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You have to have a parks and recreation department to own a park.
That was the latest lesson Belville commissioners learned as town officials, led by commissioner Joe Breault, continue to pursue developing a riverwalk along the Brunswick River.
Breault presented riverwalk plans to Brunswick County commissioners at their Oct. 21 meeting and requested the transfer of Brunswick River Park to the town.
The county board approved scheduling a public hearing on the request for Nov. 4.
The proposed riverwalk would include a 12,000-square-foot restaurant and retail site off N.C. 133 just north of Brunswick River Park that would include a 120-foot fishing pier in the Brunswick River, eight shops, a walkway and an observation tower.
During his update to the Belville board, Breault dispelled rumors of changes the town would make if the park were turned over.
“We do not plan to change any policies or restrict access. The only plans we have to change anything at the park is to dedicate area for a farmers’ market and for a community garden,” Breault said. “There are no other changes.”
Breault said he met with the Brunswick County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on Oct. 7 and received a 6-1 vote in favor of recommending the transfer of the park to county commissioners.
Breault said county commissioners’ one concern after the Oct. 21 presentation was the town’s ability to financially support the park.
“I suggest we set a timeline. If Belville is not able to accept grants — and there will be no building unless we have grant money in hand — if within five years if we have not built (the new facility) we relinquish the park back to the county,” he said.
While working at an accelerated schedule to submit a Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) application in January, Breault said the town still needs eight permits approved to include with the application.
But the primary hurdle the town had to leap this week was establishing a parks and rec department, at least on paper. A PARTF grant submission receives a higher score if the town applying has a parks and rec department, so Belville decided to create one.
Breault and Mayor Mike Allen said if the grant request falls through the town board can dissolve the parks and rec department.
Public works technician Pat Walsh was named parks and recreation technician, which makes him the supervisor of the new department, at least on the PARTF application.
“If we receive the park, we will have to hire (employees) to maintain the park. For right now we are establishing the parks and recreation department on paper,” Breault said.
Since the riverwalk presentations, Breault said, the town has had many talks with developers interested in participating in the boardwalk buildings as well as Belville’s downtown development location, which is also along the Brunswick River.
“And we’ve had more movement in downtown redevelopment in the last four months than we’ve had in the last four years,” he said.
Allen said he sent the county staff a letter requesting the transfer of the Brunswick River Park property to the town of Belville and asked for the transfer as soon as possible after the Nov. 4 public hearing, if the county agrees to transfer the park at that time.
Commissioner Charles Bost said he didn’t oppose the town requesting the transfer of the park, but questioned whether they should establish the parks and rec department without already having claim to the park.
“I just want to ensure we aren’t putting the cart before the horse,” Bost said.
Breault said the park transfer request is an attempt to be proactive rather than reactive in an attempt to meet all the requirements of the PARTF grant the town will depend on to build the riverwalk.
Board members voted unanimously, 4-0, to establish a parks and recreation department and add parks and recreation technician to Pat Walsh’s title at a wage grade of 6, the same as his public works technician role.
Town staff was also tasked with revising the current job description so that if/when the time comes the town can hire parks and recreation staff to maintain the park.
Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.