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Lincoln residents excited about riverfront park

May 16, 2017
LINCOLN—A full crowd gathered last week to hear the first conceptual vision for the town's long-planned and highly-anticipated riverfront park.

The conceptual design, on display at town hall, was created by planning and design firm SE Group of Burlington, Vt. It grew out of collaboration between Kevin Bell and his skateboard park committee, Selectman Tamra Ham, Town Manager Butch Burbank, engineer Ray Korber, and numerous instances of citizen input.

SE Group Associate Tom Hand explained "Our charge was to take the vision, and the ideas that came out of the riverfront park committee, and drive it to the next level of design."

The park will occupy a town-owned parcel along the West bank of the East Branch Pemigewasset River, just off Main Street and beside Jean's Playhouse. A right-of-way through the Playhouse parking lot will provide both vehicle and pedestrian access.

Horizons Engineering has completed a field survey of the site, and identified boundaries, relevant easements, topography, and existing features.

The parcel poses several planning challenges, Hand said. There are sections of wetland to protect, as well as a significant area of contamination, which he described as a discharge site for a whitewater facility which formerly stood where the Playhouse does now.

Hand also described the opportunities the parcel provides, including easy access from town, views of the river and mountains, and thick woods which will disguise the backsides of neighboring commercial buildings.

SE Group then combined the site map with a detailed list of park priorities to produce a prospective plan, which Hand described as "conceptual." He described the overarching purpose as "Expanding recreational opportunities for residents and visitors."

High priority items identified by the park committee include a skate park, an open 'green space' with walkways, additional parking, a picnic pavilion, restrooms, and wooded trails. Other roles for the park include increasing river access for swimming, boating, and fishing.

In the plan presented, described as "conceptual," a parking lot serves as the entrance, with boat-storage facilities alongside the street side. From there, a large green space opens into the main park area, with a large central path leading towards the river. The riverfront itself is shielded by a swatch of woods, which are in turn cross-crossed with light walking trails. Scattered through the design and partially cloaked by woods are a dog park, restroom building, and skate park.

The skate park has long been the heart of the project, and is being energetically pursued by Kevin Bell. Planned to occupy some 5,000 square feet, the skate park has served to galvanize action by providing a concrete goal to work towards. On Monday night, Bell encouraged the selectmen to accept the design, so that construction of the skate park can go forward.

The plan includes a 50-foot vegetation buffer on the border with the solid waste facility, and a large earthen mound above an area of contamination (believed to be a former burn site). Hand described the mound as an opportunity for "views in the summer, and sledding in the winter."

A top priority for the park has been the concept of "multi-use." Hand summed up the goal when he said, "Some of these elements, it doesn't matter if you're an adult or a kid, you can all use them together."

Other such "multi-use" elements include the pavilion, equally useful for concerts or weddings, and the central path, which can be used for biking, walking, or river access.

This was the first glimpse of a concrete plan for almost all present, including the Lincoln Select Board.

"I love the design, I absolutely love the design. Do you have a cost estimate?" asked Selectman Tamra Ham.

The estimate: from $1.2 million to $3 million. SE Group has also planned for at least two distinct stages of development. Phase one would implement most major elements, including the skate park, and comprise some 60 percent of costs. Phase 2 would complete the remaining, secondary elements, and produce what Mr. Hand called a "turn-key park." Of the total cost estimate, some 25 percent would be related to design, engineering, permitting, and any additional testing.

Selectman Jayne Ludwig expressed her concern that the park would produce significant noise pollution, which might disturb the town of Lincoln. She was especially concerned about the inclusion of an amphitheater, and pointed out that Lincoln sits in a natural bowl, and that sounds tends to echo and carry.

While she said, "I love the design" and praised the level of energy put into it, she also cautioned against noise pollution, saying, "It does depreciate the value of a home if you can't sleep at night."

Hand admitted that SE Group had not done a sound assessment, and suggested it should form a part of the next stage of design.

Lincoln resident Brian Angelone argued that far from threatening home values, a community venue like the park would enhance them. He argued that, especially for families with small children, the park will be an attractive selling point.

He also hoes that the park will bring the community together, saying, "If we had something going on there, I like to think that sixty or seventy percent of the town would be there."

Citizen Paul Beaudin asked about how the park would be funded.

"We're hoping there's grants available," said Selectman Tamra Ham, adding "We haven't discussed it. That's the next step."

To date, the town has spent about $32,000 on site assessment and design.

Chairman O. J. Robinson was in favor of approving the plan as presented, with the understanding that changes could be made. He called it, "A guide to go forward, but not unchangeable," and thanked the committee and SE Group for their hard work.

Burbank reminded the board that they are under agreement with the Skateboard Park Committee, which expects to have funding ready by 2018. He also praised the design, saying it would be, "A jewel and attraction for the community."

While he cautioned that proper implimentation was key, he called the park "the best use you will ever get out of that piece of property."

Citizens broke into applause.

Robinson reminded the town that, "You have three more opportunities to have people come out and express opinions on design, location, elements, and funding mechanisms." Those opportunities will be next year's budget discussion, budget hearings, and town meeting.

In the end, the board moved to accept the conceptual master plan as presented, to further enthusiastic applause.

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