Salisbury Council Turns Away State Skate Park Grant

SALISBURY — Citing environmental worries, a lack of cooperation with Wicomico County and the concerns of residents, the Salisbury City Council chose not to move forward this week with the acceptance of a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) grant for a new skate park.

The council learned earlier this fall that DNR was offering $262,000 to help fund Phase I of a new skate park in the city of Salisbury. The proposed location was a city park near South Park Drive. When the council was briefed on the status of the grant, there were immediate concerns with the location as it was near a number of homes. The majority of the council decided to pursue a new 6.42-acre parcel of county-owned land behind the Wicomico Youth and Civics Center as an alternative location.

However, in a letter dated Nov. 15 from County Executive Rick Pollitt, Wicomico took the official position that it would not be interested in ceding that land to the city for the skate park. The decision led to disappointment amongst the council majority and put a halt to the progress of the DNR grant.

“We’re disappointed that we weren’t even given an opportunity to talk with the county about this better location, which would not have disrupted a neighborhood or wildlife and offered ways to ensure the skate park would be sustainable. We don’t want a new skate park to end up like the county’s last one: closed down and filled in,” said Council President Terry Cohen.

Not everyone on the council had been hoping for the county land, however. Councilwomen Laura Mitchell and Shanie Shields have both been vocal in their support of installing a skate park at the originally proposed location. Shields told the council Monday that she felt it was “a shame that people who worked so hard on this project for so many years” would have to go back to square one after the council’s refusal to accept the DNR grant.

As far as some resident’s concerns about a skate park negatively impacting the atmosphere of the park and the nearby homes, Shields pointed out that everything from zoo facilities to playgrounds are located near homes in Salisbury but everyone is able to abide. She specifically mentioned the ballpark at the Henry Parker Sports Complex as an example.

“There are houses right across the street, beside it, and everywhere else around,” said Shields. “And I don’t hear anyone complaining about the ballpark.”

There were other factors behind not moving ahead besides resident complaints, however, said Council Vice President Debbie Campbell.

“One of the concerns that had been raised was environmental concerns,” she said.

Campbell mentioned Mayor Jim Ireton’s refusal of an offer by Salisbury University (SU) to be involved with an environmental impact study of the area. Not only was the offer refused, Campbell felt that it was rejected curtly by the administration.

“You talk about a dialog that stuck a sharp pencil in somebody’s eye,” she said.

Cohen added that, while she didn’t totally disagree with changing the area for the proposed skate park from “passive recreation” to “active recreation” she did take issue with not allowing SU to probe what she felt was a delicate environmental situation.

“However, with that area of the city park being one of the last publicly available places in the entire city to be surrounded by nature, such a change should be approached cautiously so that we don’t stress wildlife, encourage erosion or otherwise damage or lose that precious asset,” Cohen said.

In justifying not accepting the DNR grant, Cohen said that it was a combination of all of the factors from a lack of county cooperation to environmental and residential concerns. While the council had been warned by Community Development Director Debbie Stam at previous meetings that refusal to accept the grant for Phase I of a new skate park could make Salisbury appear skittish and hurt the city’s chances for future grants, Cohen doubted the decision would carry those kinds of consequences.

“First, there is this vague suggestion out there that failure to accept a grant will be met with punitive response in the future and that does not appear to be true,” she said. “Other communities turn down grants and live to apply for another.”

Cohen admitted that many people in the community, especially skaters, will likely be disappointed by the decision. However, she asserted that the council is unanimously in support of a skate park in Salisbury in the future, given that it is planned carefully and, in her words, “sustainable” for years into the future.

While Mayor Jim Ireton declined to comment on the specifics of the council’s choice, he did issue a statement accusing the council majority of maintaining a stubborn and negative attitude in regards to new city projects.

“The culture of ‘no’ continues with the city council,” said a representative from Ireton’s office, quoting the mayor.