Saturday, July 12, 2008

Survey: We Want To Walk

Written By Michelle Monroe

Town rec’ paths, sidewalks high on list

ST. ALBANS TOWN — Tuesday night the St. Albans Town Planning Commission discussed the results of a survey conducted during the period surrounding a May 20 revote on the town’s municipal budget.

The survey queried voters on what recreational facilities they use, what kinds of facilities they would like to see, and asked their views on proposed changes to existing facilities.

The overwhelming favorite on the list of desired facilities were biking and pedestrian paths, with 51 percent of the 421 voters who completed the survey stating that they would be willing to pay for new recreational trails with tax dollars.

Forty-four percent supported new walking and hiking trails.

An indoor ice arena was third with 29 percent saying they would be willing to support such a project.

“If we get anything out of this, it’s that people want places to walk,” commissioner Cheryl Teague said.

The results provoked a discussion of the lack of sidewalks in the town. Paul Larner, vice chairman of the Development Review Board, pointed out that new developments are often required to put in sidewalks that then don’t connect to anything because the town selectboard has not supported sidewalks.

“We had the money for a sidewalk from Main Street to Collins Perley (Sports & Fitness Center) and the selectboard said (to) give it back,” said Teague.

Commissioner Steve Wechsler asked why the money was returned and Teague replied that the town did not want to plow it.

The facilities town residents reported using most frequently were: Collins Perley, Hard’ack Recreation Area, and Bay Park, in that order, with 62 percent of respondents saying they use Collins Perley more than twice a year. This was a marked increase from 1998 when a similar survey was conducted.

Use of the Bay Park had declined slightly from 53 percent of respondents to 45 percent of respondents using the facility two or more times per year.

Other than the Bay Park, use of all recreation facilities in the St. Albans area had increased.

The planning commission is examining recreation use as part of its responsibility for the town’s capital program. The commission drafts the plan, which is then sent to the selectboard for adoption.

In addition, the town has been reviewing its impact fee program, which is based upon the capital program.

Currently included in the capital program is $500,000 to repair the seawall at the Bay Park, something parks director Glen Pion said he believes will be paid out of the operating budget. The town is currently investigating repair options.

The capital program also allocates $190,000 for improvements to Cohen Park, including a breakwater, ball field, picnic pavilion and new playground equipment.

However, 32 percent of survey respondents said they believed Cohen Park, located on the Maquam Shore, should remain as it is and another 26 percent don’t know where the park is.

Less than a fourth supported adding a picnic shelter; 15 percent supported new playground equipment, 12 percent a breakwater and kayak launch, and only nine percent were in favor of a ballpark.

The existing playground equipment at Cohen Park will be removed this year, according to Pion. The town’s insurance company has recommended its removal because of its poor condition.

Also in the capital program is $137,000 for renovations to the Bay Park bathhouse. The renovations are currently scheduled for 2010, pending voter approval. However, only 11 percent of respondents supported winterizing the bathhouse, and 46 percent felt Bay Park should be left as it is.

The capital program includes a provision for a $1,000,000 20-year bond to elevate the dock. Twenty-one percent of respondents said elevating the dock is a project they would be willing to spend tax monies on.

One-third of respondents would like to see cross-country and walking trails in the town forest, but another 40 percent don’t know where the forest is.

Discussion of the forest, located on French Hill, provoked an exchange between Teague and Pion in which Teague sought to determine if there was a written forest management plan for the forest.

Pion said that the town consults with forester Sam Hudson, who Pion acknowledged is not under contract. “I call him when I need him and he charges me,” Pion said.

“The bottom line is we don’t have a written forest management plan,” Teague said.

Planning commission chair David Schofield pointed out that normally another organization, such as the parks and recreation committee, would bring a plan to the planning commission, which would then review it. The only member of the town recreation committee recently resigned, however. “At this point we don’t have any organization working on recreation,” Schofield said.

The commission agreed to schedule time at a future meeting to discuss the capital program for recreation in light of the survey results.

“You’ve got a mandate to provide more walking trails,” Larner said.

Currently, the capital program does not contain any provisions for walking, hiking or biking paths.

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