Council rejects Ames as skate plaza site and then rejects Park Board from further planning

Northfield City Council 2009 It was no surprise to me that the Northfield City Council voted 5-1 tonight to reject Ames Park as the location for the skate plaza. Betsey Buckheit was the only one to vote in favor of it. The real surprise was in the post-vote discussion where they opted to take over the criteria setting and planning process for a skate park location from the Park & Rec Advisory Board (PRAB). I briefly chatted with PRAB Richard Vanasek after the meeting who seemed stunned by the latter.

Even though Councilors were “provided with copies of all the PRAB discussions regarding the Skateboard Plaza dating from May 8, 2006 through the Special PRAB meeting of April 21, 2009”, some seemed bothered that there was no written record of how the PRAB eliminated various parks from consideration.

Jim Pokorney argued for taking over the lead at the Council level since the NIMBY factor on this issue is so strong. He indicated that the Council should select the site and the PRAB would then be charged with implementation. Rhonda Pownell also argued strongly in favor of taking over the process. Mary Rossing asked her fellow Councilors to consider the role of the PRAB but didn’t argue strongly for or against.

I think this is a very ominous turn of events and a bad move on the Council’s part.

I was hopeful of a collaborative decision when the PRAB asked the Council to delay a decision in May (see my comment here that contain Mayor Rossing’s letter).  She wrote:

At a later date it will be important for the PRAB and the council to come to the table together with a clear public statement about priority and then establish a funding strategy.

But the Council rejected this (I saw it as a bit of an olive branch) and opted to vote anyway. And now they’re running the risk of compounding the bad vibes with the PRAB by eliminating them completely. It wouldn’t surprise me to see some PRAB members resign over this if the Council continues down this path.

I’ve been critical of the PRAB’s lack of communication about their process. And I understand the Council’s increasing discomfort about how long this issue is taking to resolve.

But why not ask the PRAB for details on why each park was rejected?

Why not ask the PRAB for a hurry-up recommendation on their second choice for a skate park location?

It’s not too late.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    From Mayor Mary Rossing via email:

    I thought it might be helpful to update everyone on where we are in the skate park discussion after our work session last night.  First of all let me say publicly that I am very proud of the entire council for being able to have a hard discussion with such thoughtfulness.  At this point we are trying very hard to establish a road map that will get us to the desired outcomes—making a decision on a site and then establishing a funding strategy.   

    Because the council decided to take on and own this decision we need to proceed with care to make this model of process.  As I stated back in January, we can’t afford to fail.  The consensus of the council is that the decision making process needs to remain public, should have a public input component and should involve input from both the Skateboard Coalition and the PRAB.  Deciding when and where in the process this all happens has not yet been determined. 

    However we did establish our list of criteria to include in the decision-making matrix.   Councilors are next responsible for identifying sites that should be put on the table.  So if you have a suggestion of a site that you would like us to look at now is the time to contact your councilperson!  We will then put the matrix together and grade all the possible sites on our established criteria.  The object to have all the sites graded, objectively and simultaneously, so that we can transparently present the merits and shortcomings of each one.  Hopefully, like gently shaking a jar full of gravel, the most viable sites will rise to the top. 

    I had been thinking that this matrix might be a method that we would also use to gather public input—asking people to fill it out themselves and then compiling the results, but councilperson Pokorney proposed an interesting alternative.  He suggested that as a council we come to a consensus and fill out the matrix together, then present our findings to the public so that they could react to our findings.  The wisdom here is that it shows our reasoning instead of taking public input and then it not being clear what we did with that input.   

    As I mentioned above, there are more steps in the process to establish but we will address theses at a work session in July.  In the mean time, give us your input on sites that should be thrown into the mix!  One interesting side bar was Councilperson Buckheit’s suggestion that we might look at multiple smaller sites that would be integrated into neighborhood parks instead of only looking at one large facility that would require a larger parcel of land.  It raises some new fundamental questions that will have to be discussed with the Skateboard Coalition.  More to come! 

    FYI, I am listing the criteria below based on my notes from last night—in no particular order.  Exact wording may change, but this is a good start.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. 

    Integration into the community (not isolated)

    Density of other activities

    Close to where people either are or are going

    Location compatible with the energy inherent in a skate park

    Visibility (not hidden)

    Concerns from neighbors (needs to be defined)

    Public Access for multi-modal transportation

    Staff Access fro maintenance and garbage, etc


    Cost restrictions

    Amenities—water, shelter, shade, restrooms

    Is this the best use of the site?

    Safety of the kids

    Site circulation and connectivity with the rest of the community

    Security of the facility (prone to vandalism)

    Informal place—to encourage creativity and lively youth oriented sport

    Room for expansion

    Room for spectators

    Coalition buy-in

    Central location (not fringe)

    Skate park plaza enhances the space in which it is located

    Possibilities for multi-use of facility

    June 9, 2009
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News:

    Skatepark siting process begins anew.

    Once a site is chosen, councilor Jim Pokorney suggested, the council should then ask the parks board to take over the project, fine-tuning the exact location on the chosen property and helping guide its planning.

    Editorial: Council had to step in on skate park site.

    The board’s decision to again recommend a site the council made clear wasn’t feasible shows a lack of understanding of its role, which is to be an advisory body, not a decision-making one. The decision also calls into question whether the Parks Board’s ultimate goal wasn’t political instead of community-oriented. It was apparent the council would not support a park at Ames, so why waste the community’s time by continuing to push for it?

    June 10, 2009
  3. kiffi summa said:

    It is interesting to note the dynamics of the NFNews editorial, which seems to not understand the Park Board’s “decision” as being fully understood by them to be an advisory one which the council was free to, and and expected to, reject.

    The fact that the Park Board reaffirmed their earlier decision as to which was the best site, after going through the process for a second time , at the council’s request, in no way means they did not understand their role. They complied with every direction that the council gave them. Does the editorial writer think they did not comply with the council’s direction?

    If the Board only takes direction from the council, rather than acting on its own expertise, what use is their existence? There are enough rubber stamps in the world; that is not the expected use of these citizen boards.

    This was a disagreement about the best site between the Board and the Council; nothing more.

    There was no “political decision” by the Park Board; it was in their judgement the correct decision, and they never viewed it as anything but their asked-for recommendation.

    It is difficult to credit the News with a valid perspective when they have not attended the meetings where the discussion occurred, and, well … how do they gain an informed perspective? Especially without hearing the Park Board’s deliberations; only looking and listening to the council side seems to not provide a fully informed view on which to base an editorial, especially if you are inclined to slam the citizen volunteers.

    Amidst the angst-ridden dialogue at the Park Board last night (Joel Walinski was present; Councilor Pokorney made an honest, but emptily repetitive, attempt to explain his and the council’s position) one rather humorous, maybe bittersweet, exchange occurred: C. Pokorney asked if the Park Board was able to move on , or was going to”hold a grudge”. A board member replied, “Oh, I’m a multi-tasker; I can hold a grudge and move on at the same time”.

    June 10, 2009
  4. Rob Hardy said:

    What bothers me, Kiffi, is that the PRAB seems to have earmarked its current funding for development of trails in Memorial Field. Although the park master plan, as I argued in a different thread, leaves open the possibility that Memorial Park could become the location of the skatepark, the PRAB could preemptively strike to develop Memorial Park according to its own skateboardless vision. There are plenty of places to walk in Northfield; there is no skateboard park. Why is the PRAB choosing trails in Memorial Park as its funding priority instead of choosing to help move the skatepark forward? It seems as if, by funding trails, they’re trying to paint the skatepark out of the picture at Memorial Park.

    (Note: The master plan for Memorial Park also talks about “hardcourt areas (for shuffleboard, etc.).” Pardon me for wondering why hardcourt areas for stereotypically elderly recreational opportunities like shuffleboard are acceptable to the PRAB and Memorial Park neighbors, but not a youth-oriented skateboard park.)

    June 10, 2009
  5. Patrick Enders said:

    Rob, you ask:

    Why is the PRAB choosing trails in Memorial Park as its funding priority instead of choosing to help move the skatepark forward? It seems as if, by funding trails, they’re trying to paint the skatepark out of the picture at Memorial Park.

    That’s a mightily suspicious mind you have there. If we were talking Israel/Palestine, we’d be calling that “creating facts on the ground.”

    Does the PRAB have spending authority to actually build these things on its own?

    June 10, 2009
  6. Rob Hardy said:

    Patrick, I’m practicing my cynicism to see how it works for me. I’m not so sure. It’s a bit ostentatious for my taste. I’m thinking of trading it in for indifference.

    June 10, 2009
  7. Patrick Enders said:

    I’d suggest choosing skepticism over cynicism. It’s much easier to reconcile hope with the former than with the latter.

    June 10, 2009
  8. Ann McGovern said:

    FYI – The Master Plan that Rob refers to was done in 2007/2008 by another outside consultant that must have known nothing about the specific Master Plan for Old Memorial Park and Pool that was planned in 2005/2006. The Master Plan for Old Memorial Park and Pool was voted on in February 2006 by the City Council after months of meetings with Community Members, adults, teens and children, Park Board and City Council.
    In my book, it mattered when the Council voted yes for a community pool and park project that will benefit the entire community, and I applaud the Park Board for keeping their promise to the community regarding the Old Memorial Park and Pool Master Plan.
    I am shocked and saddened that some people, in a community who so values green space, are fighting so hard to cover the last remaining green space in the middle of Old Northfield with concrete.

    June 10, 2009
  9. Rob Hardy said:

    Anne: What is “Old Northfield”?

    June 10, 2009
  10. kiffi summa said:

    Rob: the whole Memorial Park aspect of the dialogue or lack of it, around the skatepark issue, is a bit of a mystery. As you might know, the minutes are not revelatory, and the park board meetings are not taped/videoed/disced/whatever.

    Why did Memorial Park fall off the site selection process so early? I don’t know, but I am intending to find out. I do know that one of the PRAB members who lives in that neighborhood originally voted FOR that site, and was very vocal about it.

    As to funding priorities, there is currently quite a bit of money in the Park Fund … depending who you ask between 400 and 585 thousand… BUT they will not be getting any more while the city is in deep financial doodoo due to LGA cuts, so they must figure out how to spend those $$ wisely.

    Completion of the walks in Memorial park have been on their to-do list, as it is bad to never complete projects/master plans, for obvious reasons, although some must be ‘phased’ for cost reasons. Depending on how many lengths of walks they do, it could be between 40-100 K for those , but that still leaves a good balance for other uses.

    Since you live on that side of town,why don’t you talk to a bunch of your neighbors and see how they feel about MP as a skateboard plaza location? It has been generally assumed that their was a STRONG ‘nimby’ reaction which swayed both council and park board, but that may not be true if you actually polled the neighborhood, rather than just listened to the loudest voices. (then of course, there’s always the question of how much control should be exerted by the neighborhood input).

    Ye Gods and little fishes! if it could have been there all along , when that was the kids’ first choice, then it is more of a disaster than even I thought!

    Talk to your neighbors, Rob… let us know…

    June 10, 2009
  11. Patrick Enders said:

    Kiffi, you wrote:

    Ye Gods and little fishes! if it could have been there all along , when that was the kids’ first choice, then it is more of a disaster than even I thought!

    Could be. But perhaps now we can get it right.

    June 10, 2009
  12. kiffi summa said:

    Ok. here’s a question for you , Patrick : If MemPk dropped off the site selection list because of nimbyism, do you think the Council will select it? If you go over their criteria list it will rate very highly.

    And a second question , which I also posed to Rob : How much control should be exerted by neighborhood input?

    June 10, 2009
  13. Patrick Enders said:

    I don’t know what site the Council will select. I happen to think that Mem Park seems the obvious choice, but Riverside and the north end of Babcock also seem to have some merit. All three seem better choices than does Ames. I am interested to see how the Council approaches this issue, but not as interested as I am in seeing that the Council makes a wise choice. So far, I am pleased by how the Council has approached this, and how Mayor Rossing has outlined the process going forward. As for the decision… well, we won’t know about that til the Council actually chooses a site, and comes up with a plan that brings the project to fruition.

    On your other question… Neighborhood input should be considered, but not decisive. They also need to be weighed with or against the interests of the community as a whole.

    June 10, 2009
  14. Jane McWilliams said:

    Ann raises an important point – master planning. If, as she says, the council approved the master plan for Old Memorial Park back in 2006, doesn’t the PRAB have a responsibility to respect that decision? At the time, the skateboard park must not have been an issue, and the community valued a more passive, trail dominated space at the west end of the park. While many of us now think it would be the best location in town for a skateboard plaza, out of respect for the plan, a radical change became moot.

    If we don’t respect master plans, why not put it in Way Park? It would not have many of the problems placing it in Ames, Babcock or Riverside parks. Presently, the south half is undeveloped. I can hear the very devoted Friends of Way Park neighbors who have worked long and hard to create (and secure approval from the council) grumble when I suggest this, which I do, not because I like the idea, but to underscore the master plan dilemma.

    I don’t think we should criticize the PRAB for bypassing Old Memorial Park. Their job is to recommend park plans and development to the council. Furthermore, based on their recommendation, a previous council made a decision as to how that land should be developed. I suspect they never gave Way Park a second thought because the council had approved the (PRAB recommended) plan a year ago.

    On the other hand, perhaps new circumstances call into question whether master plans are set in concrete.

    Rob – what was it Robert Burns said about plans?

    June 10, 2009
  15. kiffi summa said:

    Jane: “The best laid (made?) plans of mice and men gang aft agley”

    June 11, 2009
  16. Rob Hardy said:

    Personally, I think Betsey Buckheit has the best idea: instead of building a large skatepark all in one place, distribute the elements between various different parks. An element or two in Memorial, Ames, Way, etc.

    At the moment, in my neighborhood, the front steps of the U.C.C. are a skatepark element, as are the steps of All Saints Episcopal. I don’t think we can realistically ever stop kids from saying, “Oh, look, steps! Let’s skate down them!” All of Northfield is treated as a skatepark. Betsey’s idea at least gives some structure to that reality.

    June 11, 2009
  17. Patrick Enders said:

    That’s a decent idea – though I’m not a skateboarder, so I’m not qualified to judge whether that would seem a good solution to all the interested parties.

    June 11, 2009
  18. john george said:

    Rob & Patrick- I’ve been thinking about the concept of having these skate ramps all over town, and the thing I come up with is all the trapsing the kids would have to do from one park to the other. One of the problems that I thought the park was supposed to address was having the young people riding their boards on public thoroughfares, be they streets or sidewalks. It seems this would acerbate the problem rather than aleviate it.

    June 13, 2009
  19. John, I think the assumption is that they don’t need all the particular obstacles in the same place for use at the same time. That is, what they do with one rail/ramp/whatever, they won’t necessarily in the same “session” as whatever they’ll do with another object. However, no matter where they are, there will be some designated skateboard obstacle to work with in the vicinity.

    June 13, 2009
  20. john george said:

    Sean- Thanks for your perspective. This concept may very well prove effective. Another aspect of any activities young or older people engage in is the social interaction. As long as this is still possible with the elements scattered around town, then perhaps it will work.

    June 13, 2009
  21. Stephen Hansen said:

    I would like to take this opportunity to give some input that has been ignored so far, but should be considered. The position of the skateboard community. Our current park has become a place where people come just to sit and watch the skateboarders. I know George, who owns the skate shop Focus in Ames and him and his friends would welcome additional places to enjoy skateboarding. These ‘skate plazas’ have been considered in Des Moines and are currently in the works there. Using existing parks in Ames would have minimal building costs and would be welcomed by all of the skateboarders in Ames. I might pick it back up myself.

    July 16, 2009
  22. Adam Elg said:

    I really thought Ames Park was a great location for a skate park. Centrally located, visable to passers-by with easy access. If you’ve not done so check out to see what other cities have done and selected as a location. One that I see a lot is in Palm Springs CA – it is very centrally located, on the most busy street in Palm Springs and near a school – and is beautifully designed. I think a nicely designed, sufficiently scaled skate park would be nice for Northfield – compared to the waste of money that was the previous park. See

    July 19, 2009
  23. Tracy Davis said:

    { thread drift ] Hi, Adam! So glad you chimed in. We miss you. When are you moving back? 🙂

    July 20, 2009

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