Pittsfield residents push back on plan for 'pocket parks' renovation


PITTSFIELD -- Not quite a dozen residents attended an informational session Wednesday on plans to renovate two downtown "pocket parks," but officials received plenty of feedback.

The city plans to refurbish and upgrade both the Persip and Sottile pedestrian plazas -- located on opposite sides of North Street at the Columbus Avenue and Eagle Street intersections -- and the projects are expected to go out to bid in time for a construction start this summer.

James "Jef" Fasser, director of landscape architecture for designers Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. of Worcester, gave a presentation of the plan and fielded a number of questions. In general, he said, Sottile Park at Eagle Street will see design changes, repairs and upgrades, while Persip Park at Columbus Avenue will essentially be reconstructed and features will be repaired.

Several questions focused on design features that residents thought would be too difficult to maintain or keep clean or would attract undesirable visitors, such as people wishing to sleep on benches.

John Sottile, son of Anthony W. Sottile, a longtime city auditor to whom that park was dedicated in 1984, said the two planned small grassy areas, benches and bench-like components, and areas around vegetation will attract people who want to sleep during the day.

While he approved of many features, Sottile said the design "is set up for failure." Grass near a raised circular performance stage area in Sottile plaza, along with low curved walls at the height of benches, will draw unwanted attention, Sottile said.

"That grass is inviting for sleeping," he said, which could discourage other residents from stopping at the park.

He and others said they believe the oddly shaped grassy segments also will be difficult to keep trimmed.

In addition, several of those who attended remarked that the intersections are "one of the windiest" places in the city, which can ravage plantlife and spread any litter around the downtown.

Sottile, who said he has spent a lot of time in the parks and helped maintain them, said "there really should be a park ranger in these parks all day," and he advocated city funding for such a position.

Sottile also advocated closed-circuit cameras with a feed to the Police Department.

Fasser emphasized that the project is still in the design phase and comments from the public are being sought and suggestions might be incorporated in the final design.

Claudine Chavanne, president of Pittsfield Beautiful Inc., which maintains public flower displays in the city, asked several questions. Fasser answered that connections for water and electrical outlets will be available in the parks.

Chavanne also suggested a coating or surfacing for the paving bricks and cement features to prevent damage from skateboarding or other activities, and a non-slip surface on the walking areas.

Fasser said the planters for flowers will be of moderate size and there will be trellises. Chavanne advocated consideration of an automated plant watering system.

The shrubs will not create secluded areas, he said, and there will be "adequate lighting." He said the intent is to make the entire plazas open and visible for easy monitoring by authorities.

There will be a new kiosk providing information for travelers arriving by train or bus at the nearby Intermodal Transportation Center, he said, and new paving bricks, sidewalk areas and fencing.

The platform area in Sottile park, which will be round and about two feet high, will have a circular ramp to allow access by wheelchairs. Another circular area nearby has curved bench-like walls and the grass sections.

Persip Park, which is dedicated to the Persip family, will have standard benches and new sidewalk access to the rear section, along with new fencing and brick paving and lighting.

Community Development Director Douglas Clark, who attended along with Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood and Laurie Mick, community development specialist for special projects, said the suggestions gathered will be taken under consideration.

Anyone who wants to add their comments or suggestions should email or otherwise contact his office, Clark said.

The city has a budget line of up to $700,000 for the projects, Collingwood said.

The projects are the next step in the city's overall streetscape improvement plan, which thus far has focused on South Street and North Street to the Columbus Avenue intersection. Work also is expected this year in the area of Wahconah Street and Berkshire Medical Center, Clark said, and Eagle Street is eyed for improvements as well as a logical pathway to The Common on First Street. That area is being reconstructed this year.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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