SALISBURY — Skateboarders in Salisbury should be able to trade sidewalks for half pipes soon with the City Council finally coming to a majority, if split, decision to build a skate park on South Park Drive.
Debate over the location for the skate park has simmered for the last year with camps divided between supporting the South Park Drive site and a larger lot on North Park Drive. While the northern lot is bigger, the southern location has already qualified for $262,000 in Department of Natural Resources (DNR) funding.
“I have been conversing with DNR on a fairly regular basis to let them know that we are still trying to come up with some sort of a plan and resolve the questions and issues so that we could move forward in some way, shape or form,” Community Development Director Debbie Stam told the council.
While members of this council and the previous version of the body advocated moving the skate park to North Park Drive, despite the money being approved for South Park Drive, Stam has remained adamant that trying to do so jeopardized the city getting any funding from DNR for the project.
“And I did discuss with our representative the other location that we were looking at … the response that I got was not terribly encouraging,” she said.
For one thing, placing a skate park at the alternate site would necessitate a major overhaul of the area to the tune of about $144,000 just to clear the land. Because that would burn up more than half of the grant before any construction even begins on ramps or bowls, Stam was doubtful that DNR would offer the grant if the city tried to switch locations.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell said that the amount of clearing needed for the north location seemed extensive.
“It’s going to cost more than half of our funds just to clear the property. One of the arguments on the other property before was that we were taking down too many trees, and where would the bunnies go. And, good grief, we’re taking down half a forest here,” she said.
That wasn’t entirely accurate, claimed Councilwoman Terry Cohen. A supporter of looking at the North Park Drive lot, Cohen argued that the environmental worry for the original, DNR-approved site was greater than for the alternate because there was more wildlife at South Park Drive. There were a variety of other reasons to look to the alternative northern property, including proximity to the civic center and the extra room to expand, Cohen continued.
“I think it’s worth exploring. You can go with, ‘got to have it now, got to have it now,’ or you can go something where it says we need to start a new foundation of cooperation,” she said, urging the council to lobby Wicomico County for more support.
The county so far, however, has not been overly enthusiastic about any kind of joint skate park, according to Stam. She has already reached out to Wicomico about donating the North Park Drive location to the city without positive results. Unlike the original South Park Drive lot, which Salisbury owns, the North Park Drive site belongs to the county, which offered to lease the land but not donate it.
It would be a 25-year, long-term lease. While he admitted he was only speculating, Council President Jake Day thought it would be likely that the county would want the land back after those 25 years to use as parking due to its proximity to the civic center.
Another issue supporting the South Park Drive location was the time factor, asserted Stam. Already the city has spent the better part of a year debating where to put the skate park, while the DNR funding, which would cover the first phase of construction, has sat in limbo.
“We’ve already been hanging fire for about a year now so it’s getting pretty tenuous,” she said. “There are a lot of people standing in line to use these monies and they have been knocking on DNR’s door wanting to know why they can’t have the money.”
The debate was finally settled by Day, the newest member of the council, who, unlike his four colleagues, was listening to the skate park debate for the first time. Day said the alternate site, while attractive, was not as practical as what was readily available at South Park Drive.
“It’s a dream parcel in a lot of ways. It seems ideal, but it’s not in our hands. Nobody is offering it to us for what we want,” he said of North Park Drive. “We have funding attached to another piece of property and I just can’t get past that. And sitting on our hands or trying to negotiate for something that we have no guarantee vs. a piece of property where we do have a guarantee leaves me in an uncomfortable position. I’d rather see us move forward on this project given what we know is available.”
Day voted along with Mitchell and Councilwoman Shanie Shields to move forward with accepting the DNR skate park grant for the South Park Drive location. Cohen and Councilman Tim Spies voted in opposition. Because the meeting this week was only a work session, an official vote on whether to accept the DNR grant will be held Monday.