West Tisbury officials proceed cautiously
At the regular meeting of the West Tisbury selectmen last week, Ernest Mendenhall, chairman of the town hall building committee, discussed tentative plans to continue with a town hall renovation drastically reduced in scope. The voters, however, will be consulted early and often before the rest of the $3 million appropriation is spent.
Although there has been some consideration, even among members of the committee, of asking the selectmen to appoint an entirely new committee, all but one of the seven members have agreed to soldier on with the project. Mr. Mendenhall continues as chairman.
Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter, a member of the finance committee and also chairman of the selectmen, asked the FinCom to consider appointing another of their number to the building committee, but reported last week that they want him to continue. In November, when the voters rejected the revised price of $5.5 million, selectman John Early said that he was not at all sure he wanted to serve, but he remains a member, as does selectman Glenn Hearn. All three selectmen are members of the committee, but only Mr. Early was a selectmen when he was named to it.
Principal assessor Jo-Ann Resendes has withdrawn from the committee, citing a lack of time to devote to it. Ms. Resendes was the representative of the town hall employees on the committee.
In an effort to broaden the committee while retaining the experience of those remaining, the selectmen last week decided to appoint two new members, as well as a replacement for Ms. Resendes. Because the selectmen said they thought that the views of the town hall staff have been collected and an employee member is not specifically needed, all three new members will be "at large." Next week's Times will carry an advertisement for candidates, who are invited to contact executive secretary Jennifer Rand.
At a special town meeting in November 2004, voters agreed to appropriate $3.7 million for renovations to the crumbling town hall. However, the architectural firm which drew the plans, Gale Associates, declined to continue with the project, and as revealed by the actual bids from contractors, it turned out that Gale's estimate was off by 50 percent. Deborah Durland, the architect hired to complete the bid specifications, estimated the project more correctly, but voters rejected the request for an additional $1.8 million in November of this year.
The $3.7-million appropriation is still on the books, but opinion is divided, even among members of the building committee, as to whether the town should use the money to buy a renovation so far reduced in scope from what the voters thought they were buying when they approved the funds. Both the town counsel, Ronald Rappaport, and the town's bond counsel have submitted legal opinions arguing that the town may go ahead with a reduced plan, but the building committee and the selectmen will check first with the voters.
Of the $3.7 million, slightly more than $3 million remains after expenditures wasted for the rejected renovation. Ms. Durland has told the building committee that redrawing the plans and bidding package for a more modest restoration (under $2.9 million) will cost an additional $48,000. Last week the selectmen authorized her to spend the first $12,000 toward that project, up until the Jan. 17 town meeting, at which time the building committee will report to the town and (if moderator Pat Gregory allows it) a non-binding "sense of the meeting" vote will be taken as to whether to proceed.
Selectmen and builder John Early warned, "We're trying to go down the up-escalator. Building costs will only increase as time goes on."
Mr. Mendenhall agreed and said that the voters should be told that they may again be asked for more money.
40B site certification
In other business, the selectmen last week reviewed a draft of their letter to the Massachusetts Housing Department, commenting on a request from Paul Cusson of Delphic Associates for a "project certification letter" for a Chapter 40B housing development on Huseby Mountain Road, off Old Stage Road behind John Keene's business. The land is owned by Deborah Olsen. The selectmen took the draft under advisement and planned to vote on it last night.
Executive secretary Jennifer Rand cautioned that the 40B process is in very early stages. No 40B application has yet been made. Still, the selectmen were grateful to the state for allowing them to raise concerns. Ms. Rand told The Times that the selectmen are in favor of affordable housing, but - with the advice of public safety officials and the planning board, board of health, and conservation commission - their letter will raise several concerns about the Huseby Mountain site.
The town of West Tisbury has no public water and sewer facilities, which will create problems for the well water and septic systems for a 94-unit project next door to the former town landfill and in a nitrogen-sensitive area as defined by Title 5, the selectmen note.
Access, especially emergency access required by the police and fire departments, may create a problem. The proposal has only one access point, Old Stage Road, which is a narrow, private road. Other access might be obtained to Old County Road via the Dr. Fisher Road, but the developer can expect to encounter strong community opposition to changing the character of the Dr. Fisher Road, protected since 1975 as a Special Way. The selectmen's draft letter goes on to say, "The plan indicates a secondary access over private property. The owner of that property [John Keene] has stated he has not and will not grant access to the developer."
The selectmen's draft letter also raises concerns about animal habitat, a site next to an active (and noisy) sand and gravel pit, and the proposed affordability restrictions.
The letter closes by pointing out that the project will come under review by the Martha's Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact and urges the developer to make preliminary contact with the MVC in the earliest stages of project development.
The selectmen's letter to the Housing Department is due Jan. 2.
Special town meeting update
In an interview at the end of last week, Ms. Rand told The Times that attorney Ellen Hutchinson has agreed to further reduce her bill for past services from $84,000 to $75,000. The selectmen, she said, plan to ask the town to appropriate $37,000 to settle a bill from Coleman & Sons for $72,475. Mr. Coleman wrote to the town offering to settle for $65,000, threatening to sue if he is not paid that amount. These articles, as well as $12,000 for Vision Appraisals Technology, will be on the warrant for the Jan. 17 special town meeting. All are for services contracted for, without prior appropriation, in the town's defense of a suit brought by William Graham before the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board.