Easthampton councilors wonder why Parks and Recreation Commission hasn’t met during pandemic

  • Easthampton remains in the preliminary stages of exploring a site for a dog park on city-owned land. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/26/2020 1:46:42 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The city’s Parks and Recreation Commission hasn’t met for months, a development that has drawn questions from city councilors and delayed evaluation of a proposed dog park site.

The commission’s last meeting took place before the pandemic hit. Since then, members have hit snags using Zoom, the videoconferencing app used by other city boards to conduct business.

“The pandemic has presented some challenges for the commission to meet,” said Parks and Recreation Director John Mason in an email to the Gazette. “I’m hoping we have crossed that bridge.”

The commission is scheduled to meet Monday night at 6, via Zoom.

The length of time that the Parks and Recreation Commission hasn’t met came up at the City Council’s Nov. 18 meeting.

“I find it a little bit disturbing that they’ve been unable to meet in any capacity over the course of this entire COVID thing,” City Councilor Thomas Peake said.

Peake noted that people can participate in a Zoom meeting via phone.

“Do they not have phones?” Peake asked. “I would really love an explanation.”

City Council President Peg Conniff also said she would like to know why a committee hadn’t been able to meet for months.

Mason was not available by phone Wednesday to provide an explanation.

One item on the commission’s agenda that’s been delayed is evaluating a proposed dog park near Brookside Cemetery. On Monday the commission will consider allowing exploration of this site as a possibility going forward.

“We’re really just trying to develop preliminary plans,” City Councilor Owen Zaret said in an interview.

Zaret has been a champion of the idea of a dog park on city-owned land, advocating for the idea since 2018.

The city provided $9,000 in Community Preservation Act funds in February 2019 to explore sites. This was done with an eye toward applying for a grant from the Stanton Foundation, whose grants pay 100% of the cost of the design of a dog park, up to $25,000, and 90% of the “hard” construction costs of a park, which include labor and materials, up to a limit of $225,000.

Multiple sites were looked at, and a site plan and cost estimate for a site off of Oliver Street was drawn up. However, moving forward with applying for the grant for the Oliver Street site did not happen due to the council’s opposition.

That’s when Mason, around March, brought the site near Brookside Cemetery to the attention of the council.


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