Town Councilor Steve Morelli called the plan to develop a skate board park at Veterans Memorial Park “a lightning rod” and suggested that the skate park would “forever continue to be a lightning rod” if town officials decide to develop it at that location.
The proposal by the Parks & Recreation Commission to build a skate park in the Phase II section of Veterans Memorial Park has met with strong resistance from veterans groups and from members of the Economic Development Commission who favor an alternative plan for a passive town green on the site.
The Town Council has not decided upon either plan at this time, however, since the town has already received the $500,000 STEAP grant to develop the site on Massirio Drive, the fate of the park will likely be determined soon.
During a recent televised broadcast of the town council meeting, Brad Parsons, Commander of the Berlin VFW, said that many veterans consider Veterans Memorial Park to be a special place for reverence and reflection.
“It speaks to the amount of sacrifice made by previous generations,” he said. “We want to honor that properly, and I don’t think placing a skate park in Veterans Memorial Park is the highest and best use of that land.”
Vin Trigila, Post Commander of the American Legion, and Peter Galgano of the Veterans Commission, also voiced their opposition to the location of the skate park. Galgano, a Vietnam veteran, said he often goes to Veterans Park to reflect and remember those who sacrificed for their country.
“I personally take it as an insult to put a skate park in an area for reflection,” he said. “My own grandkids love skateboards, and I would love to see them have a place in town where they can enjoy themselves, but Veterans Memorial Park is not the place for this.“
Dave Cyr, Chairman of the Economic Development Commission, also said Veterans Park is an inappropriate location for a skate park but for different reasons.
“There is not one member of the Economic Development Commission who is opposed to a skate board park,” Cyr said. “We are just opposed to the location that has been proposed at Veterans Park.”
Cyr explained that a skate park does not fit with the town’s plan to create a ‘vibrant downtown’ as laid out in the Plan of Conservation and Development.
“A completed town green has the potential to help us revitalize our downtown and bring a sense of community and attract businesses and attract jobs. We’ve already seen this happen with Phase I. Employers and employees that surround Phase I are going there for lunch and for walks. It’s getting use, and it’s successful. We’re one step away from completing the town green as stated in the POCD. Scuttling it now would be a mistake.”
Len Zielinski, Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission, in favor of the skate park and in opposition to “spending half a million dollars of state money to develop another passive underused park.”
Zielinski, who is a veteran, said there is no disrespect intended toward veterans. He noted that there is a “large degree of separation” between the location of the memorials and the proposed skate park so quiet reflection near the monuments would still be possible.
Zielinski added that over the years, the parks commission considered “virtually every space in town” for a skate park, and all of the proposals were shot down for one reason or another.
While some members of the council were noncommittal during a lengthy discussion on the issue, Councilor Rachel Rochette seemed poised to vote in favor of the plan.
“I find it a little disconcerting that in this town if someone comes out and says they want a baseball field or soccer field or lacrosse field, everybody is in favor of it. But when it comes to a sport that is not organized and maybe attracts kids who aren’t at the top of their class or who aren’t involved in the popular type of things, everybody comes out and is opposed to it and talks about things like graffiti and eyesores,” she said.
“The list of where we tried to put this (skate park) is pretty long, and it’s always been ‘not in my backyard.’ At some point, as a representative of this community, I have to represent everyone. I don’t mean any disrespect to those who have served our country, but I have to look out for the needs of those who aren’t always looked out for.”
This statement drew applause from a few young skaters who attended the council meeting. None of the skaters spoke during the Audience of Citizens portion of the meeting.
Mayor Adam Salina also said that he supports the plan. He noted that the Veterans Park location meets most, if not all, of the skate park criteria for accessibility, safety, visibility, and distance from homes and densely populated areas.
“I’m not saying this is definite, but given the circumstances and what we’ve looked at in the past, it seems like a viable option,” he said. Salina added that the ability for residents to sit and reflect near the monuments is already compromised due to the proximity of a busy gas station, a machine shop and traffic on Massirio Drive.
Councilor Morelli noted that unless there can be some sort of reconciliation between the opposing parties, someone is going to be unhappy with the council’s forthcoming decision. He encouraged further dialogue between parks and economic development commissions, skaters and veterans.