Baycrest Neighbors at Odds on Use of Open Space

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Friday January 09, 2015

One year ago, residents T.J. Donovan and Dan Boyer had an idea: what if the city-owned 1.7 acre open space in the Baycrest development were to become an established park with amenities like a playground?

After sharing their general thoughts with the Recreation and Leisure Arts Committee, committee members gave Donovan and Boyer their support and asked them to explore their options by reaching out to all affected residents for input.

Donovan and Boyer enlisted the help of fellow resident Ross Fenderson, and together they crafted a brief ten-question survey which they subsequently shared online as a “Survey Monkey” via the SWSB (Southwest South Burlington) Front Porch Forum around Thanksgiving 2014. They received about 50 responses. A larger number of neighbors, having caught wind of the survey in its aftermath were left bewildered: could the green space where children play, seniors walk, dogs frolic and neighbors convene change without their input?

In opposition of changes made to the open space, a petition initiated by David Yergeau of Baycrest Dr. went around to neighbors in early December. Seeing the need for continued discussion, Donovan, Boyer and Fenderson requested a meeting with the Recreation and Leisure Arts Committee for an open dialogue with neighbors.

“We really do want this to be a community-driven process,” explained Fenderson to a packed room of residents in attendance at the December 15 meeting. He acknowledged that the Front Porch Forum results were incomplete.

“The survey was made to gauge usage of the space,” added Boyer, noting that it was a stepping-stone to usher in more opinions.

“I thought it would be a great community spot, a great place to bring my kids to meet other kids, but also, understanding the makeup and demographics of the neighborhood—it would be a great meeting spot because we are a multigenerational community,” said Donovan. “I think the intent is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan which calls for more pocket parks,” using Myers Park in Essex as an example.

“I don’t want more cars, I don’t want more lights, I don’t want noise, I don’t want litter. I want community, I want health, and I want recreation,” Donovan added.

“This is not an ‘us versus them’ proposition. We’re all neighbors, and the community is important to everybody in the room,” said Yergeau, the petition’s initiator.

In stark contrast to the survey results—which showed 26 in favor, 13 against, and the remainder undecided—residents, one by one, shared their sentiments.

“I feel like this park is being fully-used by the community,” said Nathalie Bohl, a Baycrest Dr. resident and UVM economics professor. “I’m always looking into public projects in terms of cost and benefits. I’m trying to be open-minded, and I tried to look into this project of whether it’s a net cost or net benefit to the community.”

Bohl listed increased traffic, maintenance costs, litter, noise, detrimental effects on property taxes, and the existence of several city parks as reasons to leave the area alone.

“I think it would be better focusing on the existing play structures and doing a better job at maintaining them and letting this community enjoy this green space, ” she said.

Meghan Sweet of 15 Baycrest Dr. has three small children who “are out every minute they’re not in school,” and stressed safety as her paramount concern.

“Putting a structure at this park, though I’m sure is not the intention, will draw traffic to the area directly in front of my house,” she said. “I think that people who don’t live on Baycrest Dr. would be surprised at the amount of traffic we have now, as a cut-through from Shelburne Rd. to Spear St., and that presents a safety issue in and of itself.”

“My kids use it all the time for anything they want to use it for, which I think is the beauty of it. They can go play a lacrosse game, they can hit golf balls...they get to create what they want to create, and I think it would be a loss.”

Tom Moore of Keari Ln., shared his history as a retired social scientist who used to observe people’s use of urban open spaces. He uses the same lens as he walks by the park a few times a day. His suggestion? Make it more accessible for the Pillsbury Manor folks who come out to enjoy the space.

“If you have a walker, you can’t use the space at all. You need a hardened path, and I think if that were done with some landscaping and benches it could be very attractive,” he said. “If you put in a tennis court, no one would use it. Basketball courts don’t get used either because kids like to go to their friends’ house and shoot hoops for 15-20 minutes and then do something else.”

Moore also proposed that if there were a playground, that it should be left as a natural playground; the city could take cues from Waterbury, which has done this before, he said.

Concerns about vandalism, cost, and a nearby ravine were additional components of the conversation.

From a procedural standpoint, this idea will need to reach a wider audience of residents directly affected, and the Recreation and Leisure Arts Committee does not have the final word on the matter, explained Chair Glenn Sproul. Initiators and residents agreed that the committee would work toward developing a process of how to proceed at its next meeting. Sproul also explained that a decision could not be made unless it reaches City Council, and that would not occur immediately--or maybe even at all--given the preliminary stage of this dialogue.

At the end of the meeting, Interim Director of South Burlington Recreation & Parks Betsy Terry provided a slideshow of smaller parks in other communities to spark ideas. The parks included Heritage Park, Bonanza Park, and Valleyfield Park, all in Colchester, as well as Myers Park in Essex.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent