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Further delays in skate park plan, new location considered

The path to a skate park hit a sketchy patch at Tuesday’s September meeting of the Pagosa Springs Town Council as the previously proposed location — the northeast corner of Town Park — was replaced by a recommendation of a location on town property directly behind the post office, on the edge of Reservoir Hill, a recommendation that prompted some vehement opposition and contentious discussion.

About 25 skateboarders and supporters of the skate park attended the meeting, with many expressing frustration at the town’s seeming reversal of its previous recommendation of a town park location.

Speaking to the council, town Parks and Recreation Director Tom Carosello said, “I’m going to have to change my recommendation,” referring to agenda documentation presented that recommended Town Park. Carosello, advocating the post office location, added, “The site we evaluated this morning is a viable site.”

Bowing to pressure from residents opposed to the Town Park location, Mayor Ross Aragon and the several members of the council directed staff to identify a workable alternate site. “We’ve been inundated with phone calls against that location,” Aragon said. “I’ve heard more people against it than for it.”

In fact, Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary Jo Coulehan said, “The chamber has been inundated by calls and e-mails from businesses in the community ... all 18 businesses wanted a skate park, with four businesses in favor of the Town Park location, 13 against it, and one undecided.”

Coulehan added that the comments she’d heard indicated, “They want to keep the green space green, keep a space for events.”

Unconvinced by opposition to the Town Park location, Skaters Coalition for Concrete (SCC) representative Jon King said, “I’m a little disappointed,” referring to town staff’s new recommendation, “The fact that it’s a drug free zone (the Town Park location would place the project well within 1,000 feet of Pagosa Springs Junior High) would have made it (Town Park) easier to enforce, it’s just one-tenth of the actual field space. I feel Town Park is a space we all can use.”

However, Carosello differed with the one-tenth estimate, saying, “Once you mark it out, it’s more like 20 to 25-percent of the park.”

Opponents of the Town Park location have expressed concern that a skate park would narrow available space for various events and festivals held in the park. Council member Jerry Jackson made that point when he said, “Events set up and go. Junior high football practices and leaves. With a skate park, that part of the park is still going to be there. You just can’t pick it up and take it home.”

Although Aragon attempted to cut the discussion short, he relented after local skateboarder Chris Rapp said, “I don’t think this meeting should be closed to public comment; this is a public meeting.”

Aragon reopened the discussion, though limiting comments to two minutes.

Several more skate park supporters took advantage, with local businessman Bruce Hoch using the opportunity to slam developer Dave Brown (whose letter opposing the Town Park location was printed in last week’s SUN), saying, “His kids have a great skate park in their back yard — in another state.”

Nonetheless, not all skate park supporters were in favor of the Town Park location. Local developer Bob Hart, who has offered an in-kind donation of dirt work for the project, said, “If we put a permanent structure there, it will interfere with the use of the park.”

Hart is also chairman of the Town Tourism Committee.

With public comment finally closed, Aragon asked for input from the council. Council member Don Volger asked for a show of hands of audience members either in support or opposed to the Town Park location. With over two dozen hands in support and just four hands opposing, it was clear that supporters of the Town Park location had packed the audience. In fact, a point raised by several supporters was that, if a majority opposed the Town Park location, they hadn’t bothered to attend the meeting to voice that opposition.

“Just because the people who oppose aren’t here doesn’t make their position any less viable,” said council member Darrel Cotton.

Council member Mark Weiler expressed doubts regarding the validity of opposition to the skate park, pointing out that Town Park already has amenities to support the Town Park location (e.g. restrooms and parking), facilities that would need to be added for a post office site. “I don’t understand the opposition,” he said, adding, “Personally, I have not received one call. I need help understanding the opposition.”

Although council member Stan Holt said that issues of “safety and noise” had been raised by one of his constituents, Hoch pointed out that the numerous semi-trucks speeding through town on U.S. 160 made that argument ridiculous.

While supporters of the Town Park location have remained resolute in their determination, the town has not been so unfaltering in determining a location for the project

Yet, a location for the skate park has not been without controversy during the last month. Previously, a request for further funding for the skate park at the Aug. 20 mid-month council meeting, turned into a lively — and often heated — discussion regarding the project’s proposed Town Park location.

Nonetheless, at that meeting the town appeared to take an entirely different view of the location, with the mayor and several council members expressing views that seemed to contradict the views they held at the Sept. 1 meeting.

Only Jackson remained consistent throughout both meetings, saying on Aug. 20, “Surprisingly enough, I’ve received as many calls on this as any issue that has come up. The constituents I did receive calls from opposed the location in Town Park but did not oppose a skate park.”

Holt, not reporting any opposition from constituents on the location at that time, took a different view, saying, “That seems to me to be a very good location,” adding, “I’m having a hard time getting in my mind why people are in opposition.”

Aragon agreed, saying, “I would be in favor of the location if we can maximize the usage of this park.”

Like the Sept. 1 meeting, the vast majority of residents attending spoke in support of the Town Park location, with only a few people opposing the site. Pagosa Springs Junior High Principal Chris Hinger, referring to the use of the park by intermediate and junior high students, said, “I would implore the council to look at an alternate location.”

However, Joanne Irons, director of the Pagosa Springs Youth Center, said, “I’m excited that the Pagosa Springs Youth Center can be a part of this, I would love to have the skate park right next to the youth center. There’s got to be some synergy; we do nothing for the 13 to 18 year-olds after they finish with parks and rec. We cannot lose these kids. Give them a place.”

Although, at the mid-month meeting, Holt made a motion to dedicate the northeast section of Town Park for the skate park, with a second by Volger, council was unable to vote on the motion due to the fact that the agenda item was for a request for additional funds for the project and not for land dedication.

Frustration surrounding the construction of the skate park runs deep, with several instances of the town apparently dropping the ball on the project, pushing construction out more than a year. Despite having funds in place to qualify for a March Greater Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant, Carosello passed up the grant filing deadline, citing the need for “contingency funds” (about $35,000) to eliminate the town’s commitment to potential cost overruns on the estimated $350,000 project (a recent preliminary bid for the project put estimated costs at about $280,000). Furthermore, the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) had not deeded land to the town, land that had been scoped for the initial location of the skate park, deeding and the subsequent dedication of the land also necessary for the application.

On July 7, the PSSGID board decided not to pursue the construction of a new town wastewater treatment plant, eliminating the possibility of placing the skate park on the proposed site. Deciding to retrofit the existing wastewater facility rather than constructing a new facility made the proposed skate park location untenable.

However, it was not until July 30 that anyone at Town Hall appeared to have realized that the proposed skate park location needed to be changed. Scrambling to find a new location for the project, the idea of a Town Park location was not floated until the Aug. 4 council meeting. That new location proposal, met with almost unanimous approval by council, required new site engineering and studies.

It wasn’t until the Aug. 20 mid-month meeting that a funding request was put before council to pay for the necessary engineering for the project. With that studies and engineering taking several weeks to complete, it was evident that the town would not be able to meet the Aug. 26 deadline for the next GOCO grant cycle.

Had town staff realized on July 7 that the skate park location was no longer viable (or, at least, in jeopardy), the process of finding a new location could have been initiated the next day. Although it was uncertain in early July how the town would reconfigure its existing wastewater treatment plant, staff was aware the site was no longer viable by mid-July, as confirmed by Carosello and PSSGID Supervisor Phil Starks.

Had the town investigated an alternate location at that point and pressed the additional engineering by the July 23 mid-month meeting, requirements for the Aug. 26 GOCO deadline might have been met.

The frustration of skate park supporters at Tuesday’s meeting, palpable and vitriolic at times, was no less evident in Aragon’s chastisement of skate park supporters at the end of the discussion. “This has taken a lot of time and it has been a lot of stress,” he said, adding, “Your adversarial tone at the beginning is not something I want to deal with. Your approach is totally wrong and I resent your approach.”

Still, both sides of the issue appear entrenched and the frustration felt on both sides will no doubt reemerge when council addresses the issue of a skate park location at its next meeting, on Thursday, Sept. 17, at Town Hall.