Diamond Hill Park plan - including moving the pond - moves forward

Diamond Hill Park plan - including moving the pond - moves forward

CUMBERLAND - With the blessing of the Cumberland Conservation Commission, a majority of Town Council members last week agreed to a new plan for Diamond Hill Park that includes opening new seating directly in front of the stage by relocating the pond.

Approval came with assurances, based on new entertainment licensing requirements, that any staged event will be restricted in size and hours on a case-by-case basis by the Town Council.

And while the town's conservation panel tried to link the music pavilion work to repair of the parking lot - you can't have one without the other, they said - town officials made clear that the parking lot renovations are strictly dependent on funding.

Councilors split 4 to 3 on this controversial issue, with the councilor who represents the Diamond Hill Park area, Scott Schmitt, opposed along with Art Lambi and Manuel DaCosta.

Yes votes by President Jim Higgins, Craig Dwyer, Bill Murray and Jeff Kearns put the town's support behind an application already submitted to the state Department of Environmental Management that asks for permission to move the pond from the front to the rear of the large, cement stage area that dominates the center of the 90-acre park on Diamond Hill Road.

State permission is still pending seven months after it was submitted, but landscape architect George Gifford, who crafted the application, has specialized in wetland permitting process and found a way to swap the man-made pond for another while seeming to eliminate ongoing issues of the in and out water flow with the current pond.

Town Council members first tabled a vote on this plan in August after hearing strident opposition.

Later, the Cumberland Conservation Commission, which is charged with advising the council on issues related to the environment, considered the request over the course of three meetings in September and early October.

Among its members is Walter Burke, who heads Bristol's Department of Parks and Recreation and has devoted 16 years to the development of the Bristol Town Beach and sports complex.

"Diamond Hill Park is a diamond in the rough," he said. "I think we could bring it to something really beautiful."

Conservation Chairman George Gettinger told councilors the commission focused on the pond, not the kinds of concerts that filling it makes possible.

He said the existing pond "is generally unhealthy" and the new relocated pond enhances the ecological conditions and improves the wildlife habitat.

He added, "But we don't want the parking forgotten. There's been a lot of attention on the pond, but we want to stress them both equally."

Town leaders first proposed revamping the park's music pavilion in 2012.

Gifford was hired following a request for proposals, the wetlands application followed two public hearings and the master plan developed that's largely based on a 1995 master plan that was never enacted.

Neighbors have focused concerns all the while on comments about possible rock concerts in the park, while some also brought environmental concerns into the conversation.

A petition opposing the change initiated by Fisher Road resident Chris Ratcliffe collected 130 signatures.

At last week's hearing he asked the council for more details about security and crowd sizes expected at music concerts.

"Let us see more details," he said.

Agreed Councilor Lambi, "Those signature on the petition, it seems a majority of concern isn't relocating the pond but the types and scale of venues on stage at Diamond Hill Park. I think we're putting the cart before horse," he said, indicating an ordinance defining appropriate entertainment should come first.

Added Schmitt, "I'm satisfied the DEM won't allow the pond to be destroyed without a replacement. But I don't think it would hurt anybody to limit the size of concerts right now and put everyone's fears at ease. Somewhere in the 1,500 to 2,200 range?" he said.

But Recreation Director Michael Crawley reminded councilors, "The council has the final say on any venue that takes place Diamond Hill Park."

An ordinance adopted last summer - 2013-13 - requires a license for every event that's approved first by the council, he noted.

Comments

Top priority has to be the parking lot. It's a disgrace.

I agree with the other comment that parking must be the top priority. Next up, a playground, and finally, let's get the poor folks from Cumberland Youth Soccer a permanent electricity hook-up and concession stand instead of a pop-up tent and gasoline generator.

Moving the pond is important and may help PUSH these other issues. I cannot believe the design, it's crazy...stage directly in front of a pond...just bizarre.

The parking lot is a big issue. I don't know the history on the concession stand, seems like a good community service project that could be funded through Youth Soccer and others who hope to use such a facility.