Citizens were in attendance at this week’s Selectboard meeting to request once again that the town consider the concerns of the neighbors and do a proper site selection process for the new park. Dick DeGray said that the skatepark selection process consisted of himself and Jesse Corum proposing Crowell Lot as a good location, and that he was proud of their decison.
The Selectboard also approved Brattleboro’s Town Plan, continued thinking about expanding the Downtown Improvement District, began a discussion on implementing a local gasoline tax, and was accused of collecting parking income on national holidays.
All this and more, below...
It took a while for things to get settled at Tuesday night’s Selectboard meeting. David Gartenstein was absent, and Town Manager Barb Sondag arrived late.
Chair Dick DeGray began by teling everyone that elections were coming up on March 5th, and that absentee ballots were available. He hoped for a large voter turnout.
He also said he was reminded why Brattleboro is a great place to live, with the ski jump, winter carnival, and musical production at the high school this last weekend. He thanked all the volunteers who made it happen.
Town Manager Barb Sondag was not present for remarks, but Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland filled in with a single announcement. The Town will be replacing sidewalks on the east side Main Street this year, and there will be a public information session about the project on Feb 27 at 6:15 p.m. in the Selectboard room.
For Selectboard Committee Reports, Dora Bouboulis mentioned that SEVEDS will be holding meetings for public input on regional economic development in late March. She said that the Core Arts project got off to a good start on Saturday, and that Conway School students would be reporting back with a presentation of their findings.
Ken Schneck’s committee report was a plug for an event he’s holding at New England Youth Theater, a fundraiser for organizations helping with AIDS in Uganda.
Jeff Drescher (sp?) told the Selectboard that he noticed that they collect parking fees on national holidays.
It started when he went to check if parking was free on President’s Day. He couldn’t find any signs saying that it was free, and noticed people paying for parking slips and meters. This led him on a journey to the Parking Enforcement office, which was closed. He reasoned that this meant parking was indeed free that day.
He began to watch more closely and saw that many people were paying for parking on the national holiday. By his estimate, as much as $3,000 was collected that day. He wondered how long the town had been collecting on days it wasn’t supposed to collect.
He asked the board about six national holidays (of eleven) of which he remained uncertain if the Town offered free parking or not - Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day - and asked that the Town do a better job of publicizing the information.
Dick DeGray said they put a press release out for each holiday. Jeff said that wasn’t enough.
DeGray said he’d pass his concerns along to the Town Manager and Assistant Town Manager (both seated near him). He said the money goes into the parking system as revenue.
“They are quick to give out tickets, but not quick to stop people paying. How long has this been going on?” asked Jeff.
Patrick Moreland said he thought there were signs on the meters already.
“People put money in the meters when they don’t need to, “ said Barb Sondag, seated in Gartenstein’s chair. “Some days we’re more lax in enforcement. People don’t notice when we do something good.”
Patrick left, and Barb took over.
John Wilmerding reminded the public that there are vacancies for Town Meeting Representatives, and that one can be elected or appointed by caucus. He enouraged people to contact the Town Clerk for more information.
Tom Grasso rose to commend the Selectboard for their role in the skatepark, but DeGray cut him off, saying that those comments would be accepted later when the skatepark agenda item is taken up.
“Then you are doing a great job on the topic I can’t talk about,” said Grasso.
James ? said that he was saddened to hear some board members were leaving. “Thank you for your genius.”
Water & Sewer Commissioners
According to the latest monthly report from Hoyle Tanner regarding progress on the new Waste Water Treatment Plant, 99% of the construction contract value has been completed.
Work does remain, and changes to the project continue. The board approved eight changes totaling just under $21,000 Tuesday night, including a change to the Turbo Blower controls, changes to existing motion control overload blocks, dewatering building water heater relocation, boiler gas pressure controls, repairing MBBR wall crack injection, sampler control wiring, non-sparking conduit at the headworks building, and an additional gate at the plunge pool.
The work also adds two contract days to the schedule.
Public Works Director Steve Barrett said that they had just learned of an Efficiency Vermont efficiency incentive grant award to the Town for $90,000.
Barb Sondag said that they had looked at the project and done projections of energy savings, and it showed that Brattleboro would be saving $108,000 in the first year, with an estimated payback of 7.1 years and an average life of 16 years. “Our return on investment is about 12%” she said.
Sondag said that Efficiency Vermont would install meters and montior their projections, and will be working with the Town on the Police-Fire project. “It’s $90,000 of real money,” said Sondag. “Higher than we expected.”
Barrett said the savings comes from using less water, fuel, and electricity.
Rick Ethier told the board that they were finishing up work and bringing more parts of the system online. He said they were watching drainage and erosion control at the site.
The proposed changes were approved 4-0.
Bigger news, however, was that the study is complete and a gravity-based system has been deemed “feasible” for the Black Mountain pump station.
The report said that a gravity fed system is slightly more costly to construct, but significantly less costly to maintain.
Sondag said the difference in building costs was about $66,000. She thought that with the savings in electricity, payback would be quick. Total cost of the gravity fed system would be around $977,000.
The Brattleboro Selectboard voted in favor of authorizing a final design of the Black Mountain gravity sewer line.
John O’Connor reviewed the project’s financial status with the board, noting the Efficiency Vermont $90,000 grant income. He said they’d try to fund the gravity fed system with money from the Clean Water Fund.
“Will we dip into our reserve?” asked Chris Chapman.
“If we get the funding, no.” said O’Connor.
“We will have spent the contingency,” said Sondag.
The first FY14 Utility Budget worksession was scheduled for March 7th at 7:30 am.
Barb Sondag told the board that they should plan on a couple of sessions, and plan to be looking at rates and the future.
Sondag wanted this board and their familiarity with past years to take the lead. Newly elected Selectboard members and the public are also invited to attend.
The board also took up the issue of the home of an evicted Tri Park resident. A balance of $858 remained due for water and sewer bills left unpaid at 30 Brookwood.
“It was flooded, then taken over by Tri Park, then they had an eviction,” Sondag told the board.
Tri-Park made the Town an offer. If Brattleboro would forgive the amount due, the home would be removed, taking another property out of a floodway.
The Selectboard voted 4-0 to abate the balance on the condition that the mobile home be removed and no other be situated at that site.
Unfinished Business - Downtown Improvement District Boundaries
The Brattleboro Selectboard is interested, perhaps, in expanding the boundaries of the Downtown Improvement District.
At their last meeting, a proposal supported by the Planning Department to include properties near the Brattleboro Common led to discussions of expanding along Canal Street.
To focus their continuing discussion, Planning Director Rod Francis offered up some guidance in the form of state guidelines for downtown programs, and how boundaries are encouraged to be set.
Francis told the board that the downtown designation boundary is meant to be identical to the Downtown Improvement District boundary, and that they should conform with one another.
He gave the Selectboard criteria used to determine what constituted a downtown, and said that the northern part of downtown could be argued to end at the Brattleboro Common.
Dora Bouboulis said she had concerns about expanding the downtown district. She thought that the timing was bad, with BaBB reinventing itself and many struggling businesses that need BaBB’s help. The organization needs to “refocus where it needs to go,” she said, adding that tax incentives were drying up.
“Rod,” asked Ken Schneck, “..the drawbacks of doing this?”
Francis said he had no view and “no response to Dora’s points.”
“Do I think it conforms to the criteria? Yes, I do,“ he continued. He said the board could make the case to change the boundary, as it forms a clear gateway for the northern part of the downtown.
“Why do this?” asked Schneck.
Town Manager Sondag said that she had promised Representative Town Meeting members that it would be considered when renewing the district, and that it was a policy decision. She said the Common was a park “we try to get people to utilize rather than use Main Street for festivals.”
“The reapplication is a prompt,” clarified Francis. He said that it if the Town collects the same amount for the district, more members would mean lower taxes for each.
Chris Chapman was concerned that property owners be notified, so that “there would be no surprises when a tax bill shows up.” He felt they needed to do more than simply warn a meeting about this.
“I may have a conflict of interest and should abstain,” he added. “I own one of the buildings.”
“We’re just voting to move forward with the process,” said DeGray.
“Its a motion to expand the district,” reminded Bouboulis.
DeGray said there were additional steps it had to go through.
Bouboulis agreed with Chapman that there needs to be direct outreach to property owners.
DeGray said he expected them at hearings.
Bouboulis alluded to an upcoming agenda item. “This is illustrative of points about the skatepark process,” she said. “You have to get people involved. If you make it adversarial from the beginning, it’s them against us.”
“I’ll respond,” said Schneck. “When you put it out there, you need to find a balance between moving forward and getting input.” He said there has to be a balance between allowing the public to participate and moving things forward.
Bouboulis said that it was handful of property owners.
DeGray felt they would be involved and if they didn’t like the plan it wouldn’t happen.
Chapman and Schneck both asked that the motion be reworded to be clear that they were simply continuing a process, and not approving anything.
Sondag summed it up: “To proceed with the process for changing the boundaries as presented.”
3-1, with Bouboulis against.
Skatepark Design Discussion
The the principal consultant from ASD/Stantec, Mike McIntyre came before the Brattleboro Selectboard Tuesday night to review the skatepark planning and design meetings, and discuss final designs.
The final designs have been approved by the Skatepark Committee and the Recreation & Parks board.
McIntyre said the design was based on community input, and that the original layout and concept had changed.
He said that they had presented a few intial designs to gather feedback, then refined those using online questionnaires and meetings. They also looked at the park as a whole.
McIntyre said they used the arborist’s report to push the park back from trees, looked at impervious surfaces and drainage in the area, considered different skating design elements, and identified bioretention areas.
He said the highest elevation would be about 3 and a half feet. “The design was really dictated by the shapes, offsets, community input, and trees,” he said. “That’s where we are today.”
Carol Lolatte said “Mike did a great job, with the process and involvement from community.”
Barb Sondag asked if the next step was to contract to construct the park. McIntyre said yes. He estimated that 80% of the work could be done locally, and that woud keep costs down.
DeGray made a motion to accept the design.
Ken Schneck went through criteria used to award the contract. He asked about trees, cement, noise, sight lines, ongoing town costs, signage, and the location of the playground.
McIntyre said they redesigned things to save trees, making space for root zones and plans for water harvesting. He said about 10,800 square feet of cement would be used.
McIntyre said noise wouldn’t be a problem on the ultra smooth surfaces, and subterranean bowl. Plantings would aid in keeping sounds to a minimum. He offered to share sound studies from other projects that compared skateboarding to other sports like basketball.
He promised good sight lines and viewing by those driving by, and signs with suggested rules and regulations.
Carol Lolatte said annual upkeep would be less than $1,000, and those expenses woudn’t start for another 8 years or so. She said trash pickup would occur, but they currently mow areas that they would now blow. “Mowing or blowing. We already maintain that space.”
McIntyre said most repairs would be made using epoxy resin. He said their mix doesn’t flake out cold weather. He also felt therewouldn’t be many issues with graffiti with a well designed park in plain sight.
LoLatte said that she was working with Green Street School on the playground location.
Chris Chapman asked about a “smooth trowel flash finish” being proposed.
McIntyre said it was like the smooth floors at Home Depot. Less bumps, he said, meant less noise. “Whisper quiet while rolling. The joints have epoxy resin to keep it from freezing. It will seem jointless.” He said boards hitting skate elements would make noise, but that basketball was usually louder.
The meeting was then opened up to the public for comment.
James said that he thought it was a great design, but wondered if there should be a first aid station with red cross volunteers, for the safety of the children and public.
“This is a concept drawing, not to-be-built” said Bill McCarty, telling the Selectboard they couldn’t rule on the design without it going back to the Development Review Board. “It’s not like what the DRB saw and it is premature to approve a concept.” He said it had to go back to the DRB.
“It doesn’t,” countered Sondag. “It was reviewed by the zoning administrator who found that it continues to conform to the conditions of the DRB approval.”
“I beg to differ,” said McCarty. “If the DRB gives up the right to review, there will be litigation.”
Sondag repeated herself. “The DRB authorized the Town Zoning Administrator to make a decision and he says it conforms.”
“They cannot delegate that authority,” answered McCarty.
John Wilmerding said that the original DRB meeting minutes failed to reflect that the zoning administraor thought a skatepark was a minor change to an existing facility. He asked the Selectboard if this had been a fair process, and hoped for a special hearing and due process for the park.
DeGray said the Selectboard had no power over the DRB. “Take it up with them.”
A letter from Andy Davis was read, asking for them to not approve the design. He questioned how this could be the best location when no site selection process occurred. ”We’ve gone to meetings and are well informed, but our concerns go unanswered. The design doesn't not take into concerns of the walk around last fall,” he was quoted as saying, and that the Selectboard should “call for a time out and hold public hearings on the placement of this facility.”
Jeff Clark, a member of the skatepark committee said the committee was made up of wide variety of people. “An effort was made to be an open committee.” he said they met the goal of presenting the design to the Selectboard and hoped they’d approve it.
Spencer Crispe said there had been a “monumental amount of process and thinking.” He praised hard working volunteers, and the park designer. “He’s a world class designer and that’s a world class park.”
Crispe felt the park would be an asset to Brattleboro. “It’s an amazing thing for the community and I just want to skate it.”
Fric Spruyt said that those that wanted a site selction process also wanted a skatepark. he said he didn’t think this site had a fair hearing, said he held the Selectboard responsible.
Dan ? said he couldn’t speak to the process, but felt a well designed skatepark in an existing site can enhance the playground and the neighborhood. “ I support it strongly.”
William J. Bushey III said that many places had been considered in the last decade, including Living Memorial Park. “This is a great spot for it to go, and many places have been discussed. I thank Mike for the great design. There have been many ideas in the last 10 years. It’s about time we have a skatepark in town open to the public.”
Judith mentioned safety concerns of Union Hill, and kids crossing the street in that area. She said that her kids skateboarded ”and sound is different on sidewalks, but it is not silent, no matter what.”
Brant Kurowski asked about how the design conformed with the mediated settlement. “Can you show where the 1,000 sq feet have been removed?”
McIntyre got out his overlays and tuned his projector back on. He showed maps with a bigger setback from the sidewak and the length and width of the park trimmed.
“The terms also called for a planted berm and solid wood wall on the Union Hill side. Is that in the plan?,” asked Brant.
Sondag said landscaping would take care of those parts of the settlement.
Peggy A. said that she walks and drives near there and they are dangerous intersections. “I question the wisdom of adding this much activity to the area,” adding “its a horrendous mess.”
Sam Rowley, a member of the advisory board to Rec and Parks, said that he sees this design as an enhancement of our great parks in town. “I live close to Living Memorial Park and hear noises and ball games during the summer. It’s because I live near a park. It’s used for recreation. It’ll be an enhancement.”
Les Montgomery asked about the split rail fence to surround the design, and if trees would be removed.
McIntyre showed the fencing and said evergreens would be a part of the berms to block sound. He also found his slides with more maps to answer Brant’s earlier questions about reductions in size.
“The zoning administrator mentions the mediation terms, and finds that this conforms with that,” said Sondag.
Andrew Clark said that the flash finish is smooth and below grade. “You’ll be surprised at how quiet the skatepark will be.” He added that there aren’t that many injuries and he saw no need for a special first aid area.
“I was drawn in by how important it is for young kids to be outside, challenged, free, and active in a centrally located safe place,” said Adam Hubbard “We’ve lost sight of what we want to accomplish,” he said. “To give the kids a thrill.”
Steve R. said that he saw no need to resite the park, and that it would bring money to town and people buying thing. “Not much can go wrong because it is residential area.”
Wendy Creager said she appreciated the skatepark committee and looked forward to a park in town, but again asked about the site selection process. “I’m asking again that it would be wonderful if you don’t approve this and let District 3 residents discuss this project in their neighborhood.”
Dora Bouboulis said she first heard of the project when Dick DeGray and Jesse Corum decided that Crowell Park would be a good location.
“I appreciate the work done here and love the care in the design process, but the issue is the site selection,” she said. “The way this was done was really bad. It started out bad and got worse. A train wreck.
She said the question remains “where’s the best place for the skatepark?” and said she didn’t think the board was ready to be voting on a design.
Schneck said that the location had been decided before he and Chapman had been elected to the board, but that he objected to Dora’s notion that there wasn’t any public participation. “I can’t reconcile someone coming up to a mic saying there isn’t participation. That’s what these meetings are. I don’t understand it,” he said.
“I can’t speak to how we arrived at this location,” said Schneck, “but can see the list of meetings since.” He said the Selectboard “gave them criteria and they considered it. We were specific. I’m basing my vote on the criteria being met.”
DeGray said his memory was sketchy, but he ended the speculation of who handled the site selection saying that “Jesse or myself thought it did belong at the Crowell lot, and I’m proud to say that it should go there.”
He said people could disgaree, or better yet, run for school board. “This process has been arduous, but we’ve been cordial this evening. You’ve been respectful. That’s all I can ask for. We may not agree with how this comes out. Mr. McCarty brought up possible legal challenges. That is your prerogative. I know this group of people have been looking for a site, and for me or Jesse to say “this is a good place” that’s OK, it’s a park in my eyes. I’m okay if you disagree.”
“I believe this is where the skatepark should go. Don’t make it personal. I can’t do anything if you do. People don’t want to run for boards because people make it personal,” he said.
The design was approved 3-1, with Bouboulis against.
Monthly Finance Report with John O’Connor
For the period through January 31, 2013, Brattleboro finances and funds are looking good, said Finance Director John O’Connor. Everything is tracking at or below scheduled budget numbers.
Chris Chapman asked about the snow plowing budget. O’Connor said it was set at $70,000, and that they had spent $18,000.” This didn’t incude the last storm, however.
“It was huge, too,” cautioned Barb Sondag. “Snow removal is one variable in the budget that moves.”
Otherwise, loans were in generally good shape, and grants remain a “very active program.”
Elm Street Parking Ordinance - Second Reading and Public Hearing
Readers may recall the Selectboard agreeing to a trade of parking spaces between the Town and the Coop. This second reading seals the deal, and finalizes the agreement.
The Selectboard chuckled that the public hearing has no comments.
Chris Chapman had clarified that the spaces being discussed were the Elm Street lot metered spaces, and that the meters taken out would be used as replacements for others around town.
The vote was 4-0.
Town Plan Public Hearing
The Selectboard asked for and received changes to Brattleboro’s Town Plan.
Tuesday night’s Public Hearing was the final step before approving and sending the new Town Plan to the Windham Regional Commission for their approval.
With Town Planners and advocates on hand to answer remaining questions, the Selectboard had nothing but praise.
“I think it is aspirational,” said Ken Schneck. “It is inspiring and provides a real direction the town.” He looked forward to implementing it.
Dora Bouboulis said she thought it had been a collaborative process. She said she felt good about it.
Dick DeGray thanked them for four years of work, including outreach. “Close to four years of work, and we decimate it, but that’s the process. I appreciate your effort.” He thanked staff and members of the Planning Commission.
Brattleboro’s new Town Plan was approved and sent along to Windham Regional Commission by a vote of 4-0.
Dissolving the Transportation Committee
The Selectboard voted 4-0 to dissolve the Transportation Committee. It had originally been set up to examine the need and oversee the development of the parking garage.
The Traffic Safety Committee will handle transportation issues. Bouboulis hoped that more citizens would find ways to participate on the committee.
Lease Agreement - Dottie’s Food
Dottie’s Discount Store leases space from the Town of Brattleboro in the parking garage lower level. That lease recently expired and is currently on a month to month basis.
The Selectboard voted 4-0 to authorize the Town Manager to create a new 10 year lease that will extend the the agreement with Dotties/The Coop beyond the final payments of the bond to construct the garage.
Local-Option Sales or Per-Gallon Tax on Gasoline
At their last regular meeting, the Selectboard voted on whether to discuss taxing gasoline. They voted in favor of the discussion, and at Tuesday evening’s meeting they began that discussion.
It had been a request by Chris Chapman, so he led the discussion.
Chapman said that there were expectations that highway and transportation funds could become limited in coming years, and that could lead to us not having enough money to “do what we want to do.”
He urged future Selectboards to meet regularly with state legislatures to work together to solve problems.
He reiterated his view that local property tax payers were “subsidizing” those who visit or work here.
“We need to come up with new ideas for revenue,” he said. “How are we gong to fund the things that need to be done?”
He mentioned that kings would always put in roads to bring goods in and out. ”That hasn’t changed. Society is complex, and this is so basic.”
Chapman said that attempting a local option tax is difficult, and may not be practical at this time. But, he said, “the Selectboard cannot be reactive. We have to solve the problem of uncompensated use of our municipal services. If not, we’ll face larger fires down the road.”
He said the Town needs to think “way outside the box of the four corners of our town” and “be really cosmopolitan” by reaching out to cooperate and work with legislators.
Ken Schneck said they could continue to push forward on Chapman’s ideas. “We need more sources of revenue. There is more advocating we can do.”
“I’m not a fan of taxes on sales,” said Dora Bouboulis. “They are regressive.” She suggested any plans for new taxes incorporate some math about shopping. “Do we gain anything?” she asked.
She continued. “I think we lose as much as we gain with sales taxes. People go across the border.” Bouboulis suggested dialogue before acting, and said that the state wasn’t going to cosider gas taxes this year.