Judge dismisses suit against Vergennes over toddler park

VERGENNES — Addison Superior Court Judge Samuel Hoar Jr. on Nov. 2 dismissed a civil lawsuit filed against Vergennes by an East Street resident that was related to the city’s failed attempt to build a preschool playground near the city’s East Street swimming pool.
That quarter-acre project, originally estimated at $42,000, was to be funded by a $21,000 grant and by another $21,000 from the city’s Water Tower Fund. City officials walked away from the playground proposal when the cost escalated after a year of delays.
In a one-page decision, Hoar ruled that resident John O’Donnell’s complaint that city officials improperly pursued the playground after residents voted against the project in March was moot because the city had abandoned the effort after he filed the lawsuit.
Hoar wrote, “In May 2015, the City determined the project could not be completed within budget, and would not be well underway by June 30, 2015. Accordingly, the City rescinded its allocation of monies from the City Water Tower Fund and returned the grant funds to the State of Vermont. These actions rendered this case moot.”
On Nov. 10, City Manager Mel Hawley said Vergennes spent $4,700 on the case.
The playground proposal generated opposition among neighbors and other residents, who cited, among other issues, parking, its appearance, safety concerns, the availability of other playgrounds, and better uses for Water Tower Fund money.
But city officials considered the Town Meeting Day vote misleading. The ballot question read: “Should the City of Vergennes build a Toddler/Preschool park adjacent to the Sam Fishman Pool at Vergennes Memorial Park at a cost of $42,000, half of which would come from the city Water Tower Fund?”
They noted the question did not make it clear a grant would fund half the project cost, and no direct taxpayer dollars would be used — the Water Tower Fund is fed by cellphone companies who pay to hang broadcast equipment from the city’s former water tower, next to Vergennes City Hall.

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