Parks board kills skate park plan

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 19:00
Neighbors object, concept dies
Skater Andrew Jensen, 17, rides his longboard in downtown Eagle River on Jan. 10. Jensen said recent warm weather has made many streets in the area skateable. On Jan. 14, the Eagle River Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors removed a proposed skate park from conceptual plans for improvements to municipal land alongside Fire House Lane.

No skateboarding.

At least not on a parcel of land bordering Fire House Lane between Eagle River Road and Seabolt Street, after the Eagle River Parks and Recreation Board voted Monday, Jan. 14 to eliminate a skate park from conceptual plans being drawn up for the area.

“I’m very happy,” said neighborhood resident Yvette Wilkins, who strongly opposed the planned development.

Wilkins and a determined band of her neighbors managed to get the skate park element of the project cut from the concepttual design despite the issue not being on the night’s agenda. Wilkins instead was scheduled to speak for five minutes in front of the board as a concerned citizen.

But her comments sparked a free-for-all debate, with the dozen members of the crowd loudly and often spontaneously voicing their objections to the bewildered board. At one point, chair Brian Fay tried to restore order amidst a series of unsolicited comments from the crowd.

“Excuse me, you’re going to need to wait,” he told a woman during one testy exchange.

Led by Wilkins, residents said they are opposed to a skate park in the area for numerous reasons. Speakers said a skate park would bring vandalism, underage alcohol use, drugs and other crimes to the area. They also pointed out the location is adjacent to Eagle River Elementary School, and said a skateboard park would endanger the young students there.

“We don’t need any more problems in Eagle River,” Wilkins said.

The parcel of land in question is underused and neglected, said Parks Director John Rodda. He noted the area’s tennis courts are hidden from the public and rarely used.

The municipality recently took title to the land from the Anchorage School District, with the intention of cleaning it up and making it more attractive for recreational opportunities, Rodda said. The concept also includes increased handicap access to the area and additional parking.

Rodda said the need for a skate park has been an ongoing issue in Eagle River. A temporary park is located on valuable commercial proerty owned by Hickel Investments and is not a permanent fix, Rodda said.

In hearings held three years ago, crowds of young people got involved in the public process by turning up in front of the board to voice their desire for a permanent skate park. Rodda said he’s still committed to that goal — just not on Fire House Lane.

“We’ll just re-scope,” Rodda said.

During the meeting, Rodda laid out for the public the kind of facility that was being planned. The park would include a poured concrete bowl and fixed structures, which he said are much more resistant to vandalism. And because the municipality owns the nearby old Station 11 firehouse, a system of security cameras could be installed to watch the park. By removing some trees from the dark, wooded lot, he said the park would be open and visible to the public.

But the crowd wasn’t buying it.

“I think it needs to be in a better location,” said Joyce Guest, whose home is across the Seabolt from the tennis courts.

Despite testimony from Wilkins that the area currently sees more than its share of illegal activity — she said people often find condoms, dirty needles and broken liquor bottles in the lot — residents said they would prefer the municipality leave their woods alone or make small modifications such as improving the trails or clearing brush.

“Do something that’s compatible with the neighborhood,” suggested Helen Sharratt.

Residents also complained that the elementary school wasn’t consulted on the plan, and that children often use the woods for science walks and other activities.

Rodda responded that the land transfer was approved by the district’s administration and the Anchorage School Board, which didn’t object to Parks’ plans to clean up the lot.

In the end, board member Amy Demboski made a motion to remove the skate park element from the concept altogether, a motion that passed 3-2. Demboski was joined by Lexi Hill and Michael Miller in voting to kill the skate park concept. Randy McCain and Fay voted to keep the park element in the plan as a way to facilitate discussion.

McCain said he wasn’t necessarily in favor of putting a skate park at the Firehouse Lane location, but felt more of the public should have a chance to comment. No skateboarders testified at the meeting.

“I thought the community at large should have had an opportunity to weigh in on it,” he said.

Hill said she’s not against skate parks. But after listening to nearly two hours of emotional testimony, she was convinced the neighborhood would never embrace a skate park.

“It wasn’t gonna happen there,” she said.

Concerned residents who testified Monday said that despite their belief that skate parks are hotbeds of illegal activity, they’re not necessarily against them. They’d just rather keep such parks out of their neck of the woods.

“We’d like to keep it a safe neighborhood,” Wilkins said.

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