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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Committee tables vote on Nashua’s Legacy Playground, will hold special meeting June 18

After hearing comments Wednesday night – both in favor and against setting Legacy Playground in the recommended Greeley Park East site – the aldermanic Committee on Infrastructure followed up with a fairly lengthy discussion of its own on whether to vote on the resolution or hold off to allow members to digest public input.

During discussion, which outlasted the public hearing by about five minutes, committee Chairman Jim Donchess suggested that the committee “work on both resolutions at the same time,” referring to the amended resolution that puts the playground in Greeley Park East site and a second one, R-14-042, that proposes bringing in an expert from the Institute for Human Centered Design to take part in the playground’s design process. ...

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After hearing comments Wednesday night – both in favor and against setting Legacy Playground in the recommended Greeley Park East site – the aldermanic Committee on Infrastructure followed up with a fairly lengthy discussion of its own on whether to vote on the resolution or hold off to allow members to digest public input.

During discussion, which outlasted the public hearing by about five minutes, committee Chairman Jim Donchess suggested that the committee “work on both resolutions at the same time,” referring to the amended resolution that puts the playground in Greeley Park East site and a second one, R-14-042, that proposes bringing in an expert from the Institute for Human Centered Design to take part in the playground’s design process.

“I think that working as a board, we took a difficult situation, improved it and brought forward some sort of consensus,” Donchess said in proposing tabling a vote and taking it up at a special meeting June 18.

The pros and cons eventually came down to a unanimous 5-0 vote to reconvene the committee at 6 p.m. June 18 to take up both resolutions.

Ward 3 Alderman David Schoneman had motioned that the measure be held in committee “until we have a chance to digest all the information.”

Ward 2 Alderman Rick Dowd disagreed.

“I don’t think we need to hold this any longer,” he said. “It’s not dependent on (the design resolution) … I think we’ve done everything we can on this, and it’s time we voted.

But Ward 1 Alderman Sean McGuinness countered, saying, “It’s silly to say, ‘We’ve been talking about this too long, let’s rush it through.’ ”

Dowd, in turn, disagreed with the suggestion that it was being rushed through.

If the infrastructure committee votes on both resolutions June 18, the full Board of Aldermen likely would take up the measures at its regular June 25 meeting.

A handful of residents – five in favor and four opposed to the Greeley Park east site – spoke to the measures during the roughly 50-minute public hearing.

Francis Murphy, an attorney who lives fairly close to the proposed site, said he expected “a more raucous” turnout, and absent that, he decided “to pare down my remarks.”

He spoke mainly about the park’s building moratorium, a measure passed years ago to prohibit new construction in the park without Board of Aldermen approval.

“Greeley Park should be the place of almost last resort for someone’s pet project,” Murphy said, going on to warn against the potential for a trend of the park being eyed for future projects.

“Anytime someone comes forward with pet projects, there should be two questions asked: Does the city really need it, and does it need to be in Greeley Park?” Murphy said.

He added that while he understands “a universally accessible playground is a very good thing for Nashua and something I’d like to see happen, does it have to be in Greeley Park?”

“Numbers 3, 4 and 5 are just as good,” Murphy said, referring to sites at Shady Lane/Kirkpatrick Park and two Sargents Avenue sites that the Institute for Human Centered Design ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively, in its study.

“Why not choose to respect the moratorium” and re-consider those sites, he asked, praising aldermen for “working very hard for the civic good.”

Former Alderman Dan Richardson, who lives on nearby Berkeley Street, told the committee he was “horrified” when the June 3 meeting that included the institute’s presentation neared its end.

He charged officials with changing the resolution to reflect the new site after the presentation “without it being on the agenda, without notifying the public, and without a chance afterward for anyone to weigh in on it.”

Richardson said the debate “started with the chamber wanting to impose (its) own will on the public,” and that the “will of the chamber became the administration’s mission.”

He noted the back-and-forth over potential Greeley Park sites, saying as it stands now, “we have two playgrounds to maintain instead of one” in the park.

Amherst Street resident Ed Mooney suggested that a resolution be written to “envision a plan for Greeley Park and the acceptance of a gift from Leadership Greater Nashua of an accessible playground in a site other than Greeley Park.

“We know Greeley Park is a good place for a new playground, but I’m not convinced a new playground is good for Greeley Park,” Mooney said.

Those who rose to speak in favor of the Greeley Park East site generally expressed their gratitude to LGN and aldermen, but the first speaker, Cannongate Drive resident Mike Umali, said he has a problem with waiting five to six years for trees that are planned for the site to grow large enough to shade the playground.

“A lot of kids will miss out in those five to six years,” Umali said. My son won’t be able to take part, because both Sites 1 and 2 are in direct sun.”

Shea praised the institute’s study, as well as the fact that officials chose to commission the study.

“What we wanted to see in the first place was Greeley Park being accessible for everybody. I think the No. 1 location from the study accomplishes that.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).