Riverton City Council split philosophically over use for vacant lot at 422 East Main

City Administrator Steven Weaver pointed at a conceptual drawing of what the green space at 422 East Main could be developed into. Looking on is Mia Harris, the city’s Customer Service Manager. (Photo by Ernie Over)

By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com

(Riverton, Wyo.) – The Riverton City Council made two decisions Tuesday night on the now vacant, and contaminated, lot at 422 East Main in the downtown district that is being used as a parking lot. Decision number one was to apply to the Brownfields program to help clean up the site, polluted with dry cleaning solvents. That was the easy decision. The second part of the discussion revolved around what the city should do with the parcel, which it purchased earlier this year for $81,000 and then attempted to sell. The lot, however, was taken off of the market after two months because of perceived buyer’s reluctance to purchase land that carried a potential liability for cleanup.

In a report to the council, city intern Angela Cochran reported that the city’s share of clean up costs under the program would most likely not cost more than $7,000. The site is also contaminated with hydrocarbons from another past use, a gasoline station. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has already undertaken a cleanup of that problem, injecting air into the ground in an attempt to evaporate the pollutants that came from leaking underground fuel tanks. That process could take another two or three years, while the Brownfield cleanup could be done in one year, the council was told.

The council voted 5-1 with councilor Eric Heiser absent, to pursue the Brownfields grant. Only council member Richard Gard objected.

The next item on the agenda was a report from Cochran on her survey of downtown businesses, service clubs and others on what use the lot should have once it is cleaned up. A total of 116 people were polled. By a margin of 41 to 35, most favored a green space for the lot, with the second most popular option being a parking lot with with some 15 of those responses suggesting a landscaped parking lot with a public rest room.

City Intern Angela Cochran presented results of a survey she conducted in the downtown area about the use of the lot. (Ernie Over photo)

The philosophical split on the council came into sharp focus on this issue, with councilors Gard and Todd Smith advocating for a use other than a green space while Mayor Ron Warpness and councilors Diana Mahoney and Mary Ellen Christensen supporting a green space. Council member John Lars Baker suggested he would ride the fence for awhile on the issue. Warpness said the motion was for a green space, and not a park with improvements. He said this would be a starting point.

Two side issues that surfaced during the discussion was Riverton City Park, located just three blocks from the lot under discussion, and the public parking lot just a half-block north of Main and Broadway.  Gard suggested the city had “abandoned” the park, which he called the jewel of the city, and has failed to utilize it for events. He pointed out that the park would be an excellent location for the Farmers Market rather than closing off Broadway and “selling vegetables on asphalt.” Mayor Warpness reminded Gard that the city’s Downtowners wanted the market on Broadway as a way to bring additional people into the downtown to potentially stimulate retail sales. Gard said he didn’t understand why the city wanted to take on a new green space “if we can’t take care of and use city park.” He suggested that the lot be put up for sale for a period of three years, the amount of time needed for the clean up, and then if no one is interested, only then consider a green space.

The present city parking lot entered the discussion after comments from the the public were entered into the record during a public hearing. Three people indicated they didn’t realize that the lot was for public parking, assuming it was for employee parking for downtown businesses. Monica Long, who operates a beauty salon in the 400 block, called the city lot “kind of ghetto, not pretty and not a place I’d like to park.” Vicky Williams, who just moved her beauty salon to the southeast corner of Main and Broadway, also said she only recently found out the parking lot was available to the public. A Central Wyoming College student from Hot Springs County, Michael Becker, said he loved going to city park with his son, but said crossing Federal was a big concern for him and he’d appreciate a nice green space closer to the core of downtown. Then he said that until this discussion, he didn’t know the city’s parking lot was public. “That parking could be advertised better,” he said. “Greenspace right downtown is a good investment for the future.” He also acknowledged the unspoken problem at City Park that prevents some people from using the space.

CWC student Michael Becker suggested a green space would be a good investment for the future in downtown Riverton. (Ernie Over photo)

With that, council member Mahoney made a motion to make the lot a green space. Christensen seconded. Smith said he thought the city was moving too fast, in light that cleanup would take at least several years. City Administrator Steven Weaver noted that he was urging action now because it would allow the city to pursue grant opportunities to confirm that outside monies would be available to develop the green space. Without stating a purpose for the land, Weaver said granting agencies would not consider a grant. Mahoney also added that the School District #25 Recreation Board had pledged $80,000 to help develop the lot, but that money would not be available if the city waited for several years to decide what to do with the property.

Warpness said he saw the greenspace “as a tremendous opportunity for our communtiy to invest in the downtown area into something we can all appreciate and enjoy.” He said the green space would enhance their community. It’s important that we do things for the community to make it best we can.”

Gard again said he wanted to see the lot back in the private sector. “We should put a nice business there to add to our tax base then we’d be way ahead and we still have a wonderful city park, but we need to start using it. Gard said the city council needed to provide the direction to place events at the park. “It needs to come from here, not just give it up. Let’s have events there and get back in possession of that property.”

” Our job is to promote Riverton. Maybe you think greenery is to promote.  I don’t see the beauty of Riverton in sidewalks and greenerys, I see it as bricks and motar not a tree or a curvey sidewalk,” he said.

Attitudes Beauty Salon owner testified that she did not have a parking problem at her new location but she said Riverton needed more attractive parking downtown. (Ernie Over Photo)

That drew a sharp retort from Warpness, who noted that the reconstruction of Riverton’s downtown district with amenities came within one vote of failing. “If we had the attitude then that we are demonstrating now, we wouldn’t have our beautiful downtown,” Warpness said. “We have to invest in the future of our community, not the hard and fast dollar. We have to look at the common good for the community and do things we may not do in our own private lives.”

Mahoney said that even though her motion was for a green space, “if someone two years down the road offers us $1-million for the lot, I’m sure the council in place then would go for that.”

When the roll call vote was held, the green space was approved 4-2 with Baker coming off of the fence to vote in favor while Smith and Gard said no.