Home News and Features City Council Anchors Confluence Park for Now

City Council Anchors Confluence Park for Now

concept design Confluence Park
A concept design of Confluence River Park presented to City Council on Feb. 8, 2023 was created by landscape architect Regina Leonard. Image courtesy of the Montpelier Parks Commission.
Although the cost has more than doubled to $3 million since voters approved a $600,000 bond for a planned “Confluence Park” along the Winooski River, the Montpelier City Council — given the choice to drop the project — opted to maintain its commitment at its meeting last week. 

The decision was made in a 4-2 vote, with councilors Pelin Kohn and Cary Brown voting against continuing with the park project, and Dona Bate, Lauren Hierl, Jennifer Morton, and Jack McCullough voting for it.

As part of planning for the new park, the council also approved requests from the Vermont River Conservancy and the Montpelier parks department to raise an estimated additional $1.8 million for the project. The two organizations will report back to the city in 18 months, at which time councilors will decide whether or not to move forward with the park. 

Roy Schiff of SLR Engineering gave the council a list of reasons for the large increases in projected costs. He said flooding and ice will impact the riverbank portion of the park and require “structural stabilization.” Also adding significantly to the cost is accessible paths and stairs that require a structural wall system, drainage and utility improvements, contaminated dirt and sediment from the river that will need to be trucked to the Casella landfill in Coventry, and landscaping.

The Vermont River Conservancy has helped the city submit winning grant proposals to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Vermont Arts Council, for a combined total of $513,282 to date. Councilor Pelin Kohn asked if $600,000 is the city’s portion of the project even if total costs are above the estimated costs.

“That’s our hope,” replied Kassia Randzio, co-director of the Conservancy and chair of the city Parks Commission. The city allocation will act “as a leverage” to access additional grants, Randzio said. According to City Manager Bill Fraser and Parks Director Alec Ellsworth, if the council does not approve the project, the city will have to repay that portion of the grant that has already been spent on landscape design and engineering work.

Fraser said this project was first envisioned in 2002, then again as part of the Carr Lot project in 2018. The Vermont River Conservancy has worked with city stakeholders since 2018, including Confluence Park Advisors (a group of 12 people), the parks commission, and the city council and has canvassed the public to develop the Confluence Park plan. 

According to Randzio, their goal was to develop a “visionary riverfront transformation” that provides the “opportunity for Montpelier to become a town with a river and to become a river town.” In 2021, 1,300, or 76% of people who took the survey, said they wanted improved river access. This plan is for a new riverfront park that is “truly accessible for as many people as possible.” The design provides for kayak and canoe launches, fishing, sitting, splashing, and “enjoying a lunch by the river downtown.” Parts of the park will be accessible year round. 

Public access to the river for swimming and wading, fishing, and kayak or canoe launching is currently available at Montpelier High School and at Gateway Park. Limited access to the river is also available at various points along the bike path. 

Questions regarding the adequacy of just two allocated parking spaces, the cost of maintenance, repairs, plantings, bathrooms, alternative access points (dam removal), and water safety (possible need for a lifeguard or swift water rescue) were raised. 

Councilors Carey Brown and Jennifer Morton expressed concern about the unhoused in Montpelier who currently use this space. Brown is disturbed by the idea of providing this type of recreational activities in a limited space “to people on a certain income scale and not others. … It’s disturbing to me at a core level the idea of spending $3 million dollars and not meeting the needs of the people who are currently using that space.” 

Councilor Dona Bate agreed with Brown and Morton, she said, adding “I also feel like other avenues have to keep progressing … (the park) brings in people who have money who can spend it and maybe that’s jobs.”