Our opinion: Just not fair


You have two groups fighting over the same issue.

On the one side, a group which has (for all intents and purposes) followed the law as it was laid out. While the road to where we're at was bumpy, efforts were made to meet opposition along the way (to varying degrees of success).

On the other side, it would seem a fairly vocal minority, having been thwarted at every bump along the way, has finally gotten a few, governmentally important ears to listen, and suddenly (and unfairly) all process has ceased.

Sounds an awful lot like the scenario playing out in Washington, D.C., at the moment -- with the fight over "Obamacare" leading to a government shutdown -- doesn't it? But we're actually referring to the ongoing fight over a proposed skatepark in Brattleboro.

When Brattleboro Area Skatepark is Coming -- aka BASIC -- a town committee operating under the Recreation and Parks Department, appeared during Tuesday night's Selectboard meeting, it had the potential to be nothing more than a mundane appearance. The group last month had voted to reduce the size of the proposed skatepark, largely because the group has not been able to raise enough money for the original plan, and was asking the Selectboard to support the change.

Instead, following more than an hour of debate, the Selectboard voted 3-2 to table any further discussion until its Nov. 5 meeting. But not before Chairman David Gartenstein alluded to many alternatives being open on how the board, BASIC and the community could proceed.

"This is a different board than the one that made the decision in the past," Gartenstein said. "This is a different board than who voted over the course of the last two years. ... I continue to believe that having such a divisive atmosphere relating to this park is not a healthy way to go forward with this project. There may be merit to broadening out the decision about whether there's going to be a park and if so, where?"

Well, that's all well and good, but we don't see how the board allowed the discussion to reach that point.

Instead, we concur with Skatepark committee member Spencer Crispe, who appeared before the Selectboard: "We're not here to decide whether there'll be a skatepark here or not. That's already been decided. We are only here to ask permission to make it smaller."

Let's take a moment to reflect on how we got here ....

As the skatepark project moved along over the past four years, those in support of the project have done everything asked of them. Every time the matter was discussed at a Selectboard meeting (as far back as 2010), that's considered a public hearing. Where were the voices of dissent, then?

Once the School Board got involved with providing the land, at least three public meetings were held.

While we will admit that the actual site selection process was not managed via a committee, once the Crowell Lot was chosen, BASIC on more than one occasion attempted to address various concerns, including altering plans in order to save "historic" trees, to shifting the actual location further back, to even this recent re-design which would have prevented playgroup structures from having to be moved.

And let's not forget, various other sites were considered and vetoed -- the West River Park (storm run-off would prohibit construction); a parking lot at the junction of Elm and Flat streets (the town didn't want to lose parking spaces); Living Memorial Park (too far away from downtown); even the vacant Home Depot building on Putney Road (again, too far from downtown, not to mention the cost to rent or purchase the location).

And the opposition has a done a fair job expressing concern through letters to the editor, guest opinion pieces and public signage. Still, we are vexed by some of the attitudes displayed in those letters, including blaming the theft of signs on park proponents earlier this year. Or, consider this quote from an October 2012 letter: "When this site was chosen in 2010 ... I did not speak up at the time because I thought the project would not fly for lack of funds."

Perhaps it would have been better to get together enough people to put a petition together?

Instead, for the last three-plus years, we've had exactly what you saw on Tuesday night: Opponents said there have not been enough public meetings on the Crowell Lot site; Supporters said there have been countless public meetings over the past three years; they said, they said ... and on and on ... with no middle ground in site.

Add our voice to that of Selectboard member John Allen, who on Tuesday asked: "What do we do, make them start all over again? I don't think that's fair. If we do we're gong to run into the same problems and the same situations as we did at Memorial Park, as we did at West River Park, and all this committee wants to do is get a skateboard park built for the kids."

He's right.

While Andy Davis, who spoke on behalf of a group opposed to the skatepark, painted Tuesday night's proceedings in a positive light ("... a closer look reveals more opportunities for creativity, and even for success of this project."), we don't see it quite the same.

There's only so long people are willing to push forward, especially when they're doing everything instructed of them. Just like a prospective business owner, tired of meeting an ongoing list of variances and regulations, the youth in the community will at some point throw in the towel, rightly convinced that a skatepark is not anything the citizens and officials of Brattleboro are interested in entertaining.

This isn't just a lesson on skateparks. The same will be true for business (big-box or other); cell towers (Can you hear us, now?); windmills and solar arrays (an energy efficient future for others, but not us); and on and on.

So we end with a comment from Facebook, posted as a comment to our item about Tuesday's skatepark discussion: "I haven't lived in Brattleboro for over six years; this is still being discussed?"

Unfortunately, it would seem so.


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