Oak Bluffs reaffirms Bradley Square funds
Oak Bluffs voters Thursday night overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to rescind $400,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding previously approved by voters for the Bradley Square affordable housing project. Withdrawing the funding would likely have doomed the project.
A total of 174 voters were recorded in attendance when the special town meeting began about 7:15 pm. Bradley Square was the focus of more than 45 minutes of sustained debate as the first article on the warrant.
One of those who asked voters to withdraw the funding was Don Lambert, chairman of a citizens committee that had raised concerns about the project. Mr. Lambert played a key role in meetings with the applicants and formal mediation sessions this fall that led to changes in size and scope of the project. The 11-unit project is slated for the corner of Dukes County Avenue and Masonic Avenue.
Photo by Steve Myrick
A joint statement issued on November 20 and signed by Mr. Lambert and a representative of the project applicants urged town and regional boards to approve the redesign and urged Oak Bluffs voters to "support the town's CPA funding."
But Thursday night Mr. Lambert asked voters to do the opposite. "If the board of selectmen had analyzed this project and held public hearings, we would not be here tonight," he said from the floor. "I would urge approval of rescinding temporarily the funds, until the board of selectmen can have their due process, and we can all come together to approve this worthy project."
Adam Wilson, administrator for the community preservation committee, said there was no provision in the state law for temporarily holding the funds. He said if voters rescinded the funds, the money would go back into the CPA account, and be available for 19 other projects currently under consideration.
A number of speakers questioned whether the town has followed procedures outlined by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DCHD) for review of the Bradley Square development.
Selectman Kerry Scott also raised that question at the selectmen's meeting of December 9, two days prior to the special town meeting. She complained that selectmen are obligated to hold a public hearing on the project.
In a phone interview with The Martha's Vineyard Times on December 10, however, a spokesman for the DCHD said the state agency is satisfied the applicants have followed all necessary procedures, and there is no requirement that the board of selectmen hold public hearings.
At Thursday's special town meeting, after 45 minutes of debate, and after moderator David Richardson twice advised voters that he would call for a vote after the last speaker he had recognized, Ms. Scott asked to be recognized. The moderator refused.
"No," said Mr. Richardson. "I said that was the last speaker, you missed your chance."
Peter Palches, a member of the zoning board of appeals (ZBA), which conducted six well-attended public hearings on Bradley Square, took issue with the notion that more public discussion was required.
"It's inconceivable to me that a person could say with a straight face that this issue has not been adequately aired in public," said Mr. Palches. "For a person to get up and say they don't know the details of this project, I find slightly disingenuous."
Two opponents of Bradley Square requested a secret ballot on the article, but after sounding out voters, Mr. Richardson ruled that it was clear the meeting favored a voice vote. The measure to rescind the CPA funds was rejected by a wide margin on the voice vote. "The vote is unquestionably in the negative, the article is defeated," said Mr. Richardson.
The CPA funding was originally approved at the annual town meeting earlier this year. The move to take back the money came in the form of a petition, signed by more than the required 100 registered voters.
In other town meeting action, voters narrowly rejected an article that would have allowed restaurants without liquor licenses to serve food after Oak Bluffs bars close. Stewart Robinson, owner of Smoke'n More Bones on Circuit Avenue, organized the petition to put the article on the special town meeting warrant, and spoke in favor of the article from the floor. Police Chief Erik Blake spoke in opposition, saying it would hinder police efforts to clear Circuit Avenue after bars close.
Mr. Richardson declared the measure defeated after a close voice vote, but more than the necessary seven voters stood to request a standing count. The results of the standing vote were 73 against the article, 70 in favor.
Voters also approved $100,000 as the first payment on the lease of property in Edgartown intended for a solid waste facility.
Voters transferred $250,000 from a wastewater district savings account to study and fix problems with treated wastewater in Ocean Park.
They also approved $75,000 to fund engineering studies on the town's crumbling shorefront infrastructure. The finance and advisory committee voted 5-0 to oppose that measure, saying that the conservation committee did not follow accepted procedures for submitting the article.