Town Councilors approved plans to upgrade the park behind the new Watertown Police Station Tuesday night even as a group of neighbors pleaded to take out the hard court area included in the project.
Discussions about the 552 Main Street Park, which used to be known as the Browne School Playground, started in October 2010, and plans have changed since then, said Recreation Director Peter Centola.
Some features disappeared, such as a street hockey rink, while others were added, including the water spray area. The hard court area, which can be used for basketball and a number of other things, was added to the plan and made it to the final plan.
Other additions include a gazebo, a picnic area, new landscaping and replacement of the fence on Acton Street, Centola said.
Some neighbors complained that the hard court area breaks up the green space in the park, and the eight-foot chain link fence ruins a good sledding hill.
The council received a letter from 28 neighbors asking them not to pass a proposal with the hard court, including Virginia Rice.
“We are not opposed to developing the park. We want it to be redeveloped,” Rice said. “The big stumbling block is the hard court surface. It breaks up a nice sledding hill and changes the whole nature of the park.”
A smaller sledding area may be preserved, Centola said. Also, the area near the hard court will have to be graded to make it level, Centola said, which could be used as a sledding space.
Centola said at a previous meeting that the plan was to replace items lost from the park when the police station was built, including a basketball court and a children’s play structure.
Neighbor Candy Aulenbach said that the basketball court was never part of the grassy area that now makes up the park.
“Basketball was part of the school section (of the property). It was never (in the park) in the first place,” Aulenbach said. “You all took it and put a police station on it. That’s why (the hard court area) looks so big there.”
Town Council President Mark Sideris wanted to know what happens to the water in the spray park. He suggested finding a system to reuse it.
“We (the town) don’t charge ourselves for water, but residents will have to pay for it,” Sideris said. “If we spend money to build it we need to considers the cost on the other side (after it is built).”
Centola said the options are letting the water go into the storm drain, putting it down the sewer and recycling it. The first option would likely violate storm water runoff bylaws and the second would cost the town in sewer fees. He said he is looking for a system that reuses the water.
Weighing the Decision
District D Councilor Ken Woodland, whose district includes the park, said he heard from both the neighbors who showed up to oppose the plan along with others who welcome the new additions. In the end he supported the plan proposed by the Recreation Department.
“I do believe it is more aesthetically pleasing without the hard court, but for me the bottom line is how many people use it,” Woodland said. “My feeling is more people would use it with the multi-use hard court surface.”
The council voted 9-0 to approve the plan, which will cost an estimated $454,500.