Tuesday’s special vote in the Shenendehowa school district on a proposal to sell 37.59 acres of school property to the town of Clifton Park for a park is one of those win-win propositions we always hear about.
A large, centrally located park in the regional shopping mecca will give citizens from the town and the immediate surrounding communities a place to walk and relax. It will enhance the economy of the town by adding valuable green space to the many acres of parking lots, roads and stores. It might even have the added benefit of driving up property values in the area surrounding the park.
The school district, for its part, will get $1.1 million from the town that it could use to purchase land elsewhere in the district, perhaps for a new school in Halfmoon sometime in the future. Or it could use the money for new educational programs or to offset other expenses.
With the development of trails near the school campus, the property could become a place for students to explore and learn about nature. The parkland has 5 acres of wetlands. Depending on how it’s designed, the park also could be used by the school’s cross-country runners or skiers and to host regional meets, similar to what groomed trails in parks in Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls are able to do.
So when voters in the district go to the polls on Tuesday, they should repeat their overwhelming support for the concept they backed in April — when district residents voted overwhelmingly not to sell the land for development — and vote yes to sell the land to the town for a park.
But the role of the citizens won’t end at the voting booth. After the polls close, there’s a lot more to think about and a lot more to do.
In fact, once the voters have spoken, the work will be just beginning. And it will be challenging and potentially expensive.
Voters who support this ballot referendum should be prepared to stay involved and active to make sure they get what they bargained for.
One would think that designing a park is a simple thing that everyone could agree on. Chop down a few trees to widen the existing walking paths and just turn people loose.
But if that’s all that citizens want this to be, then the district could have sold the land to a private developer and secured some public trails as part of the agreement.
This needs to be more than that. The public’s input into what they envision for the park will not only be welcome, but necessary.
What do citizens want this park to look like? Thirty-seven acres is a lot of space. But it’s not infinite. They’ll need to take out space for wetlands on the property, parking for visitors, roads into and out of the park and other needs. How the park looks will depend on how the rest of the property is carved up.
Will residents want to keep it largely wooded, as it is now, with trails wending in and around the property? Or will they want something more?
For instance, will they want their new park to include a large grassy area for people to lie out in, play a game of catch and have a picnic? Will they want playground equipment for the kids, a picnic pavilion, picnic tables, park benches, a concert area or band shell? How about a fishing pond or a big fountain? Statues? An exercise area? A field house with restrooms? A softball field or a basketball court?
There’s no mention of the town using any part of the property for a new highway garage or a road-salt barn as one of those public uses. But if you don’t want the property used for such purposes, make sure you let town officials know.
In the memorandum of understanding between the town and the school district, the town plans to commit $300,000 to $500,000 toward planning efforts.
But the park will also need potentially other investments of time and money, such as logging to clear those paths, money and manpower for the types of infrastructure we mentioned, paving and clearing of parking areas, regular mowing of grass and grooming of trails.
In addition, the town should work to make the park more accessible to citizens who don’t live right near it and for those who will be walking to it.
How safe will parents feel right now allowing their children to walk to and from the park area, given the current traffic patterns and road designs?
As part of incorporating this property into the town, officials should look at making the community more walkable so more people have access to the park.
That could include installing curb extensions and crossing islands, particularly on Route 146, to make it safer for people to cross busy streets. It could include putting in more crosswalks with lighted timing signs, raised crosswalks to slow motorist traffic at crosswalks, better lighting in the area, lower speed limits, more sidewalks throughout the town and perhaps, in the future, even a pedestrian bridge over Route 146.
All of these considerations need to be made as voters decide how their new park will look and how the town and the park will fit together.
Voting will be held at Gowana Middle School gymnasium on Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Go and support this worthwhile project by voting yes.
But remember, your role in this park doesn’t end at the ballot box.
If you want this park to meet its full potential as a recreational centerpiece for the community, be prepared to go to meetings, share your input, and put in the work necessary to make it as great as it could be.