Riverfront Park funding tops Town Meeting warrant

  • The Evans family cools off at the boat launch at the end of School Street. Recorder file photo

For the Gazette
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

SUNDERLAND — Town officials are asking permission to borrow $295,683 for Riverfront Park, a proposed half-mile loop trail along the Connecticut River near the town office building.

If approved at an Oct. 30 Town Meeting, the money will be spent “contingent on (Sunderland) receiving money through grants,” said Town Administrator Sherry Patch. Those grants are from the Parklands Acquisition and Renovations for Communities Program and the Small Communities Grant Program.

So far, officials have applied for more than $200,000 in grants. Awards will be announced in December. If Sunderland gets the grant, design work is to happen January through June, with construction finished by June 2019, officials said.

Patch said participating towns, if awarded money, are reimbursed up to 68 percent of a project’s cost. Towns must front money to qualify. A vote of affirmation at special town meeting is required to be eligible. If the grant is not awarded the vote won’t matter.

The remaining 32 percent, if all goes as planned, would be requested through the town’s Community Preservation Act fund, an accumulation of a portion of local property taxes matched by the state, for recreation, historic preservation, or open space projects.

Riverfront Park fits into the town’s broader vision for the 9.5-acre property near the end of School Street. Immediate plans there include a small boat launch paid for by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, expected to be completed by the end of this year.

“The proposed Riverwalk would establish a half-mile pedestrian loop connecting the Veterans Memorial, Town Offices, library, boat launch, scenic riverbank, and playing fields,” the information sheet says. “The pathway would accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, and would lead to an overlook platform offering dramatic views of Mount Sugarloaf and the Route 116 bridge.”

The riverfront project, designed by Berkshire Design Group, doesn’t alter the ball fields already on the property.

Last year, voters approved $36,631 in CPA money for the project’s first phase. Patch said about $20,000 of that money remains.

Also on the special town meeting warrant, residents will vote on a requested $12,398 to convert existing streetlights to energy efficient, long-lasting LED lights.

Patch said the money will be paid back with grants, utility incentives, and energy savings.

Smaller items on the warrant include a question to appropriate money to help facilitate Sunderland’s Complete Streets Project. Last month, the state awarded the town $394,972 in accessibility upgrades to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety along South Main Street and River, Hadley, and Garage roads and North Silver Lane.

The special town meeting is slated to begin at 7 p.m. in the Sunderland Elementary School, 1 Swampfield Drive.