Skate Park back on track

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By Katy Korkos

Los Alamos County Council decided Tuesday to resume progress on a skate park in front of Mesa Public Library. The skate park was first approved by council last June, but just as a contract to build the park was brought to council in January, a petition opposing the location was submitted. That petition held more than 300 signatures of local residents opposed to putting the park in front of the library because of concerns about noise, traffic and safety. Councilors agreed to call a halt to the project so that another location near the Community Building could be considered.

Council Chambers was filled to capacity Tuesday for the work session, which was billed in the agenda documents as a “discussion and possible action” on a skate park.Tuesday’s 5-to-2 vote in favor of resuming the design for the library location, with Councilors Nona Bowman and Jim West opposed, came after a wide-ranging discussion by councilors, during which they explored the possibility of the county or laboratory cleaning up legacy waste under the alternate park site. An extensive period of public comment included impassioned statements from skaters, parents, seniors, youth advocates and doctors. At one point, a musical performance even interrupted the normally somber proceedings, as a group of skaters and adults parodied the “Bye-Bye Birdie” song “Kids.” Chair Jim Hall said that it was the most entertaining public comment he had heard in his time on council.The more than 30 community members who took the podium spoke overwhelmingly in favor of the concept of a skate park, and of supporting youth and keeping promises. “We need a skate park,” Councilor Robert Gibson said. “The issue is location.”The issue divided the room.“The library site does not have sufficient community support,” Colleen Hanlon said. She and husband Jack Hanlon, residents of 2500 Central, have led the opposition to the library location, and have devoted many hours to finding an alternate site and drawing up a site plan for a park south of the Community Building.“The skateboarders have made a reasonable request,” Jack Hanlon said, “but this issue is now unreasonably pitting one faction against another.”One skater said, “No matter where you put it, you’re going to hurt some feelings. You’re hurting my feelings by not building it.”“I wish the two groups could come together,” Bowman said. “I do put a lot of weight on our advisory boards. I would even like to evaluate some more sites.”“To send it back to another citizen board is a cop-out,” Councilor Ken Milder said. “Los Alamos is known for the analysis-paralysis.”Gibson based his decision to vote in favor of the library location on the answers to three questions: • “Is it the right thing to do?” • “What does the community want?” and• “Are proper processes being followed?” He said the process has been “imperfect, as many of our processes turn out to be. It sat with Parks and Recreation for two years, and nothing happened.” The motion to move forward on the library site was made by Councilor Fran Berting.“We have promised the youth” a park, Berting said. “I think it’s important we get it done as soon as possible.”West, who was unable to attend the meeting in person due to illness but participated in the meeting via telephone, explained his vote against the library location.”I wish some kind of compromise could be made,” he said. “I hate to see something that so divides the community.” West added that in his view, the whole proposal should have followed the process through the Parks and Recreation Board as well as the Planning and Zoning commission before being presented to council.Community Development Director Rick Bohn said said that once a site plan for the skate board park has been drawn, it will need to go to a public hearing at the Planning and Zoning Commission (P & Z) for approval like any other development project.The same would be true for a new Municipal Building or police/jail/ccourt facility, Bohn said. The P & Z commission reviews the site plan, not the selection of the site itself, and it applies the site plan review criteria listed in the Development Code to reach a decision.  P & Z may approve, deny or approve the site plan with conditions.  P & Z also advertises the hearing and sends notices to property owners within 300 feet of the site.