WEST YARMOUTH — A committee tasked with exploring the possibility of turning 22 acres of town land into a park and boardwalk is preparing to make its final recommendation for the site, as neighbors’ efforts to stop any development there have gained clout.
Talks on what to do with the Route 28 property, formerly the site of a drive-in movie theater, have been ongoing for years, but about 18 months ago the Yarmouth Board of Selectmen charged a Drive-In Site Utilization Committee with the specific task of considering the parcel for development as a riverwalk park and boardwalk, according to Karen Greene, the town's director of community development.
Conceptual plans by the engineering firm BETA Group show a welcome center, playscape, artists tent area, kayak rentals and 82-space parking lot at the park, along with a boardwalk that could potentially run the length of the Parkers River Marsh, connecting the park with Sea Gull Beach.
Estimates for construction of the park and boardwalk range from $7 million to almost $10 million, depending on the options selected, Drive-In Site Utilization Committee Chairman James Saben said Wednesday. Saben said the committee had yet to decide whether it would recommend building some, all or none of the project.
Greene said the committee has been working with $84,000 in town meeting-approved funds to study resident interest, feasibility, environmental impacts and designs. It is slated to make a recommendation to the board on if and how to move forward with the project March 27.
But if South Yarmouth resident Brian Koelbel has his way, the site, which is currently home to a cracked and overgrown parking lot, will stay exactly as it is.
Koelbel, president of the nearby Gateway Isles Association, collected 299 signatures for a petition article that seeks to block development at the site, enough to ensure the article will appear before voters at the May 5 town meeting.
The article asks voters to “direct the Board of Selectmen, Drive-In Site Utilization Committee, and Town employees to forgo any and all activity” at the site, including “design and or construction of any segment of trail pathway, boardwalk, or bridge extending from the former drive-in site into the wetland, and through to Sea Gull Beach ...”
If voters approve it, the article will go to the Massachusetts attorney general’s office for approval as a bylaw, Town Administrator Daniel Knapik said.
Koelbel said the association was not necessarily opposed to earlier proposals to develop the drive-in site, but when the scope of work expanded to include a boardwalk through the currently undeveloped Parkers River Marsh, it grew concerned about environmental impacts, as well as the town’s ability to police and maintain the structure.
“It’s open on both ends, almost three-quarters of a mile long, with winds at 18-20 knots every day,” Koelbel said of the boardwalk, “How is it not going to get polluted? How are you going to clean it?”
He referred to photos he took of vandalism, overgrowth and litter at a boardwalk at Meadowbrook Conservation Area in West Yarmouth, and to the Bass Hole and Taylor-Bray Farm boardwalks, which remain unrepaired in the wake of damage sustained during a Jan. 4 storm, as reasons to doubt the town’s ability to maintain yet another boardwalk.
Greene said the committee was considering those issues as it moved forward.
“Maintenance of facilities is something that the town staff are working actively on,” Greene said. “The recent storm that happened is above and beyond normal maintenance, and we can’t predict these events. It’s a good question, and I’m sure that’s something the committee will be looking at further.”
In the meantime, the selectmen say they will be watching as an Irish Festival planned for March 10 and 11 tests the idea of using the site for short-term events, something Koelbel said he could potentially support.
“Some of the folks have expressed concern, but I think in general it’s a fair wait-and-see perspective,” he said of neighborhood reaction to the coming festival, adding that it could be difficult to gauge noise disruption accurately at this time of year because many area residents are seasonal.
— Follow Kristen Young on Twitter: @KristenCCT.