Edgartown votes land taking, sewer work
Edgartown voters made quick work of a the 20 articles on the special town meeting warrant Tuesday evening. A total of 194 voters, well more than the required quorum of 159, packed into the Edgartown School cafeteria and completed their work in about an hour. The deteriorating economy was cited in reasoned dissent on several big ticket items, but in the end, voters approved all the questions before them, including an additional $750,000 to take land for a cemetery, engineering work to extend the town's sewer system, and money to pay for a new water main on North Water Street.
The question of approving a legal settlement, which called for an additional $750,000 to complete the taking of land by eminent domain on Robinson Road, was among the most contested issues.
Voters at a 2006 special town meeting approved the taking at the assessed value of the land, $1,550,000. The Edgartown United Methodist Church, which owns the land, had a purchase and sales agreement to sell to Paul Donovan, a developer. A subsequent survey showed the land parcel was larger than noted on the assessors map. That point was critical, because it allowed the land to be subdivided into four building lots, instead of three, resulting in a disputed appraisal value. Mr. Donovan sued the town, filing his lawsuit in Edgartown Superior Court. He then withdrew that action, and refiled in U.S. District Court in Boston. The case, already postponed once, is set for trial next year. In the interim, attorneys for the town negotiated a proposed settlement with Mr. Donovan, agreeing to increase the purchase price by $750,000.
"We've been hearing a lot lately about bailouts and golden parachutes," said one voter. "Mr. Donovan does not deserve a bailout. The town should fight it in court and let the results be what they are."
Attorney Dick Renehan represented the town in the case. According to town counsel Ronald Rappaport, Mr. Renehan recommended that voters approve the settlement, because of the cost of litigation and the uncertainty of a favorable verdict from a federal court jury in Boston unfamiliar with Island land issues.
On a voice vote, with only a smattering of dissenting votes, the article was approved. Funding for the additional $750,000 is from several sources, including unused money previously voted for the Pennywise Path affordable housing project, Community Preservation Act funds, the sale of cemetery lots, and money left over from the Chappy fire station project.
Island Grove sewer
Another controversial article asked voters to spend $85,000 for design, permitting, and bidding on an extension of the sewer system to the 148-home Island Grove subdivision. The article was amended to a lower amount, $70,000. According to wastewater plant manager Joseph Alosso, the estimated cost of the sewer construction will be $840,000, an amount voters will likely be asked to spend in a separate article at the annual town meeting next spring. Taxpayers will be asked to split the cost equally with residents of the subdivision. Mr. Alosso estimated residents will pay $200 to $300 dollars per year for 20 years to fund construction, and $5,000 to $10,000 to connect to the sewer.
"It's a private subdivision," said Jim Athearn. "Why is the town paying for the sewer?" Mr. Alosso noted that the subdivision lies within the watershed of Edgartown Great Pond, and sewering would remove nitrogen that is threatening the pond.
"For all of Edgartown, there is a benefit," said Mr. Alosso. "This is a move toward keeping the watershed clean."
Water department superintendant Fred Domont spoke in opposition, echoing the concerns of other voters about optional hook-up to the sewer system. "As a taxpayer, I'm a little confused," said Mr. Domont. "If you're not forced to hook in, it seems to me a better solution is to dredge the Great Pond, and look at the Great Pond to see how we can lower nitrates. We're in a recession. I don't think the town should be taking on major infrastructure projects in this economy."
Paul Bagnall, the town's shellfish constable rebutted that argument. "We have dredged Edgartown Great Pond, and we saw some improvement," he said. "Edgartown Great Pond is at the breaking point. We had sporadic oyster and clam seasons out there. If we don't start to reduce nitrogen, it will go downhill from here."
A majority of Island Grove residents support the project, and 88 percent of them intend to connect to the sewer, according to one resident who spoke in favor of the article. "Now is the time," the resident said. "These things are costly, but so too do they add value to our pond. Great Pond is worth saving."
The article carried by a large margin on a voice vote.
North Water Street main
Also drawing some dissent was a question asking for $160,000 to pay for replacement of a water main under North Water Street. The main was replaced as part of a privately funded project to remove overhead utility wires and poles along the picturesque street along the harbor. More than $2 million has been raised privately for the project, and the main was replaced rather than hold up the project for several years until the town could fund it, according to Bailey Norton, who helped organize and raise funds for the private project.
"If we stopped and waited for this money, this job would never have been done," said Mr. Norton.
Voters approved the expenditure, funded from money received by the water department as a settlement in a class action lawsuit.
Also approved Tuesday were a series of articles setting up a trust fund to receive and administer donations for affordable housing, including a $1.8 million payment from developers of the Field Club, paid in lieu of donating three building lots in the exclusive private development. Voters agreed to purchase a home on Twenty-Second Street for affordable housing, at a cost of $300,000. They also accepted 180 feet of beachfront at Bend in the Road Beach, to be leased from the Cow Bay Corporation in perpetuity for $1 per year.