noted that the select board rejected this sidewalk grant until townspeople petitioned for them to reconsider it and they did.
Dolan told Johnson that she is now serving on the sidewalk steering committee and said that the number-one objective is to minimize cost and maximize the utility of it.
“We need to maximize the benefit of having a safe route to school,” she said. The grant that the town has for this project is a Safe Routes to School grant.
Currently the plan calls for three crosswalks between the corner of Bridge and Main streets and the Valley Players Theater.
Russell has pointed out that the previous studies and conceptual alignment work for this stretch of the street and the village have specified the most desirable crosswalk and curb extension locations.
In response to pushback from the select board and other townspeople about the impacts of the proposed sidewalk, Russell said that the sidewalk steering committee is following the recommendations of the 2011 Conceptual Alignment Analysis and the 2006 Parking and Pedestrian Circulation Study.
Those studies, according to Dolan, are not law and are not enforceable and the grant is not contingent on the recommendations of those studies although the grant does require that the sidewalk meet VTrans guidelines.
The sidewalk committee is meeting again on December 16 at Evergreen Place at 3 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.