A proposed “Gateway Park” recreation facility at the north end of High Street, across from Flatland Road, has been criticized by Councilman Jim Gatto as a hasty political decision to end a long-standing controversy over where to locate a basketball court in town.
“This is a knee-jerk reaction to a need we’ve had for the last 15 years for a basketball court,” Gatto said at Monday’s Town Council meeting, when he abstained from a motion to make a $203,000 grant application to Program Open Space for the project. “I have a problem putting a basketball court there.”
Mayor Margo Bailey and the rest of the council voted to apply for the grant.
Gatto believes the location, an old tractor trailer facility, may not be convenient for most residents and said a town basketball court should be centrally located near the neighborhoods that will most benefit. He made reference to earlier discussions about revamping the AJAX basketball off of Cross Street. He also said the location on High Street (RT 20) and Flatland Road may not be safe for young children getting to and from the park. The Rail Trail is planned to connect to the project on the west side, but no plans were offered at the meeting to get young children across from Flatland Road or anywhere on the opposite side of High Street.
The preliminary plans for the proposed Gateway Park also include a handicap-accessible walking trail and observation era, a bridge connection to Rail Trail, and a picnic area. A former walkup bar on the site will be converted to a storage shed.
But Gatto believes the other amenities proposed mask the true intent to settle the basketball court controversy.
“The drive here was not to provide a “gateway” [to Chestertown],” Gatto said. “The drive here was to provide a basketball court, which we desperately need.”
Gatto was concerned that the location might not serve enough local residents. He said more planning should be considered to get the most potential from the project.
“We should look and see what this site can actually provide us, “Gatto said. “What I’m concerned with is that we’re going to have an under-used facility because it is not convenient to a lot of groups.”
“We are pushing something we really need to take a look at…the plan needs some work,” Gatto said.
Gatto suggested that the other amenities planned for the location should include a vendor to operate a concession, such as an ice cream stand in the old bar. “Someone who will run a business,” he said.
Bailey took issue with Gatto’s claim that the primary goal of Gateway Park was to settle the basketball court issue. “It’s just one of the pieces,” she said.
But she did concede in her belief that Gateway Park was an ideal location and the last resort to settle the issue.
“We’ve desperately needed a basketball court for 30 years now,” Bailey said. “But every time you discuss the basketball court around town people say “I don’t want it here…it’s going to bother my house and it’s going to make noise.””
“Everybody keeps shoving it somewhere else and there is nowhere else to go,” she said.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll challenged Gatto’s notion that the Flatland Road location was not centrally located.
“Do you know that there are more families out there with children than almost anywhere else in town,” Ingersoll asked Gatto. “You might say that it is centrally located.”