Court decision may affect plans for CPA funds
A Massachusetts Superior Court ruling on the use of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds could affect financing of recreation projects on Martha's Vineyard.
The act, which generates funds through a property tax surcharge, and is matched by state funds, provides towns with a way to pay for community preservation projects. The money can be used for the specific purposes of acquiring and preserving open space, acquiring and preserving historic resources, or creating and supporting affordable housing.
In a case involving the city of Newton, a Middlesex Superior Court judge has ruled that CPA funds may not be used to renovate two city parks, because the parks were not originally purchased with CPA funds.
Improvements to Veira Park in Oak Bluffs may be affected by the availability of Community Preservation funds. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Associate Justice Bruce Henry said in his seven-page opinion that the Newton park projects did not meet the CPA's definition of "creation of recreational lands." Neither did they meet the test for preservation, rehabilitation, or restoration of land for recreational use, ruled the judge.
"It is clear that what is planned is the rehabilitation and/or restoration of the parks in keeping with their recreational purpose," said Judge Henry in a summary judgment. "While using CPA funds for the rehabilitation or restoration of recreational land is permitted under the CPA, it is permitted only for those recreational lands which were originally acquired or created with CPA funds."
A project which has parallels with the Newton case is the application of Vineyard Little League Baseball to add another baseball field to Veira Park in Oak Bluffs. Plans include batting cages, a play area, new dugouts, stands, picnic area, fences, and parking.
The Oak Bluffs CPA committee has approved $200,000 for the project, and town meeting voters, as required, also approved use of CPA funds. The project is under review by the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
"There probably are some implications for Veira Park," said Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton. "A number of things differentiate it. I've asked town counsel to take a look at it. There's gong to be a lot of fleshing out of the intent of the law."
Other town officials around the Island are evaluating the ruling, and how it may affect various projects.
In Tisbury, several groups are exploring whether to apply for CPA funds for work on recreational lands. "We've got a number of parks that could use some TLC," said town administrator John Bugbee. "As funds become more and more scarce, it's only a matter of time before people start to turn to CPA funds."
Tisbury CPA committee chairman Bob Wheeler says Legion Field, otherwise known as Veterans Park, in Vineyard Haven is in need of extensive work. An application for CPA funds is being considered for new irrigation, grading, seeding, and other improvements.
"It very well could affect some of the stuff that has been talked about for this year," said Mr. Wheeler. "I'm thinking about Legion Field. It's been talked about a little bit, and it could very well affect that expenditure." It is unclear whether the ruling could affect projects that are already completed.
In Tisbury, voters recently appropriated $20,500 for work on the West Spring Street amphitheater. That money was spent, and the work is completed.
A project to dredge Mill Pond in West Tisbury, where sediment has built up allowing invasive weeds to take root, is in the preliminary stages of a process seeking CPA funds.
West Tisbury CPA committee co-chair Caroline Flanders says the way such projects are framed is critical. "Are you preserving it, or are you rehabilitating it?" she said. "We believe it would be preserving the pond, protecting it from an invasive species. It's been a challenge for the committee. Everyone is in this precarious position, because there's no case law."
The Newton ruling is the first covering this aspect of the Community Preservation Act.