Since the Mount Rainier Skate Park opened in 2009, some residents along nearby Otis Street and Wells Avenue have grown leery of the constant sound of skateboards grating against ramps just beyond their backyards and next to their homes.
“It’s great for the kids, and I’m glad they have a place to play, but for the neighbors in the immediate vicinity it’s really hard on us,” said Fred Lavezzo, who lives on 37th Street, near the park. “I’m an older guy, nearly 60, so I take naps during the day and I’ll hear this clatter.”
City officials met Feb. 21 in a work session to discuss a solution to allow skaters to enjoy the park, which is open from dawn to dusk, while keeping the noise down. Lavezzo said the park is busiest right after school and on Saturdays, but not after dark.
Officials from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which operates the skate park, said the county allocated $150,000 that either can be used to make changes to the skate park or proceed with earlier plans to use the money to renovate a playground located on the same property as the skate park. The playground needs new equipment and to be made handicapped-accessible, Mayor Malinda Miles said.
Eileen Nivera, M-NCPPC planner-coordinator, said staff don’t have a way to track usage at the free skate park. The park is bordered by four houses, which are most directly affected by the noise, city officials said.
Several proposals are being considered to address the noise, Miles said.
The first would place an 8-foot-tall sound wall resembling a wooden fence with sound-absorbing material sandwiched between the boards. Estimates have the barrier nearly exhausting the allocated funds, at a cost of $120,000.
“Park and Planning’s thinking is that the fence would serve such a limited amount of noise abatement that they would prefer to use the money to renovate the [playground],” Miles said.
Nivera said a sound consultant recommended a barrier about 12 to 14 feet tall to be effective. However, higher barriers would need to be special-ordered and would be more costly, she said.
“We will never be able to eliminate all the noise, so it’s a question of how much noise reduction is satisfactory,” Nivera said.
Councilman Jimmy Tarlau (Ward 1) suggested installing a partial sound barrier with a portion of the funding and using the remainder to renovate the park’s playground equipment.
“The way the park is set up, we could put one wall alongside one house, but putting a wall on the back portion of the park would be very expensive,” Tarlau said. “Not everyone is going to be happy, but at least it would help one person.”
Karen Mixon and her partner, Jennifer Lloyd, bought their home in 2004, and five years later the skate park was built right behind their fence, prompting them to attend council meetings and petition M-NCPPC for noise studies.
“The noise levels they found were completely excessive,” Mixon said.
The couple rented the house out and moved to New York in August.
“We just got tired of [the fact that] nothing happened,” Mixon said. “There were other factors, but we were eager to move to get away. The park was definitely one of the factors in our moving out of the city.”
Another proposal was to change the park’s usage by converting it into a pump track — a dirt bicycle park — that could utilize some of the existing ramps. A pump track would be quieter but would require more maintenance and upkeep, Nivera said.
Councilman Bill Updike (Ward 1) proposed installing a stretch-skin dome and adding panels that would absorb sound. Updike said cost estimates of the dome alone would be as much as $50,000, but he was unclear on the panel costs.
Lavezzo said even if the sound barriers are not the most effective solution, he’d rather see something be done to address the noise instead of dealing with the playground renovation.
Tyrese Robinson, who lives three blocks from the park, said she never hears noise from the park and favors renovating the playground area.
“We have an influx of residents having babies and adopting toddlers, and there’s no beautiful green space for that area,” Robinson said. “The park has outdated play equipment, and the paint is chipping.” The next closest M-NCPPC playground is at the Nature Center at 4701 31st Place.
Robinson said she has seen a decrease in skate park usage.
“What we had before was people coming from other areas throughout the state to check out the park, and now what we’ll see is our own neighborhood kids making use of it,” said Robinson, who added the park would see less use from noncity residents as newer parks are established.
The Melrose Skate Park in Hyattsville, 2.5 miles away from Mount Rainier’s park, is closed to complete grading and pavement work, but Nivera said the work should be completed in a few weeks. College Park’s first skate site will open in mid-April, Nivera said.
There also are skate parks in Bowie and Greenbelt, but M-NCPPC does not operate those, Nivera said.
The council plans to further discuss the issue at its March 6 council meeting.