Hartford keeps Wilder park and ride open, despite safety complaints

  • Brandee Platt and her daughter Kennedy, 4, search for a ladybug along the park and ride lot in Wilder, Vt., on Monday, May 23, 2022. As a volunteer at the Dothan Brook School, Platt was waiting for her son and others returning from a fun run to the Haven where they donated food they collected. Platt helped students cross safely at a nearby crosswalk. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/31/2023 5:11:54 PM
Modified: 5/31/2023 5:11:28 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The Wilder park and ride will remain open to the public while the Hartford Selectboard considers other ways to alleviate concerns from neighbors about public safety.

Town administrators recently proposed closing the commuter lot temporarily to allow time to address ongoing safety concerns raised by residents who say it is frequently used for unlawful or nuisance activities such as littering, sleeping in vehicles or drug transactions.

But on Tuesday the Selectboard rejected the proposal, concluding that closure was unnecessary and would be an overreaction.

“I’m a little concerned that we may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” board member Mary Erdei said. “I think the park and ride is generally being used (for its intended purpose). Are there other things going on? Well, it happens. But if the lot is closed, they are just going to move somewhere else.”

Board members questioned the evidence of an overabundunce of unsafe activities at the park and ride. Earlier this month, Police Chief Gregory Sheldon told the Valley News that most of the reports of illegal activity from residents were unfounded upon investigation.

“While I appreciate citizens’ concerns and I truly take those to heart, we should base our decisions on data more so than emotion,” board member Lannie Collins said.

Sheldon told the board on Tuesday that most of the lot’s misuse has been in the form of littering, dumping and public urination.

Overall, the chief said that area of town has a very low rate of crime or violence, averaging less than one “serious crime” per year — a category that includes sexual assault, armed robbery or homicide — and about three second-tier crimes per year such as fraud or forgery, illicit drug use, or disorderly conduct.

The serious crimes over the last decade were nonviolent types, “like high-level fraud or embezzlement,” Sheldon added.

Despite being unfounded, the calls about the lot have a real impact on municipal services, Acting Town Manager Gail Ostrout told the Selectboard on Tuesday.

“We as staff have received numerous, hundreds of phone calls from multiple residents regarding their safety,” she said.

At the meeting, many residents urged the board to keep the lot open, saying it provides a valuable resource for carpoolers, public bus riders and travelers needing to rest.

Tom Kahl, of White River Junction, said his outdoor activities group regularly uses the park and ride as a meeting place so members can carpool to their main destination.

“My anecdotal experience is that there have been no problems,” Kahl said. “There was that van that was parked there until winter. But I don’t think there’s that much litter, not any more than anyplace else in town.”

The vehicle that Kahl referred to was a motor home that would park in the lot for several weeks at a time, including overnight, raising complaints from neighbors about loud or disruptive behavior from the vehicle’s occupants, littering and aggressive dogs. The town impounded the motor home last November.

Marie Alvin, of White River Junction, said she would like to see the lot’s rules followed and enforced.

“No, there’s no murders, knifings, rapings or kidnappings going on there, but there are drugs being exchanged there, drug paraphernalia and camping going on there, and none of that should be happening,” Alvin said.

Alvin also criticized the park and ride’s location. Whereas the park and rides in Weathersfield and Hartland are located directly off the interstate, the Wilder lot is a half-mile from the nearest Interstate 91 exit.

The board may explore other alternatives to alleviate safety concerns at the lot, such as video surveillance or lighting upgrades.

Sheldon said that cameras would enable the police department to monitor lot activity with fewer physical visits. If a criminal act occurred the police would have a recorded image of the individual or vehicle.

Ostrout said Hartford may be eligible for funding from a state program that opens next month to pay for solar-powered lighting and electric vehicle charging stations at the park and ride.

Adams Carroll, executive director of Advance Transit, said his company also could install solar-powered lighting to the bus shelter at the lot.

“I know the (park and ride) isn’t the busiest stop we have seen, but it is utilized by carpoolers and people who come to park and switch to mass transit during the day,” Carroll said. “I do worry that if that option were to be taken from people, there’s are not a lot of affordable park-and-ride options in the network.”

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or at 603-727-3216.

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