The selectboard last month tabled a request for $300,000 to further design plans for the Bayside/Hazelett property, citing fears over another failure at the polls.
“We don’t want a repeat of the sewer line,” said board member Tom Mulcahy at the June 25 meeting, where town staff had hoped to secure the additional funding with a goal of providing voters a better visual of their plan for the property.
But with $90,000 already funneled into the design phase, the board seemed weary of committing more money and energy to a project that has no guarantee; funding for the multi-million-dollar project would ultimately come from grants and the Local Option Tax (LOT) fund, meaning it can’t move forward without voter approval.
“At some point, we’re going to have to dive off and see what people say,” board member Herb Downing said.
“Well I don’t want to dive as deep as $300,000,” replied Mulcahy.
The town first purchased the Bayside/Hazelett property in 2004 upon voter approval, with the intention of using the land for community use. While the following decade saw a movement to expand and remodel town buildings to better serve the growing staff and population, residents are still hungry for a more central community space. That’s why Frank sees the project as vital to the town and its growth.
“We’re behind the times on serving our citizens,” Frank told The Sun last week. “Youth programs are forced to leave town due to a lack of community space.”
He went on to recall his time as a Cub Scout leader and how difficult it was to reserve space for his scouts due to a plethora of youth programming yet limited space.
Frank also pointed out the work of Greenplay, a consulting company the town employed from 2016 through 2018 to research where the community center should go. Through surveys, forums, and other public outreach, the desire among residents for a community center became clear.
“This is broadly wanted,” Frank said, adding that he doesn’t see the park plans resulting in the same kind of angst felt over the sewer line vote, which turned out to be a near 50/50 split.
Cuttitta also sees a desire for more Parks and Rec services and community space, noting the numerous programs flourishing in the department and how much programs have grown based on user fees alone, not taxes.
“In the winter, it’s usually boy’s basketball that gets priority on our limited space and then everything else trickles down,” Cuttitta said. “And, unfortunately, there’s not much to trickle down afterwards.”
In addition, Cuttitta sees the Bayside/Hazelett park as a potential source of revenue, leading to more money in the Local Option Tax (LOT) fund.
“We want to serve the community, but we also want people to come into our community,” said Cuttitta, arguing that with a playground and dog park, more out-of-towners will flock here.
The selectboard accepted the Bayside/Hazelett park 19-phase master plan last year after a robust public outreach campaign.
The plans include new pickleball and tennis courts, a “Champ” themed playground, a community center, a dog park, and numerous walking trails. Its location is also prime for accessibility to Colchester High School and Middle School.
And while the project doesn’t include an indoor pool, a perk that peaked many residents’ interest, Cuttitta hopes to further plans for a pool at Upper Bayside Park once the old tennis and pickleball courts are torn down and space opens up.
Frank and Cuttitta must now find places to pull back in order to find a number more to the board members’ liking, throwing a wrench in their goal of providing voters with a more solid design plan, complete with project costs.
Still, Frank didn’t take the board’s hesitance as a sign the project won’t move forward. He said he’s hopeful that the town can present a plan to voters by a tentative date of November 2020, which would allow construction to begin the following summer.
“They usually give me one of three answers: yes, no, or do more research,” he said. “Our plan now is to do more research.”