Residents review Rhinebeck park expansion plans

Community center, ball fields, parking lots and trails included in project

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Rhinebeck town board and planning board members met with dozens of community members Sept. 15 to discuss a proposal for a major expansion of Thomas Thompson-Sally Mazzarella Park.

“This is going to be a somewhat involved project,” said Planning Board chair Mike Trimble at the event, which took place at the park itself. “This is a major, major project maybe the biggest project the town of Rhinebeck has ever undertaken. It’s a big deal.”

Aaron Pethic, project engineer with Weston & Sampson, which did a preliminary study, led more than 30 community member on a tour of the 84 acre park to outline the proposed multi-million dollar additions, which would include a community center adjacent to the Starr Library and facing Rhinecliff Rd. (Rte. 308), as well as soccer and baseball fields, restrooms, three new parking lots and an expanded trail system.

The current entrance to the park in front of the library would be relocated to near the proposed community center building. A one-way road would route cars counterclockwise through the park. An information kiosk with literature about the park would be located at a trailhead, along with exercise equipment. Existing parking areas would be resurfaced and made safer for pedestrians.

The plans are complicated by both archeological and agricultural zones, which protect portions of the park and limit available space. The former, Trimble said, makes for “a very rich area, where a number of local tribes used to meet, one of the most significant archeological sites.”

A few years ago Dr. Christopher Lindner, a Bard College archeologist, found prehistoric artifacts and tools there, some estimated to be 5,000 years old. Planning board members agreed that the areas be left undisturbed until there is funding for an extensive archeological excavation, and that needed funding for the expansion project would be withheld if the area is not left untouched. “So it’s off limits to anything but sort of passive use,” said Trimble.

The park also includes farmland for “the last existing remaining dairy farm in Rhinebeck,” said Trimble. “As you know our comp plan and zoning very strongly support agriculture,” he added. The park also lies within the Hudson River National Historic Landmark District.

The project would be done in phases, Pethic said. “Not all of this is happening in the same year, for funding purposes, for reasons like that. In Phase 1 will be the infrastructure, the access road, utilities, water lines, things leading back to the ball fields Other aspects of the park will be in Phase 2 and onward,” he added.

A couple dozen children in soccer uniforms were present for the tour, along with coaches and parents in support of the proposed ball fields, which would be constructed at a later phase of the project. “There’s not money at this time to put in the new Little League and soccer fields,” said Park Committee member Sally Mazzarella. “The funding that we have so far is for the infrastructure, so that we can start the process to get the road system in to get the utilities underground. We have funding for restrooms and concession stands, and we did get money for trails. But we’re limited on what we can do based on the funding that has come in.”

Mazzarella added that she hopes the project can start by spring. “There’s a grant involved that we have to spend by a certain time. We have to push to get that started so we don’t lose the $100,000 that we’ve gotten from community development funds. [The 100,000 is a Dutchess County Community Block Grant for handicap accessible facilities. They have also been promised $100,000 from the Frost Foundation for trails and $300,000 from the Thomas Thompson Trust. They currently have $75,000 in hand.]

She added, “We have estimates and we believe the incentive will be here — once the community sees the activity and the excitement of what’s happening here at the park it will make it easier to do the fundraising.”

While Pethic could not provide exact figures for the costs of the improvements, he said that the price tag for ball fields is high, because of grading, fencing, lighting and electric scoreboards, ranging from a couple of hundred thousand dollars up to a million or more.

“I’m worried about the cost,” said Town Board council member Joseph Gelb. “It sounds horribly expensive.”

Mazzarella said the park committee has applied for several grants. And she added, “the soccer and Little League teams have said over and over again, ‘Get the park started and we will help with the fundraising efforts.’”

Trimble said there were a whole slew of issues that the park committee needs to work out before the project can happen.

“This is a major undertaking for our town,” he added. “It’s something we’re all going to have to get behind. It’s going to be something that we all need to work for if we want it to happen. And every group that’s working on it is open to your participation.”

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