Thursday January 07, 2016
After over a year of debate, the future of Baycrest Park is gradually coming into focus.
Director of Recreation and Parks Maggie Leugers and Chair of the Recreation and Leisure Arts Committee Glenn Sproul presented a recommendation to city council December 7 regarding improvements to the city-owned 1.7-acre parcel.
The park, situated off Baycrest Drive, was originally set aside as open space during neighborhood development and has served as green space for children’s pickup games, or for residents to stroll through. Last year, a move to develop the park was set in motion by some residents, but the plan was met with opposition from many neighbors. At city-hosted meetings and in informal conversations about wide ranging and controversial options for park development, the general consensus among most neighbors has been to keep change to a minimum, while other residents wish to keep it completely untouched.
The recommendation presented by Leugers and Sproul illustrated soft changes. The proposal includes the addition of three trees on the border next to the road as well as an access path from the crosswalk along a central undeveloped area. There will be benches along the path, and the path will continue across a bridge to an adjacent neighborhood. Additional improvements involve a play area with swings, a natural play site to blend in with the environment, a bike rack, and signage near the entrance.
Sproul added that the Comprehensive Plan mentions an “aspiration that in every neighborhood, a park of some kind . . . be accessible within a quarter mile of easy safe walking distance.” This would be the park accessible for this neighborhood, with possible enhancements.
After this conceptual plan was presented to the Recreation and Leisure Arts Committee in October, committee members voted 5-1 to send the recommendation to city council. There were previous iterations of park plans; one was shown at an on-site, city-hosted community outreach meeting on July 15 where resident Deborah Yergeau shared a sketch drawn up by landscape architect Keith Wagner.
Councilors were receptive to the feedback and had questions. Councilor Tom Chittenden raised the issue of possible unsolicited night activity in the area and asked about hours of operation. Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard said there is a parks ordinance that would allow the city to set the hours.
Chair Pat Nowak admitted to having reservations about park amenities when she first heard about it, but once large structures were out of the picture, it looked more enticing, she said. “This is a neighborhood park, and I believe that it needs to be kept as neighborhood space,” Nowak added.
Director of Public Works Justin Rabidoux stated that maintenance will not be an issue, either.”This is 1/100th of the large developments that are in front of the DRB (Development Review Board) right now. We’re currently in this area with sidewalk plows.”
“I’m pleased looking at this play lawn because it’s modular and open for all possibilities,” Councilor Chris Shaw said.
“I think the design seems very unobtrusive to the neighborhood,” Councilor Helen Riehle said. “We want to embrace more families, and having a park or a place really close so that it’s walking distance from your home is attractive, as well as an aging population quite close to where they live, would really allow them to ambulate over there and not have to walk a mile to a park.”
“I have to say, right up front, that this plan is not happily embraced by everyone in the neighborhood,” Sproul said. “It’s been rather controversial.”
Sproul’s comment resonated with residents such as John Dupee and Kathy Davis, of Baycrest Drive and Harbor View Road, respectively. While there were differences in opinion in terms of the plan itself, Davis pointed out that the process leading up to this point was flawed. “For me, the process went from democratic to autocratic. Had a decision already been made about this park?” she said. Davis said the meeting minutes were missing information, and that while residents had an opportunity to talk about the topic at-large, there was not an opportunity to comment on this particular sketch before the committee voted on the recommendation. “I ask that the entire process be reviewed and considered,” Davis said. “If we have this, let’s at least let everyone have a chance to look and comment.”
In regards to the plan, Dupee pointed out that the location of the access path, “basically runs through the backyards of these condos.” He suggested moving it to the other side of the park where fewer neighbors would be disturbed. Councilors were amenable to the suggestion. Dupee added that the sandbox in the play area could potentially be unsanitary, that there are current drainage issues, and that the proposed trees could block views.
“Where can there be a compromise? Where can each side give a little?” Councilor Meaghan Emery asked.
For Keari Lane resident, Muriel More, the plan outlined steps in a direction that would be beneficial for current neighbors and future residents.”About 131 new units of housing are coming into the neighborhood. This little park we’re talking about tonight, which is very small, is kind of very central to all of this,” she said. “We see this as an opportunity for people to walk around the neighborhood in an easier fashion, creating opportunities for all ages.”
Councilors did not vote on the recommendation since there will be more time for residents to comment. The topic will be taken up at the second city council meeting in January.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent