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Turntable Park on Stonecutter's Way

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Background:
The City of Montpelier began an aggressive strategy to improve the economic vitality of its downtown and its riverfront areas in 1993. A major component was the redevelopment of the Winooski East rail yard, a particularly derelict and under-utilized area of Montpelier's downtown riverfront, into an active place to shop, eat, enjoy the riverfront, and appreciate the city's heritage. Between 1997-1999, the City constructed basic infrastructure along Stone Cutters Way to support the commercial redevelopment of the land and buildings with federal, state, and local funds. A Phase I environmental assessment was done at that time. During the design phase and through later stages, the public was clear about its expectation that public access to the river (visual or actual) must be provided.

The land is owned by the State of Vermont, through the Agency of Transportation, Rail Division. The City executed a lease agreement encompassing the state-owned portions of the Stone Cutters Way project area (road, bike path, sidewalks). The remaining areas were made available for private sector redevelopment.

Throughout the project, the City maintained its intent to create a public park, an area along Stone Cutters Way specifically reserved and designed for public use and enjoyment with the turntable as a centerpiece. The park development was delayed partly due to lack of design funds, but more due to the unexpected shift in the Washington County Railroad operator's intentions for their future use of the Turntable. Consequently, the Turntable site was removed from the City's lease area for Stone Cutters Way and remains under the jurisdiction of the Agency of Transportation.


A train is on the Montpelier turntable. View is looking across the Winooski River, summer of 1947.
The site is located along the north bank of the Winooski River and consists of approximately 0.27 acres of land, which was part of the historic and presently active railroad corridor for the Washington County Railroad. It is bounded by the Winooski River to the west, Stone Cutters Way and the Winooski East Bike Path to the east, the former Salt Shed to the southeast, and a new office building to the northwest. The adjoining former Salt Shed, owned by the Pyralisk Arts Center, has been approved for a 11,490 sq ft community arts center. On the parcel to the northwest, controlled by Railroad Associates, Inc., a 3-story, 30,000 sq ft office building office building is currently under construction. The rail line along Stone Cutters Way adjacent to the bike path remains in active rail use, though much less so now with Bombardier in Barre having been shut down. The site is in the 100 year floodplain. It is also in the Riverfront Zoning and Design Control Districts. The Turntable is eligible for listing as a contributing structure on the Montpelier National Register District, entered on the National Register on November 3, 1978 and "...is a significant, rare, example of a railroad turntable".


Project Update

The time has come to move the Turntable Park concept forward. The City hired the landscape architect team of Jean Vissering of East Montpelier and Robert White of Norwich, Vermont to develop a design plan for the historic Turntable Park. The City is also in the process of incorporating the site back into the Stone Cutters Way lease area, after which it will become the City’s responsibility to maintain. The design project is being funded entirely with City funds. Funding to construct the park is expected to come from other sources, one of which is may be come from the Designated Downtown Sales Tax Rebate benefits associated with the construction of the River Station office building.


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Designs

Designs produced by Jean Vissering and Robert A. White, ASLA

A public workshop was held on September 19, 2002 to review issues and solicit ideas that would help shape the design of the park. From those ideas, the design team developed three preliminary designs and presented them for review and discussion at a special meeting of the MDCA Design Committee on October 3, 2002. Those who attended the September 19 workshop and others were invited to attend. ( September 19, 2002 Workshop Notes )
 
 
Preliminary Design A
October 3, 2002

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Preliminary Design B
October 3, 2002


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Preliminary Design C
October 3, 2002

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Design Concept - October 2002
Designs produced by Jean Vissering and Robert A. White, ASLA

As a result of the review and discussion of the three alternative designs above, the design team took the comments and developed the following design concepts.
Turntable Park Concept
Plans & Sketches

October 11, 2002

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Section Thru Turntable
October 11, 2002

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View Looking South
October 11, 2002
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The MDCA Design Committee and others reviewed the plans at their meeting on October 17 and made further suggestions. Robert A. White presented the plans to the Montpelier City Council at their meeting on October 23, 2002. The Council generally accepted the park design, though concerns were expressed that it may be rather extravagant for Montpelier. The Council was quite concerned about the estimated price tag and directed that a scaled back design be presented. The Council also asked that information be provided about non-City sources of funds that would pay for the park and budget implications of future, on-going maintenance costs.

 

Design Concept - November 2002
Designs produced by Jean Vissering and Robert A. White, ASLA

Revised Plan Sketches - November 11, 2002
Phase 1 Revised Plan

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Phase 2 Revised Plan

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  • The turntable structure is the focal point of the park. Its basic structure remains intact and visible from all viewpoints, but it becomes useable for a number of different purposes. Although the design does not restore the turntable to a point where it could be functional, the design would not eliminate the possibility of a full restoration in the future.
  • The diagonal turntable track becomes a pathway. The pattern of the old ties is reflected in the surface with additional wood or metal supports to provide a comfortable and safe walking surface.
  • Half of the turntable is filled to create an open lawn 18” below the rim of the turntable. Seating is provided around the outside rim, and a ramp leads up to the walkway/plaza/sidewalk level of the park.
  • One quarter of the turntable remains in its historic condition allowing people to view the steel trusses of the track as well as the circular track around the periphery of the concrete rim. There is a 4 foot drop to the circular track which sits on a ledge, and another 2-3 foot drop to the bottom of the pit. This portion of the turntable will be fenced. Some restoration of the various components will be required.
  • The remaining quarter of the turntable will be covered with a slightly raised decking which will serve as performance space, flexible seating space, and a river overlook. A black steel mesh material may be used for the decking which would allow some visibility of the track structures underneath the decking.
  • Two catwalks extend out over the river providing views up and down the river. The remaining curved deck edge is set back to retain the maximum amount of vegetation on the riverbank.
  • Riverbank planting will be enhanced in order to encourage lower shrubs and taller trees that permit views out between the understory and overstory layers. Some invasive species such as honeysuckle may be replaced with more appropriate species.
  • Seating will be a combination of granite slabs and benches with backs organized to accommodate individuals or small groupings. Small stone tables can be used as surfaces for lunch, chess games, or as theatrical pedestals.
  • The edges of the park are planted with trees and groundcovers and serve as buffers from the street and neighboring buildings, while the interior half of the turntable becomes a multi-purpose lawn area.
 

 

Scaled Back Design Concept - March 2003
Designs produced by Jean Vissering and Robert A. White, ASLA
Phase 1

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Revised Plan Sketches
March 2003


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Phase 1

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Next Steps

Contrary to a Times Argus article on November 18, 2002, the City Council DID NOT approve the Turntable Park design or budget. This item was on the Council's November 11, 2002 agenda, but no new action was taken. The Council did, however, agree to proceed with an application to the Downtown Board for the sales tax reallocation at some point in the future to help fund this project.

In order to qualify for Designated Downtown Sales Tax Rebate dollars from the River Station project for construction of the park, a design must be developed and approved before the River Station office building is completed. That, and the fact that applications must be submitted to the Downtown Board by the first Monday of each month, are major factors driving the timeline on this project.
Turntable in Spring 1957

Photo from: Vermont's Granite Railroads, Robert C. Jones,
Whitney J. Maxfield, and William G. Gove, Pruett Publishing
Company, 1985, ISBN 0-87108-695-6

The applications to the Downtown Board for the Sales Tax Reallocation and for Transportation Funds have been submitted to the Downtown Board. The Board will meet on Monday, March 24, 2003 to review them.

March 25, 2003 - Design Review Committee
This scaled back phase one plan will be reviewed by the DRC on Tuesday evening, March 25, 2003. The meeting begins at 5:45 PM. This will be an informal review to get preliminary feedback before bringing it before the City Council the next night.

March 26, 2003 - City Council
The plan will be on the City Council's March 26, 2003 agenda for review and further direction.

We still need to fully explore the short and long-term implications of the proposed design, such as construction costs, public safety issues, and long-term maintenance responsibilities. If the Turntable Park design is approved conceptually by the City Council, it will proceed through the local permit process on to the Development Review Board approval.