City to convert vacant lot into 'green space'

Nov 23, 2012 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The Riverton City Council has decided to apply to the Brownfields Assistance Program for funds to be used for removing further contamination at the vacant, city-owned lot at 422 E. Main St. in downtown Riverton.

And, in a split vote, the council opted to move forward with converting the empty lot to a "green space" for community benefit, rather than a parking facility or business use.

City intern Angela Cochran said the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality could use the Brownfields money to conduct the cleanup on the land. The DEQ set up the program to help local governments investigate, clean up and reuse properties known or suspected to be contaminated.

Cochran reported that more than $81,000 has been spent so far by the city to demolish the old dry cleaning building and to remove asbestos from the site.

The city had listed the lot for sale but removed it in part because of "potential buyer's fear of liability for the contamination," Cochran said.

A cleanup strategy has yet to be finalized. Cochran said the money from the program could be provided up to one year from when the application is turned in.

"If the city chooses this, the city will have to act quickly due to limited funds that would be dispensed to those who apply first," Cochran said.

DEQ supervisor Vickie Meredith estimated the cost for the cleanup should be no more than $7,000.

The city also would have to describe what it intended to use the lot for and how the new use would benefit the community, although the city wouldn't be obligated to stick to that decision in the future.

City administrator Steven Weaver said that if the city chooses to use this lot for the community instead of selling it, then there is a higher chance that the application will be approved.

A different program could provide a

liability insurance.

The property was found to be contaminated with chlorinated solvents from the dry cleaning business, and petroleum was found in the soil, probably from the site's earlier use as a gasoline station.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Storage Tank Program is in charge of assessing the property and finding the source of contamination.

The Brownfields program would only clean up the contamination of solvents. DEQ already has done some remediation work to deal with the petroleum issue.

Many uses for lot

Cochran also presented a report that outlined her research on what the people of Riverton would like to see happen to the lot.

The majority of business owners and community members she interviewed said a "green space" with a public restroom would be desirable. She said the city could use the area for events such as farmers markets, stage performances, church events, or to meet friends and have lunch.

Cochran said a green space would be pleasant because there is a free parking lot already in place behind Kusel's Furniture store on Main Street.

"It is not attractive to have a parking lot in the heart of downtown," Cochran said.

She said many business owners do feel that parking availability is an issue, however, and an additional parking lot would work better for them.

Other residents suggested relocating the Riverton Chamber of Commerce or establishing a visitors center at the site. Cochran said the chamber board knew of grants that could help with about half of the cost of suitable building.

"The city would have to find the matching funds," Cochran said.

She said improving the lot "will build our community, will encourage community pride, and will add value to the community. This property has the potential of becoming a little jewel of a green space."

Two downtown hair salon owners approached the mayor and council members saying they would prefer a nice parking lot to make it easier for their customers to visit their business.

No action yet

The council has not yet agreed on the lot's future.

Weaver said he hoped he could bring closure to the already lengthy uncertainty of the lot's use so that the Brownfields application could get started.

Ward 1 Councilwoman Diana Mahoney moved to make the lot a green space, and council member Mary Ellen Christensen seconded the motion. Councilman Todd Smith suggested the council hold off on making a decision for the lot's use. He said that once it's cleaned up buyers may be interested in it once again.

"I just keep feeling like we're jumping the gun on this precinct property. We keep being told that we're not in a hurry, but yet we're in a hurry to try to make a decision," Todd said.

He said only a few citizens chimed in on the issue, and more people should be pulled in to help decide its outcome. He also said the city will have to consider the costs for maintaining the green space if it includes a public restroom.

"I'm a little reluctant to make a decision right away," he said.

Weaver said designating a purpose would help with grant applications.

"The reason why we're trying to push this through is to find out if we can apply for these grants," Weaver said. "Grants take a long time, and if we don't know what we're going to do with that property, we can't apply for the grant."

Weaver said the process could take several years if it sits for too long.

Councilman Lars Baker agreed with Smith that a decision should wait so that a financial angle can be properly looked into. He said the city's finances are priority, and the lot could be valuable real estate. He said he is unsure what the lot should be, because other citizens may have other ideas as well.

"I think making downtown comfortable and convenient and a pretty place to be is a positive thing to do," Baker said.

Mahoney said that if the council decided on something they could still change their mind in the future. Mahoney said the best idea would be to get the grant process going.

"We don't accept the grants until we spend the money," Mahoney said. "We're really not going to commit real heavily to anything except getting the grant process started."

Councilman Richard Gard said the downtown park is beautiful and more people should make use of it rather than creating a new park.

"Three short blocks away we have a wonderful park that we have just abandoned," he said.

He added that the grant process could take a long time, and the council will have to plan well how they spend the money. Bark agreed with Smith that the council needs to make a wise decision. He said a nice business could enhance the downtown area.

"That would add to our tax base," Gard said.

Mayor Ron Warpness said more businesses are good for the city, but money shouldn't rule every decision. He also felt undecided.

Community development director Sandy Luers emphasized the importance of making a decision.

"If we wait three years, $80,000 is going to go away," she said referring to the amount the city could receive through grants.

Voting "yes" on the green space were Christensen, Mahoney, Baker and Warpness, with Gard and Smith voting "no." Councilman Eric Heiser was not present.

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