Oak Bluffs voters finish their business briskly at annual town meeting
Oak Bluffs voters rolled up their shirtsleeves and made short work of a 26-article annual town meeting warrant on April 12. Voters approved all but two articles - they were withdrawn - in two hours, including the fiscal 2007 budget totaling $20.4 million.
The previous night's long special town meeting may have led to poor voter turnout on the second night of the double-header: only 123 of the town's 3,117 registered voters attended, about 3.9 percent.
Before addressing the warrant, town counsel Michael Goldsmith of Reynolds, Rappaport and Kaplan announced a reversal in the status of two land swap articles that had been declared defeated the night before at special town meeting.
One article proposed to swap approximately seven acres off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road for the Catholic Church property across the street from the town hall on School Street. The second involved the old Oak Bluffs library building on Pennacook Avenue, plus a one-bedroom deed-restricted building lot in exchange for the former BFI transfer station on Pacific Avenue. Mr. Goldsmith had declared the articles defeated at special town meeting because the votes, at 120 to 81 and 98 to 70 respectively, did not achieve a two-thirds majority. Uncertain as to whether the amended articles might require only a majority vote, Mr. Goldsmith said he would research the issue and announce the results at town meeting.
After consulting the next day with Robert Ritchie, the state's assistant attorney general in charge of the Municipal Law Unit, Mr. Goldsmith determined that the articles, as amended, only required a majority vote and did pass.
After the articles passed, Selectman Gregory Coogan later commented, "In both cases the articles were intended as a way of trying to work out something beneficial to both sides. There was a lot of discussion last week at the meeting, and the board of selectmen learned something about what is important to people in the town. We're looking at ways we can help the community with the land we have, keeping the properties that are important to people and divesting ones we don't need to get into with property management."
Turning to the town meeting warrant after Mr. Goldsmith's announcement, Moderator David Richardson kept the pace brisk and voters passed the first 14 articles with little discussion. The next article, to amend a zoning bylaw on accessory structures, generated some debate over the definition for a detached bedroom. Further amendments to the article that would have reduced the allowable living space size and the amount of open space required on the building lot were defeated, and the article passed.
Another article to amend a zoning bylaw regarding home businesses created some confusion for voters. Priscilla Sylvia, a member of the Community Development Council and school committee, explained the amendment would provide a means for the town clerk to update the list of home businesses by requiring registration. Voters approved an amendment to the article requiring that the selectmen issue home business special permits instead of the zoning board of appeals.
"Twenty-four hours ago, we couldn't do anything right, and now you want us to do everything!" laughed Gregory Coogan, chairman of the selectmen, in reference to voters' criticisms of the selectmen at the special town meeting the night before.
In discussion about an article to amend a zoning bylaw to create a health-care district, Robert Iadicicco, a member of the economic development committee member, asked whether that would prevent Martha's Hospital from building a new facility on another site.
"Isn't the Martha's Vineyard Commission considering a site on Nomans Land for them?" joked Mr. Richardson.
Planning board chairman John Bradford explained it would be possible for the hospital to move by creating another health-care district at special town meeting. The article passed.
Voters voiced mixed opinions about a non-binding resolution regarding the possible development of a municipal campus in the area at School Street and Pacific Avenue. Selectman Duncan Ross pointed out that a municipal campus with ample parking would not be a threat to downtown since the post office and Reliable Market would still be there.
Selectman Kerry Scott, however, labeled the campus concept as "ghetto-izing our municipal services. We're moving everything out of downtown that matters," she said, comparing it to the loss of stores and services in a small town when a Wal-Mart arrives. "I hope we do a better job of asking you what you want before we get there," Ms. Scott told the voters.
Several residents spoke in favor of the municipal campus for convenience and parking, as well as improved access for seniors. Voters approved the article. The meeting adjourned at 9:25 pm.