What’s one more month when we’ve been deliberating for two years? That’s the response Portland city councilors gave the city’s skateboarders and BMXers, who will have to wait until at least mid-July for the council to decide on the location of a new skate park — which city officials have been mulling since 2005.
On Monday night, councilors Dave Marshall and Kevin Donoghue, along with Mayor Nicholas Mavodones, forced the issue onto the council’s agenda, saying it has been too long already, and asking councilors to decide without delay. But some other councilors’ feathers were ruffled, because they say the council’s Health and Recreation Committee needs still more time to decide.
It’s down to two choices: one at Dougherty Field, between St. James and Douglass streets in the Libbytown area of the city; and off Preble Street Extension near Back Cove. Last year, a group of students, skateboarders, and recreation officials narrowed down Dougherty Field as the best spot, but neighbors worried about noise and traffic objected, and told the council that Monday night.
“The council is being asked to ignore — to trample on — the work of the neighborhood,” said at-large councilor and Libbytown resident Ed Suslovic, who said that while he supports the concept of a skate park generally, he thinks the city would be “rash and premature” to choose the Dougherty Field site for various reasons, including the fact that it’s also being considered as a possible location for a new elementary school.
Suslovic joined councilors Donna Carr (who lives in and represents Libbytown) and North Deering’s James Cohen in calling for the matter to be returned to the Health and Recreation Committee, which meets this Thursday evening. At the end of May, that committee received a study by the Portland-based firm Woodard and Curran evaluating the Preble Street location, saying it has both advantages (such as being in a less residential area) and drawbacks (it’s less accessible by public transport, and the wet ground there is less suitable for digging a park). “The committee felt that before rejecting a site that would be centrally located, highly visible, safe, and without risk of neighborhood interference, we should make sure that some of the assumptions about [the Preble Street] site conditions were valid,” said District 5 councilor Cohen in a post-meeting interview. The results of that study will be discussed at Thursday’s meeting.
But rather than watch the issue continue to languish indefinitely, District 4 councilor Cheryl Leeman insisted the council agree to a specific date to revisit the question, though there’s no guarantee they’ll take a final vote then, either. With all these delays, Leeman said, “I feel like we’re starting the debate all over again.”
The council voted unanimously to revisit the skate park question at its July meeting. Before then, the Health and Rec Committee is expected to convene a meeting between skaters and neighborhood residents.
Not everyone was pleased with the compromise. “We’re not going anywhere, we’re not doing anything,” said a frustrated Eli Cayer, founder and director of the community group MENSK, which supports the Dougherty Field location and tried to drum up skater attendance at Monday night’s meeting (with moderate success).