Authors Posts by Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow
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The building permit issued in 2004 for The Preserve at the Woodlands was deemed valid with conditions.

Approximate area of the Southern Woodlands subdivision. – Courtesy of Google Maps

After a month of wrangling and under the threat of litigation, the Oak Bluffs Planning Board (OBPB) agreed with the buyers and sellers of the Preserve at the Woodlands on amendments to the special permit issued in 2004 that will allow the project to move forward. In a unanimous 5-0 vote Thursday, the planning board agreed the special permit for the 26-lot subdivision remained valid, albeit under new conditions imposed by the board.

In earlier meetings, the two sides reached agreements about increases in open space and adjustments to special ways. The major sticking points, affordable housing allocation and nitrogen mitigation, were the focus of Thursday night’s public hearing and vote.

Disagreement over the validity of the permit surfaced between stakeholders and the planning board almost immediately after Paul Adamson, a Boston-area developer and Edgartown seasonal homeowner, purchased the property for $5.15 million at a June 26 auction from National Land Partners, a subsidiary of Patten Companies. The subdivision is the remnant of the never-completed Down Island Golf Club and figured large in the deal under which the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank purchased the majority of the property, now known as the Southern Woodlands.

As he had at last Thursday’s planning board meeting, Geoghan Coogan, attorney for the buyer, Boston-area developer and Edgartown seasonal homeowner Paul Adamson, presented the board with a set of draft proposed amendments to the 2004 permit.  Mr. Coogan said the sellers, NLP Finance, and his clients, had combined to make a final offer of a $700,000 payment to the Oak Bluffs Affordable Housing Trust (OBAHT).  That was a substantial increase over the initial offer of $240,000 and the most recent offer of $650,000 made last week.

At the Tuesday night meeting of the selectmen, representatives of the OBAHT and Oak Bluffs selectmen made a formal recommendation that the planning board hold out for $880,000, the amount the town can require per the “Flexible Development” by-law.

Thursday night, Mr. Coogan made it clear to the board that $700,000 was as high as his clients were willing to go. The planning board members agreed that the stakeholders had bargained in good faith and deemed the amount sufficient.

Nitrogen mitigation continued to be a difficult number to pin down but in the end, the two sides agreed to a specific number, no more than 19 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of wastewater. Selectman Gail Barmakian, who also serves as a wastewater commissioner and is co-chairman of the Lagoon Pond Watershed Committee, had requested the OBPB require a reduction of 75 to 90 percent.

Mr. Coogan reminded the OBPB that the town has no stated by-law for nitrogen mitigation and this his clients had already bargained in good faith by reducing the total number of bedrooms from 190 to 156 and agreeing to a 50 percent reduction.

“We’re doing something that doesn’t technically have to happen,” he said. “We’re going above and beyond because we’ve heard the town’s concerns.”

Mr. Coogan also told the board that two of the stakeholders owned houses on the Island and were vested in the environmental health of the Island.

“We don’t have standards or bylaws [for nitrogen mitigation] and I’m not as confident in voiding the permit on that level,” OBPB chairman Brian Packish said. “I feel confident they’re prepared to do what needs to be done.”

He also noted that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which must approve the modifications, and the town board of health will also have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

 

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The board asked for an $880,000 affordable housing payment, almost double the original offer.

Oak Bluffs harbor is a popular place in the summer. Harbor revenue is up this year. File photo by Dick Iacovello

Although Oak Bluffs selectmen appeared to have a typically light midsummer agenda for their Tuesday-night meeting, they addressed some weighty issues, in particular the affordable housing component tied to the pending sale of the Southern Woodlands subdivision.

The buyers and the sellers of the long-dormant 26-lot subdivision off County Road named the Preserve at the Woodlands are now before the Oak Bluffs planning board. At issue is the validity of the special permit issued in 2004 and the degree to which the planning board may amend the attached conditions, including an affordable housing contribution.

Sellers of the $5.15 million note on the property have threatened legal action if the board voids the special permit.

The board expected to debate whether or not to endorse the $480,000 cash contribution to the Oak Bluffs Housing Trust the stakeholders offered at last Thursday’s planning board meeting. However, planning board Chairman Brian Packish told selectmen that Geoghan Coogan, attorney for the buyer, Boston-area developer and Edgartown seasonal homeowner Paul Adamson, had upped the offer to $650,000 minutes before the meeting.

Town Administrator Robert Whritenour said that per the town “Flexible Development” bylaw, which was approved at town meeting in 2004, Oak Bluffs is entitled to 10 percent of the proposed 26-unit housing inventory, which is two finished units.

At last Thursday’s planning board meeting, Mr. Coogan said his client was not willing to give up land, but was open to making financial remuneration to the Oak Bluffs Affordable Housing Trust (OBAHT). Mr. Whritenour told selectmen that Town Assessor David Bailey calculated the current value per lot to be $440,000, and thus the affordable housing component for the deal should be $880,000, per town bylaw.

Selectman Kathy Burton, a real estate agent in Oak Bluffs for many years prior to joining Santander Bank, said the $440,000 lot price was “very fair.”

Rather than press for 10 percent of the value of two “units” at the planned luxury development, the consensus was that the OBAHT would receive the much-needed funding much faster if the deal went by lot value.

“I can’t speak for the rest of the [planning] board, but I know this offer is a lot more in line,” Mr. Packish said. “This is a significant improvement.”

The original deal approved by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the planning board included an initial payment of $100,000, $10,000 per lot per sale, and a $500 affordable housing fee that would accrue annually, to be paid in full when an owner of one of the properties sold it. Town officials agreed that the affordable housing contribution should be one lump sum.

“The accrual process creates a lot of murky water,” Mr. Packish said. “Let’s get the money up front so we can begin to develop affordable housing.”

From a procedural standpoint, the discussion was part of a meeting with the OBAHT because the trust is comprised of the board, Town Assessor David Bailey, and Planning Board Member Ewell Hopkins, and is chaired by Marie Doubleday, who was also present.

In a procedural matter, selectman Walter Vail motioned that the OBAHT recommend the selectmen endorse the $880,000 affordable housing component of the Southern Woodland subdivision deal.

The selectmen then unanimously voted, 5-0, to endorse the $880,000 figure to the planning board, which must ultimately make the final decision.

The planning board is scheduled to meet this Thursday night in town hall.

 

Chief gets five years

In other business, selectmen voted unanimously to approve a new five-year contract with Police Chief Erik Blake, retroactive to July 1, worth $153,00. Chief Blake’s previous contract was for three years.

Chief Blake’s base salary for FY16 will be $127,000, up 6 percent from his $117,300 base salary in FY15. He will receive an additional 20 percent over his base salary per the Quinn bill, which requires participating municipalities to provide 10 to 25 percent salary increases to police officers who obtain advanced degrees in criminal justice. Chief Blake has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Western New England College.

If he receives a positive performance review from the selectmen next year, he will be awarded a 3 percent raise, and then receive cost-of-living increases commensurate with other town department heads for the rest of the contract.

“It’s great to have the chief locked in for another five years,” Town Administrator Robert Whritenour told the Times on Wednesday. “It shows the selectmen have a high degree of confidence in the overall direction of the department. We have a very busy department for such a small town, and it’s the only police department on the Island that is certified by the state.”

Chief Blake in turn had good news for the selectmen when he petitioned the board for permission to accept an anonymous $5,000 donation which would be used to help build a new police shooting range planned for town-owned property near the airport. Selectmen unanimously approved.

Mr. Whritenour informed selectmen that revenue from the harbor fuel facility has substantially exceeded financial projections. He noted that the facility has been beating projections since the preconstruction phase, when bids came in 25 percent lower than the budgeted amount.

“We’ve more than doubled our performance projections since we opened last June,” Mr. Whritenour said.

In a subsequent interview with The Times Wednesday, Mr. Whritenour said anticipated total gross revenues in FY15 were $249,600, and actual revenues were $389,022.

“We had anticipated a net loss of $14,345 but instead we made approximately $125,000 profit, which also factors in debt-service costs. We anticipated selling about 60,000 gallons of fuel, and we’re closer to 100,000.” Mr. Whritenour added that the harbor is sold out through the end of the summer, and demand for slips has far outstripped supply, and limits potential profits.

Per the unanimous vote of the Roads and By-Ways Committee, selectmen voted unanimously for the creation of two new pedestrian crossings, one on Vineyard Avenue near the intersection with County Road, and the other on County Road between Vineyard Avenue and Carole Avenue. The impetus for the new crosswalks was a petition started by Bettie Eubanks that garnered over 100 signatures. The crosswalks should be in place by August 1.

 

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Jeffrey Sylvia, left, and William Bailey were arrested on drug charges on Tuesday July 28. Photo courtesy of Edgartown Police Department

Members of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force (MVDTF), led by Oak Bluffs Police Detective Jeffrey Labell and Edgartown Police Detective Michael Snowden, searched a rental house at 7 Arrowhead Lane in Oak Bluffs, where they seized 46 grams of heroin and arrested two Oak Bluffs men Tuesday on a wide variety of drug charges.

Jeffrey Sylvia, 27, is charged with heroin possession and trafficking, and possession of Percocet, Suboxone, and marijuana. He was also charged with operating in a Drug Free School Zone, because the house is within 300 feet of the Oak Bluffs School.

Police also arrested William Bailey, 33, who they described as “a known heroin addict,” for being present where heroin is kept.

Members of the Drug Task Force armed with a search warrant searched the house and found 46 grams of heroin, 3 Suboxone strips, crushed Percocet pills, approximately 1 ounce of marijuana, and $8,934 in cash, in a safe they said belonged to Jeffrey Sylvia. Numerous syringes and other drug paraphernalia were also found in the house, according to the police report.

The arrests were the result of a monthlong investigation.

“This was a good score for the good guys,” Detective Snowden told The Times. “We received information from informants and from citizens in the community,” he said.

Detective Snowden said that Mr. Sylvia has an extensive arrest record for drug violations, and that he personally has arrested Mr. Sylvia before for possession of heroin. Mr. Bailey also has previous arrests for heroin possession.

Mr. Sylvia is being held in the Dukes County Jail on a $50,000 bond.

Mr. Bailey is in Dukes County Jail on a $10,000 bond.

Detective Snowden said that the investigation remains open, and that police have been in contact with homeowner Christopher Cramton, who was not at the house when the arrests were made.

 

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The board and property owners are at odds over efforts to amend a special permit issued in 2004 for the Southern Woodlands subdivision.

One of two unfinished houses languishing in the unfinished Southern Woodlands subdivision now before the Oak Bluffs planning board. Photo by Michael Cummo

The decade-long saga of a Southern Woodlands subdivision, the remnant of the never-completed Down Island Golf Club, added another colorful chapter last Thursday when the Oak Bluffs Planning Board (OBPB) and attorneys for the property stakeholders met for a third time. At issue is the validity of the special permit for the 26-lot subdivision off County Road named the Preserve at the Woodlands.

The action heated up before the meeting began. As she had prior to the July 9 OBPB meeting, Michelle Manners, attorney for NLP Finance, sellers of the $5.15 million note on the property, threatened legal action if the board rescinded the special permit issued to former owner Corey Kupersmith in 2004. Ms. Manners stated that she would sue the board and individual board members if they employed “such a draconian maneuver to achieve [their] goals.”

An agreement is in place to swap landlocked parcel "S" with parcel "T." Parcels "T" and "O" (already owned by Oak Bluffs) would give the town a large parcel with frontage on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road that could be developed. Photo by Michael Cummo
An agreement is in place to swap landlocked parcel “S” with parcel “T.” Parcels “T” and “O” (already owned by Oak Bluffs) would give the town a large parcel with frontage on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road that could be developed. Photo by Michael Cummo

Ms. Manners also presented a copy of a letter to the board addressed to Attorney General Maura Healey in which she sought an advisory opinion. Ms. Manners told the Attorney General the permit has not lapsed, and that the board was acting “on a pretext solely for the purpose of gaining a more favorable affordable housing contribution than originally agreed to by the planning board.” She said that the matter has ”broad impact across the Commonwealth.”  In an email to The Times of Wednesday, July 29, Ms. Manners said she’d received no response from the Attorney General’s office.

As Thursday night’s meeting closed, Ms. Manners informed the OBPB that she had also received an email from the bankruptcy trustee, who was also threatening litigation if the board rescinded the special permit.

The OBPB is expected to meet Thursday night, July 30, at 7 pm in the lower meeting room in town hall and hold a public hearing, to be followed by a possible vote on whether to let the 2004 special permit for Southern Woodlands stand, to approve the permit with amendments, or to rescind the permit.

Simmering all summer

Tensions between stakeholders and the OBPB began to rise almost immediately after Paul Adamson, a Boston-area developer and Edgartown seasonal homeowner, purchased the property for $5.15 million at a June 26 auction from National Land Partners, a subsidiary of Patten Companies.

OBPB leaders said they planned to take another look at the project, in particular the requirements for nitrogen mitigation and affordable housing, because it considered several of the provisos of the 11-year-old permit outdated.

New Bedford Attorney Daniel Perry has advised the OBPB that the planning board has the authority to rescind the special permit for the Preserve at the Woodlands.

Ms. Manners has repeatedly challenged that opinion, and she did so again as soon the Thursday meeting began. “Taking this step is overreach,” she said. “You’re acting in a capricious manner.”

“Our attorney has reassured us of the authority of the board,” OBPB member Ewell Hopkins said. “We stand by his opinion.”

Mr. Hopkins is the former executive director of the Island Affordable Housing Fund, which foundered on a downturn in the economy and the failed Bradley Square project in Oak Bluffs, which ended in foreclosure. He has pushed hard for an increase in the affordable housing contribution negotiated as a condition of the original permit.

For the most part, cooler heads prevailed for the rest of the 90-minute discussion. As he has in the past, OBPB Chairman Brian Packish said that although the board has the right to rescind the permit, its intention is to work with the stakeholders to find equitable solutions so the project can move ahead — just not with 2004 criteria.

Geoghan Coogan, attorney for Mr. Adamson, presented the board with a set of draft proposed amendments to the 2004 permit. These included doubling compensation for affordable housing from $240,000 to $480,000, preserving more open space, providing better access to special ways and hiking trails, enlarging the buffer zone between the development and preserved lands and, to address nitrogen mitigation, reducing the limit of overall bedrooms from 190 to 156, or 6 bedrooms a unit, and a willingness to discuss enhanced wastewater options.

The draft offers for 25 additional acres of open space, rerouted special ways and increased buffer zones were, in general, well received by the members of the board.

The revised offers for nitrogen mitigation, and in particular for affordable housing, were not.

Affordable housing divided

Both the sellers and the buyers combined to fund the new $480,000 offer for affordable housing. The number was derived, according to Mr. Coogan, using the town affordable housing bylaw — two units of the 22 lots qualify for a 10 percent allocation, and the town assesses the lots at $240,000.

Oak Bluffs town officials did not agree with the figure or the calculus involved.

Mr. Packish said he thought the lots were undervalued by half.

Marie Doubleday, chairman of the Oak Bluffs Affordable Housing Trust, said the amount “isn’t even close.” She declined to discuss a counterproposal until she could speak with the full committee.

Mr. Hopkins was unyielding that the Southern Woodlands special permit follow town bylaw passed at town meeting in 2004, which states a special permit for a “Flexible Development” of 10 or more “dwelling units” must allocate either 10 percent of the units for “low income” families or 15 percent for “moderate income” families, which translates to two to three units in the proposed 26-lot development.

“The will of the people is paramount,” he said. “It was voted at town meeting and it’s not negotiable.”

“You wanted land, which we’re not willing to do,” Mr. Coogan said. “Are we willing to put more money on the table? Potentially, yes. But land versus money is a sticking point.”

Negotiations have progressed since Thursday night. Tuesday night, planning board chairman Brian Packish told selectmen that Mr. Coogan had increased the offer from $480,000 to $650,000. A lengthy discussion ensued. Town administrator Robert Whritenour said that per the town flexible development by-law, Oak Bluffs is entitled to 10 percent of the housing inventory, which is two finished units. Mr. Whritenour said the town calculates the current value per lot to be $440,000, and thus the affordable housing component for the deal should be $880,000. Selectmen agreed with a unanimous vote.

Swap meet

Mr. Hopkins added a wrinkle to the affordable housing negotiations on Thursday night when he said if Mr. Coogan could help facilitate a long-delayed land swap between the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank and the town for an adjacent town-owned landlocked 24-acre parcel, he might look more favorably on a financial settlement, provided the amount was higher than the $480,000 offer.

Although the issues were unrelated, Mr. Coogan told the the OBPB that he would be happy to help clear the titles if that would help the deal move forward. “I have all that title work,” he said. “It wouldn’t take too long to figure it out.”

Mr. Coogan told The Times on Monday that his late father, Edmond Coogan, a lawyer and former Tisbury selectman, had done a great deal of title work. “I have 16 boxes of it in my basement,” he said.

Mr. Coogan told The Times that even though the land swap is not legally connected to the Woodlands special permit, he would consider it to be a win for his client and for the town.

“Completing the swap would be a huge step for affordable housing in Oak Bluffs,” he said. “It would help move along multiple projects, including teacher housing walking distance from the high school.”

“When Geoghan said he could help make the swap happen, that put the offer in a whole different stratosphere,” Mr. Hopkins told The Times on Monday. “By taking the land out of the heart [of protected Land Bank property] and putting it in the southeast corner by the hockey rink, across from Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, that would do more for affordable housing in Oak Bluffs than just money, and it would create a whole lot more than three affordable units. It would enable us to focus on comprehensive planning for a significant number of people.”

Negotiating nitrogen

Mr. Coogan’s offer Thursday to reduce the number of bedrooms from 190 to 156 elicited little enthusiasm. However, the offer to “work with the Oak Bluffs Board of Health and Joint Lagoon Committee to come to an agreement that would require individual lot owners to eliminate a negotiated percentage of nitrogen with enhanced septic technology” sparked a lively discussion.

“It’s disheartening that I have to be here for our ponds,” Selectman Gail Barmakian, who is also a wastewater commissioner and co-chairman of the Joint Lagoon Pond Watershed Committee (JLPWC), said. “They are dying. We have to do something. We have no choice. The science the MVC used [in 2004] is outdated. We’re already faced with removing 47 percent of the nitrogen in the entire watershed. This project will add 20,000 gallons of sewage a day.”

In a letter to the OBPB, Ms. Barmakian and JLPWC co-chairman Melinda Loberg requested that the development either create its own sewage plant or require homeowners to use systems that remove at least 75 percent of nitrogen from their wastewater.

Lagoon Pond Association President Doug Reece told the board, “I’m here to support Gail. It’s unfortunate that the buyers are getting thrown into this, but we have to deal with this now.”

At the conclusion of Thursday night’s discussion, Mr. Coogan agreed at the meeting to work with Ms. Barmakian and members of the Tisbury/Oak Bluffs Lagoon Pond Committee to negotiate a percentage figure for nitrogen reduction.

Conditional

In an email to The Times on Monday, Mr. Coogan said that all of the amendments he presented at the Thursday meeting are conditional. “These are draft offers subject to further discussion and ultimately agreement by the board, seller, and buyer,” he said. “We don’t own the land, so we can’t actually commit to offers just by the potential buyer.”

OBPB Chairman Brian Packish told The Times he thought there was significant progress in all areas. “They went from $240,000 to $480,000 on affordable housing,” he said. “They reduced the number of bedrooms per lot by 25 percent. They agreed to a no-cut zone along the west end. I deem that progress. Twelve hours before the meeting, there was no progress; six hours before the meeting, the buyer and seller were backing out. I went into Thursday’s meeting thinking they weren’t going to offer anything.”

Mr. Hopkins said that ultimately the planning board will make an informed decision with input from all relevant town departments.

Mr. Packish said the interdepartmental cooperation is an example of “Oak Bluffs taking care of Oak Bluffs in a cohesive way.”

He said, “The MVC has expressed little interest in this matter. This is the town taking care of itself.”

 

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The retired 72-year-old offers practical advice and emotional support to the growing elderly population of Martha’s Vineyard.

Abe Seiman

A recent University of Massachusetts Medical School Rural Health Scholars reported that 16 percent of the Martha’s Vineyard population is over 65 years old, and that age group will comprise more than one-third of the Island population by 2030. The impending demographic shift is so dramatic, some refer to it as “the Silver Tsunami.”

The same survey concluded that a top priority for Island health care providers should be to “recruit geriatricians and mental health providers.”

Abe Seiman of Oak Bluffs came to the same conclusion after interviewing personnel at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Windemere, Island Healthcare, and Vineyard Medical Services.

“We don’t have enough therapists to service the Island, and I think there’s a particular lack of options for seniors,” Mr. Seiman told The Times. To help fill this void, Mr. Seiman created Practical Solutions, a counseling service for seniors who are grappling with a dizzying array of choices and questions instead of the tranquil simplicity they’d hoped for in their “golden years.”

Mr. Seiman, 72, and his wife have been homeowners in Oak Bluffs since 1962. He retired here six years ago, after a long career in the health care industry, primarily in geriatric care and elderly housing. He has M.S.W. and M.B.A. degrees. He also worked as a counselor in private practice in his native Long Island.

Combining his business and counseling experience, Mr. Seiman started Practical Solutions to provide answers to questions. These include: How do I protect my assets? How can I care for my spouse with dementia without losing my mind? What Medicare plan do I chose, and what the hell does a doughnut hole have to do with it?

Money matters

A search of the Medicare website, Medicare.gov, showed an Oak Bluffs resident over 65 years old would have a selection of 28 Medicare plans, widely varying in cost and coverage. While there are online resources like the Medicare Rights Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to explaining the intricacies of Medicare to the masses, obtaining the information requires a degree of computer saavy that many elders lack. And no website can allay the stress of making a decision that could affect the rest of a person’s life.

“Medicare can be very complicated and overwhelming,” Mr. Seiman said. “Choosing a plan can be a big source of anxiety. After working as a nursing home administrator for 30 years, I know the ins and outs of Medicare and Medicaid pretty well. You can get Medicare at age 65 and in some instances 62, but it won’t cover home health aides, nursing homes, or assisted living, which are all the services you’d need if you break a hip,” he said.

Many seniors live in constant worry that their assets can be gobbled up by a nursing home or the costs of home health care. One way to protect a lifetime of accumulated assets is to divest them into a trust, and to make their heirs the trustees, Mr. Seiman said.

“A transfer of assets into a trusteeship can be a complicated process, and for many people, it’s a very hard sell,” he said. “It can be a very wise business decision, but at the same time, it’s a very emotional decision and that’s where my counseling experience comes in. Giving up control can be very difficult. Many people are afraid that could mean losing their home someday, but you have a clause in the trust that stipulates that you can stay in your home for life, unless a court orders that you’re too impaired to live there.”

Mr. Seiman said there’s a time factor in the weighty decision, which can add to the stress. “Unless it’s done five years before you need full time care, it won’t protect your assets. If you own a home, and you need full time care and haven’t transferred your house [into a trust], MassHealth puts a lien on it.”

Mr. Seiman also said that most people don’t realize that it’s also possible to negotiate deals with nursing homes ahead of time. “Forty years ago, a lot of private nursing homes would only do private pay,” he said. “But if you want to go to a nursing home that says they don’t take Medicaid, you can negotiate to pay two and a half years upfront at market rate, if they agree to take Medicaid after that. It’s a competitive business, and many of them are open to making deals. You have to know what’s negotiable, what’s not.”

Mr. Seiman said that whether it be a transfer of assets into a trust, or a negotiated deal with a nursing home, a lawyer should always be consulted. “There are a couple of lawyers on the Island that I could recommend with confidence,” he said.

Aging ain’t easy

There are emotional conflicts unique to aging. Friends, spouses, and loved ones die with increasing regularity, and loss becomes a constant. So does physical and mental decline. Couples who were forced to spend time apart during their working years can struggle when they’re suddenly together 24/7, and that dream house they bought 40 years ago has become a daily obstacle course.

“I can go to someone’s home and show them how to make it safer,” Mr. Seiman said, adding he’s informed by his experience planning and staffing the Martin Luther Terrace Apartments, a senior living development in Deer Park, N.Y.

“I oversaw the development of a 100-unit senior living complex, and I’m very familiar with all the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. I can show you what height the sinks should be, how wide the doorways need to be, what ramping you need for wheelchairs, and also how to improve the overall safety of the home,” he said.

Diminished memory is a natural function of aging. But a forgotten appointment, lost house keys, or a charred chicken dinner can leave an elderly person, or his or her spouse, fearing the worst. As part of Practical Solutions, Mr. Seiman said he can help determine if that forgetfulness is significant.

“I can test someone and tell how severe their memory loss is, and counsel them how to deal with it,” he said. “In mild cases, it can be a simple as putting up signs around the house, like a reminder to turn off the stove.”

Talking to an adult with Alzheimer’s is like talking to a child, and it can be incredibly frustrating, he said. “I always encourage the caregiver to take time off, to get out of the house and be with friends, to give themselves permission to take a break from it. It’s better for everyone if they do,” he said.

There are less dramatic factors of aging that also take a heavy emotional toll. “It can be very hard when a spouse retires and two people suddenly find themselves together all the time. You can drive each other crazy, and I speak from personal experience — just ask my wife,” he joked.

Ultimately, the goal in counseling elders is to reconnect them with a sense of self-worth, which can be difficult to maintain in today’s society. “The decline in personal self-worth with the elderly is very significant,” he said. “Long ago, elders were thought of as sources of wisdom. In today’s world, that’s often not the case. When you were a parent, you were an authority; when you get old, everyone thinks what you have to say is passé. But there’s one thing you have to know about the elderly: They all have opinions, and they don’t mind expressing them.”

According to the Martha’s Vineyard Health Aging Task Force, 47 percent of households age 65 and over have incomes of less than $30,000 per year. With that in mind, Mr. Seiman said while his services are not free, he will work with clients for what they can pay. “I don’t want money to keep people from using the service,” he said. “It could be $20 a session, it could be $10 a session. I’m not doing this to get rich. I just want to help fill a big need on the Island.”

For more information on Practical Solutions, call 508-696-9030.

Correction:  An earlier version of this article stated that Medicare can put a lien on people’s homes when they are in long term care. It is MassHealth (Medicaid) that pays for long term care and that can take that action.

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The SSA met Tuesday and agreed to consider a SeaStreak request to add a New Bedford, Oak Bluffs, Nantucket leg.

The Steamship Authority held its monthly meeting on Martha's Vineyard Tuesday. From left, Moira Tierney of New Bedford, Robert F. Ranney of Nantucket, Chairman Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, Elizabeth H. Gladfelter of Falmouth, and SSA General Manager Wayne Lamson.

Amid stifling heat in Katherine Cornell Theater on Tuesday morning, the Steamship Authority (SSA) discussed and voted on a wide range of issues at its July meeting. Boatline members agreed to consider a request that would expand regional high-speed service, voted a change in Blue Line policy that will expand daily standby capacity for Island residents, agreed to changes in the 2016 schedule, and heard a report on information technology improvements that now include text-message updates.

 

SeaStreak poised to expand

On Tuesday, the boatline members heard a proposal that would, if approved, create a regional high-speed ferry link between New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Fast ferry company SeaStreak currently operates daily seasonal high-speed ferry service between New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard, as well as weekend service between Manhattan, Oak Bluffs, and Nantucket with a Friday arrival and Sunday departure. SeaStreak proposes to utilize a second fast ferry to provide twice daily trips Thursday through Sundays next summer between New Bedford, Oak Bluffs and Nantucket.

Currently, inter-island service is provided under SSA license by Hy-Line, based in Hyannis. Passengers who want to travel to Nantucket by way of New Bedford take the fast ferry to Oak Bluffs and transfer to a Hy-Line ferry.

The trip takes a little over six hours, depending on weather conditions. The proposed SeaStreak expansion would make two round trips a day, and shave an hour of travel time off each, since a transfer to a Hy-Line boat, currently required in each direction, would no longer be necessary. SeaStreak would also increase inter-island travel.

Inter-island traffic on the Hy-Line peaked in 1994 with 30,000 passengers, and it has declined steadily in the past 20 years, to 7,800 passengers during the summer of 2014. Hy-Line reduced its inter-island runs from two to one in 2006.

A condition of the deal, should it be approved, is that SeaStreak provide the service through the summer of 2017, the end of the company’s license agreement with the SSA.

“We do have the assets to provide this service,” SeaStreak Vice President Jack Bevins told the SSA. “We’d be ready to start as soon as it’s approved.”

SSA General Counsel Steven Sayers said that Hy-Line had just submitted a proposal to expand its inter-island service with the addition of another ferry next year. He added that Hy-Line officials had expressed concern about the financial impact the SeaStreak expansion would have on the company’s bottom line.

Hy-Line Vice President Murray Scudder was in attendance to ask the SSA for equal consideration. “I just heard about [the SeaStreak] proposal a week ago Friday,” he said. “We’ve been providing services between the islands since 1989. We have recently expanded our service the past two seasons, extending it into October, and we’re excited about proposing to increase that service.”

“We will also be willing to work with Hy-Line, as well,” Mr. Bevins said.

“We will try to be fair to both operators,” Mr. Sayer said. “At this point we don’t know where we’re going to end up, and that’s the whole beauty of the process.”

Mr. Sayer said after public hearings in Oak Bluffs, Nantucket, and New Bedford, and a thorough vetting to ensure both companies can provide the proposed services, the decision will be made at a public meeting.

The SeaStreak has already successfully lobbied the SSA once this summer. On June 16, the SSA approved the request from SeaStreak to extend its Manhattan, Oak Bluffs, Nantucket route through Labor Day weekend.

 

Blue Line adds flexibility

Seeking to give Islanders without a reservation more opportunity to get off-Island or to get home when standby is not an option, the SSA unanimously approved a measure that would allow more preferred customers to travel via the Blue Line. Currently, the Blue Line has a maximum of 15 cars per day. The revised policy removes the cap to allow for additional openings, which frequently occur, especially when a commercial vehicle cancels. Commercial vehicles are not eligible for the Blue Line. Preferred customers with a reservation who try to get an earlier slot via the Blue Line are rolling the dice, because they have to forfeit that later reservation. Additionally, they’ll have to leave the SSA terminal parking lot and find overnight lodging on their own if a space doesn’t open, and they will not get priority boarding the next day. The availability of the Blue Line can be halted at any time at the discretion of the agent on duty.

 

Digital improvements

Mary Claffey, SSA director of information technologies, told the assembly that improvements are being made in infrastructure, ticketing, and in customer communication. “We continue to have increased Wi-Fi usage by our customers,” she said. She added that while the signal strength is improving, people who stay in their cars may not get a signal. She also said there are some connectivity glitches with the iPod Touch that are being worked out. “We treat the network as we would any corporate network, and we will continue to monitor it closely,” she said.

Ms. Claffey said she has received a good deal of positive feedback from Islanders who’ve signed up for text alerts on the SSA website. Text alerts can tell customers about cancellations and diversions, and also notify them when they get a match on the wait list. “People really love that,” she said. The wait list has been changed so it notifies customers when they get a match immediately, instead of the following morning.

Ms. Claffey said electronic ticketing for walk-on passengers has begun with the fast ferries, and has been working well. Electronic ticketing is a paperless form of ticketing, which allows a customer to show their ticket to an SSA agent on their smartphone. “We have found some isolated scanning issues,” she said. “Usually it’s when people are trying to save battery life and don’t have their screens bright enough.”

 

More trips in 2016

In other business, SSA unanimously approved schedule changes for winter and spring of 2016. To meet increasing demand, the SSA will add two more scheduled round trips on Saturdays and Sundays in the winter and shorten the winter schedule, Jan. 4 to March 15. The new “early spring” season will run from March 16 until April 11, and will offer three additional round trips on a freight boat each weekday and up to seven round trips on weekends. SSA General Manager Wayne Lamson said the additional manpower will not require overtime pay or calling in additional crews.

Mr. Lamson gave an upbeat financial report, stating year-to-date operating expenses are down $1.4 million from last year, due in large part to reduced fuel prices. The $1.9 million in fuel expense is over $1 million lower than budget estimates. Overall the SSA year-to-date net operating loss was just under $9 million, roughly $2.2 million lower than budget projections. “Cash transfers will be higher than expected,” he said. “Our ad agency would probably say it’s from better advertising. But there are a lot of factors involved.” Mr. Lamson noted the one-day round trip $50 special on Monday through Thursday was particularly successful.

Mr. Lamson said that June revenues were up $265,000 over last year, while overall operating costs were down $55,000.

 

 

Islanders who legally obtain cannabis will break federal law when they bring it home.

With no grow sites on Martha's Vineyard, Islanders eligible for medicinal marijuana must break federal laws to bring their prescription home.

Martha’s Vineyard faces a medicinal marijuana paradox. While Island patients can now legally obtain medical cannabis in a Massachusetts Registered Marijuana Dispensary (RMD), there are no RMDs on the Island, and when they bring it home, they’ll be committing a federal offense.

While state law permits transporting the salubrious shrub from farm to a Registered Marijuana Dispensary (RMD), and to legally registered patients, it’s still a federal crime to transport it on the high seas up to 12 miles from shore. The U.S. Coast Guard has taken a clear stance on the issue. In a press release earlier this year, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard in Boston stated, “Our policy remains the same; it’s illegal to transport and possess marijuana.”

Transporting marijuana in United States airspace is also a federal offense.

The state medical marijuana law does not provide immunity under federal law, and the U.S. government takes a much different stance on cannabis from Massachusetts voters, 63 percent of whom approved the “Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana” in 2012. Seventy-four percent of Island voters approved the measure.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, the same category as heroin, because it is defined as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. The penalty for a first offense for possession of any amount of marijuana, according to federal sentencing guidelines, is up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. For a patient on parole, the penalty can be far more severe.

 

Access denied

This is the second time Martha’s Vineyard has encountered complications with medical marijuana access. Although the 2012 law required each county in the state to have an RMD, Dukes County is one of four Massachusetts counties that did not receive a license. Berkshire, Franklin, and Nantucket counties are also bereft.

There is a change on the horizon. In response to the bungled application and awarding process in 2014, the Baker administration’s Department of Public Health (DPH) unveiled a more streamlined and efficient RMD application process in June, a stated priority of the governor in last year’s election. Eric Sheehan, interim director of the Bureau of Health Care Quality at DPH, told The Times that this time around, the counties without dispensaries will be at the front of the line, “to better fill underserved areas of the state.”

This change, however, is on a distant horizon. According to the DPH website, it will take licensees 210 to 540 days to complete their pre-opening protocol, and DPH protocol will take 38 to 79 days, although some days may overlap.

Even though the Island with heavy agrarian roots may someday be able to allow farmers to grow cannabis and circumvent the transportation problem, it’s going to be years before an Islander won’t have to commit a federal offense to bring his or her medicine home.
In a meeting on July 13, Marylou Sudders, the Massachusetts state secretary of Health and Human Services, said, “Perhaps we have to do something differently on the islands.”

 

Island growing initiative

Geoff Rose, president of Patient Centric of Martha’s Vineyard, is the only on-Island applicant seeking to open a RMD in the newly established format. While none of the four Island applicants were awarded a license in the first licensure round, Mr. Rose and his associates scored the highest with his plans for a West Tisbury location. “It’s definitely a lot more organized and streamlined this time,” Mr. Rose told The Times.

Mr. Rose and his partners were not reimbursed any of the $31,500 they paid to apply in 2013. This amount does not include a legal bill he described as “sizable.”

Mr. Rose is a sole proprietor this time, and said he will risk the same amount of money if he gets to the next level. As of Wednesday, he hadn’t heard from the state about the application he filed on June 29. “It’s hard to even make a guess at this point,” he said. “The last time took about a month until they got back and invited us to the second round, so I would be looking to the end of the month or sometime in early August.”

Growing cannabis on-Island has always been part of Mr. Rose’s business plan. “The issue of transportation is not new,” he said. “It was raised a year and a half ago for the Island and Nantucket because of the SSA. I simply said, ‘I’ll cultivate here.’ There are many reasons to do that, not the least of which is it’ll create jobs. That’s very important.”

Mr. Rose estimates Patient Centric of Martha’s Vineyard will create 15 full-time jobs. He said a Denver consulting firm calculated that enough cannabis should be grown to accommodate 2.2 percent of the population. With an estimated year-round population of 18,000, about 400 Islanders could be expected to seek medical marijuana.

“I projected a little bit higher,” Mr. Rose said. “One, because of the aging population, and unfortunately cancer tends to follow an aging population. Also, we have a significantly larger labor force of tradesmen that deal with chronic pain in a number of different ways.”

Currently only the flower of the plant can be sold at Massachusetts RMDs. However, once infused products like baked goods, teas, and tinctures are allowed, it will open up more opportunity to use local ingredients. “We will access any kind of local ingredients that will be involved with the edible product,” he said. “We really want to keep it all local.”

If Mr. Rose is awarded an RMD license, one more paradox hangs in the air. Fertilized seeds and seedlings are also illegal to transport across state lines and federally controlled skies and waters. Illinois lawmakers were faced with the same problem last year. “Everyone agreed to look the other way,” State Representative Louis Lang said in an interview with NBC 5 in Chicago. “We purposely left the bill silent. There is no way to write this.”

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Building inspector tells selectmen increasing fees closer to state average will pay for badly needed additional staff.

Oak Bluffs building permit fees are among the lowest in the state. – Graph courtesy of Oak Bluff's building inspector

Citing a sharply increased demand for building permits and the burgeoning workload on the Oak Bluffs building department, Building Inspector Mark Barbadoro petitioned selectmen to increase building permit fees to fund a new full-time local inspector/zoning enforcement officer and technology improvements in the department.

Mr. Barbadoro made his case to the selectmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday night with a trove of information in a PowerPoint presentation.

“Some people don’t like the idea of raising fees, but the purpose behind the increase is to allocate the cost of the service to the person who benefits,” he said. “A builder is the beneficiary of the permit, and he should be paying for the service, not a little old lady on a fixed income who doesn’t do work on her house.”

Mr. Barbadoro showed the number of building permits issued in the town more than doubled between 2012 and 2014, from 569 to 1,117. He expects that number to increase again in 2015.

“This is partially due to economic growth and a decrease in permit turnaround time,” he said.

 

Pay to build

Mr. Barbadoro did a survey of building permit fees for 100 towns in eastern and central Massachusetts, using the most recent International Code Council (ICC) Building Valuation Data (BVD). The BVD is a national average, updated every six months, that factors current economic conditions, the type of building, and the materials which are used. Mr. Barbadoro said its inherent flexibility and uniformity is a better measure than square footage or building valuation, which encourage builders to lowball the overall cost of the project.

Using BVD, he found that the Oak Bluffs permit fee is in the bottom 8 percent of the state. “Thirty-four percent are at $10 per thousand, or 1 percent of the total construction costs for the project; Oak Bluffs is below $3 per thousand right now,” he said.

Using the BVD metric, Mr. Barbadoro calculated the permitting cost in Oak Bluffs at $2.84 per thousand-dollar valuation, Edgartown at $2.66, Chilmark at $3.73, Tisbury at $3, and West Tisbury at $2.66. Permitting in Nantucket currently costs $8.8 per thousand-dollar valuation, and the Cape average is about $10.
The building permit fee in Oak Bluffs is currently a $300 minimum plus 30 cents per square foot, according to the town website. The permit fee for a new 2,000-square-foot home in Oak Bluffs is $900. The same permit would cost $750 in Edgartown, $500 in Chilmark, and $1,000 in West Tisbury, according to rates posted on town websites. Tisbury building inspector Ken Barwick told The Times that the permit would cost $1,500 using the town’s valuation-based formula.

Under the BVD formula, the permit fee for a 2,000-square-foot house in Oak Bluffs would increase to $1,464.45. “The goal of the proposed new fee is to be about 1 percent of the total construction cost, which is the national average,” Mr. Barbadoro said, adding that since the BVD figure is a national average, builders in Oak Bluffs will pay a relatively smaller amount, since their construction costs can be three times the national average.

The change to BVD-based fee structure would reduce the burden on smaller projects in Oak Bluffs, because the $300 base fee and low square-footage costs favor the larger projects.

“At the same time, a large project creates a much bigger workload in town hall, with multiple board reviews, a four-hour building department review, and eight or more inspections, whereas a deck requires a 10-minute review and only requires two simple inspections,” he said. “The small projects tend to be 1 percent of construction costs, but the large projects tend to be half [of 1 percent] or less. Bigger jobs will pay more because bigger jobs can handle more.”

Mr. Barbadoro estimated the increased permitting fees would generate more than $100,000 for the building department. “It’s a rough estimate, but I’m pretty sure it’s an accurate interpretation,” he said.

 

‘Win-win’

Mr. Barbadoro said the fee increase and resultant improvements would enable him to act more quickly on time-sensitive zoning issues, and to do more frequent and thorough inspections. “Edgartown just had two commercial hoods start fires,” he said. “If you don’t do inspections, things get missed. Business inspections help keep people safe, reduce insurance costs, and lower the risk to first responders.”

Mr. Barbadoro pointed out that hiring a full-time local inspector/assistant zoning enforcement officer would also ensure a smooth transition when he leaves the position. “If we hire a local inspector, he or she will be trained and ready to step in if I move on or retire,” he said. Oak Bluffs was without a full-time building inspector last summer and fall, the height of the building season.

Most of the selectmen were receptive to Mr. Barbadoro’s pitch. No one at the meeting could recall the last time permitting fees were increased in Oak Bluffs.

“I think the idea of improving services is paramount,” Selectman Walter Vail said. “We can get our staffing right and pay for it with additional fees, it’s a win-win.”

“I’m totally in favor of this,” Selectman Greg Coogan said. “We were in the position of not having a building inspector, and not having anyone coming in fully certified as an inspector. I think we’re in desperate need of a trained person who can take over when you get old and gray like me. To have it paid for by people who are making large houses makes more sense than someone adding to a small home to make some room for their family.” Selectman Gail Barmakian advised caution. “You’re proposing a dramatic increase, in some cases tenfold,” she said. “Maybe we need to do it slowly.”

Mr. Coogan suggested delaying a vote until the next selectmen’s meeting so the extensive data could be better digested.

Chairman Michael Santoro noted the extra time would also allow the Finance and Advisory Committee (FinCom) to vet the fee increase.

Selectmen agreed to vote on the increase at their next meeting on July 28.

“I always hear two things about Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Barbadoro said in a conversation with The Times on Wednesday. “One, anything goes when it comes to zoning, and two, no permit takes longer to turn around than it does in Oak Bluffs. I need to make that better, but I can’t do it alone.”

 

FinCom balk

In other business, FinCom and selectmen unanimously voted to appropriate year-end transfers from a wide range of departments to cover a $183,000 deficit in the town operating budget for FY15. $86,000 of the overage is due to the extensive snow and ice removal done by the highway department and independent contractors.

Selectmen rejected the FinCom vote to reject the proposed agreement with the County of Dukes County for services at the newly formed Martha’s Vineyard Senior Services with a 3-1 vote. Ms. Barmakian dissented due to ambiguities in the contract. Selectman Kathy Burton was absent.

“I respect what the board voted,” Mr. Vail said. “I know that the final [memo of understanding] hasn’t been written, but I am concerned if we don’t do it, we’re going to be paying a greater share.” Oak Bluffs was the last of the six Island towns to sign the agreement.

Town Administrator Robert Whritenour ended the meeting with good financial news. Due to a change in state funding for education, and to an increase in the town’s Charter School reimbursement, Oak Bluffs will receive more than $300,000 in education funding in FY16. This means the town will go from $155,000 in negative aid to a positive $150,000.

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Leaders of the two organizations see the value in a shared campus.

MV Times file photo

Officials from the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard and Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena (MVIA) are in preliminary discussions about combining forces to either renovate or replace the existing ice arena.

Geoghan Coogan, MVIA board vice president, told The Times that he and YMCA Executive Director Jill Robie-Axtel began informal talks over the winter.

“The simple fact is the arena’s lifespan shortens every year,” Mr. Coogan said in an email to The Times on Tuesday. “Since its creation in the mid-1970s, the building has constantly been maintained to the best of our ability. With the long-term realities of what it would take to maintain an ice arena, talks began between Jill and myself to explore options of coming together in an effort to seek a new or rehabilitated facility in a cooperative fashion.”

Mr. Coogan was also on the board of directors of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard during construction of the $10.3 million facility.

“We have a duty to this Island to make sure that these facilities are here for generations to come, and these discussions are the product of that mentality,” Mr. Coogan said. “So we are exploring options, and hoping that over the next several months we have a vision, and a goal, to start working toward.”

“At this point, discussions are very informal, and there are no concrete details,” Ms. Robie-Axtell told The Times. “We’ve had some meetings where interested parties could come to the table and share ideas. It’s exciting to sit in a room and talk to a lot of people that are interested in the future of sports and recreation on the Island.”

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Buyer threatens legal action if the Oak Bluffs planning board puts on the brakes.

A sign at the property entrance of the moribund South Wood Farms subdivision provides a glimpse of the original vision. – Photo by Michael Cummo

The June 26 auction and sale of the South Woods Farm, the long-stalled 26-lot subdivision in Oak Bluffs, appeared to be the final chapter in a long and divisive battle over the failed Kupersmith Down Island Golf club that ended in 2004 when the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank agreed to purchase 180 acres for $18.6 million, creating the Southern Woodlands property; the Martha’s Vineyard Commission signed off on the subdivision plan; and Corey Kupersmith stopped suing and left the Island.

However, the legal drama might not be over.

Members of the Oak Bluffs planning board have questioned whether the subdivision permit remains in force, and suggested the new owners might have to begin the permitting process anew. Lawyer Michelle Manning, in-house counsel for buyers NLP Finance, which foreclosed on the property and auctioned it off to Paul Adamson, a Boston-area developer and Edgartown home owner, with the provision that all permitting ducks would be in a row, addressed that possibility in a letter dated July 6, addressed to the planning board and planning board lawyer Daniel Perry.

“We understand from speaking with some of our local representatives that there is a feeling among some or all of the [OBPB] members that rescinding the subdivision permit for the Southern Woodlands project is a legal option for the Board and one they are planning to pursue,” Ms. Manning wrote.

Ms. Manning said it would not be “a legally viable option for the town” or “beneficial for the residents of Oak Bluffs.”

Ms. Manning said that the subdivision permit is still valid, and provided a list of reasons underpinning her view. She noted that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) had already approved the permit, that a large tract of the property had already been sold to the Land Bank as a condition of the permit, that “payment to the Town of Oak Bluffs was received and spent,” and that the subdivision infrastructure — roads, drainage, and utilities — is virtually complete.

The town of Oak Bluffs stands to gain $350,000 in back taxes from the $5.15 million sale. However, if the planning board voids the permit, NLP Finance said it would argue the town had been improperly taxing the property.

Ms. Manning said if the OBPB abrogates the subdivision permit, it would cause NLP Finance “significant financial harm, and we would seek appropriate redress.

“We believe there is substantial interest in the lots in Southern Woodlands and that the sales and building activity it will generate will be a great financial benefit to the town of Oak Bluffs,” Ms. Manning concluded. “Continued litigation of this matter would appear to be in the best interest of no one.”

“The goal isn’t to stop the project; we just want the opportunity to properly review it,” OBPB Chairman Brian Packish told The Times. “It’s the largest piece of open space we have left. We’re planning for an area of town that’s very different than it was in 2002. We have a newly enacted Lagoon Pond overlay district, and nitrogen mitigation has to be discussed. It also sits over our largest aquifer, and the Water District has interest in putting a well there.” Mr. Packish said affordable housing has also not been addressed, and that the Land Bank also has some interest in buying part of the property.

“It sure seems like there’s a much larger conversation to have in 2015 than there was in 2002,” he said. “I think in the eyes of anyone that’s invested in this community, that should seem more than fair.”

The OBPB will meet in the downstairs meeting room in town hall at 5 pm on Thursday, July 9.