Edgartown voters conclude annual town meeting

Voters approved a $30.6 million budget and all but one article in under three hours.

Edgartown voters gathered in the Old Whaling Church were in an approving mood. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Edgartown voters moved swiftly and for the most part efficiently through special and annual town-meeting warrants Tuesday. Gathered in the Old Whaling Church, voters approved a $30,622,163 operating budget for fiscal 2015, which begins on July 1, and all but one article on the annual town meeting warrant.

Voters agreed to help fund regional efforts to save the Gay Head Light and ACE MV, a continuing education program. And they agreed to impose new regulations on fertilizer use as part of an Island-wide effort.

Frustrated by the meeting hall’s poor acoustics, voters continually urged town officials seated at the head of the room to use the microphone.

A total of 190 voters, or 5.8 percent of the town’s 3,262 registered voters, attended to the town’s business.

“It was a very small turnout for town meeting,” Edgartown clerk Wanda Williams told The Times. “There must have been more interesting things on TV, like the Sox game.”

The town got down to business with a special town meeting with a proposal to change the status of the job of town clerk from elected to appointed. The change was approved, 83-66.

On to the annual

Town poet laureate and dock builder Steve Ewing opened the annual meeting by reciting “Town Memories,” in which he recounted life “back in the day,” in and around Edgartown.

Following protracted applause, longtime moderator Philip “Jeff” Norton, who’s held the gavel since back in the day himself, turned the voters’ attention to the annual town meeting.

Voters turned down only one article on the 66-article warrant, a request to appropriate $250,000 for the Edgartown Affordable Housing Committee’s Meshacket Road Project. At issue was progress to date and details on a project that few voters knew much about.

Tim Rush, a member of the housing committee, explained that at last year’s town meeting the committee requested $250,000 to begin the project. Voters approved $250,000 for clearing and utility work on the nine-acre parcel off Meshacket Road but ran into hurdles associated with protected moth species.

“What we’re looking for is we’re trying to get things back on track,” Mr. Rush said.

“This money is going to help keep the process moving forward to accomplish the building on that piece of property, which is what we set it aside for,” selectman Margaret Serpa said.

Speaking to the article, Jim Athearn, owner of Morning Glory Farm which abuts the property, said the housing group had not presented a plan that preserved open space nor consulted adequately with the neighbors about the proposed project.

In a standing vote, the article was defeated by a vote of 86-68.

Yes to DCPC

Voters approved regulations to create a district of critical planning concern (DCPC), known as the Martha’s Vineyard Lawn Fertilizer Control district, which will overlay the entire Island. But they did so only after an amendment to delete an exemption for the application of fertilizer for agricultural or horticultural use.

Selectman Michael Donaroma, owner of a landscaping company and nursery that bears his name, said he supports the DCPC and asked that the article be amended to include horticultural use.

“I just don’t feel that agricultural and horticultural people like myself should be exempt,” Mr. Donaroma said.

The change to an article that is identical in language to one that appears on all town warrants created a wrinkle in the DCPC process.

Town counsel Ronald Rappaport explained that by amending the regulations, the article would likely need to go back to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) for a conformance determination and to the board of health, also.

“It is possible that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the board of health would not approve this change, and if that’s the case we’re sort of in limbo because we would have a regulation that we voted but that they didn’t approve,” Mr. Rappaport said.

MVC senior planner Bill Veno said the amendment will not change the process. “I think the amendment you just approved won’t have any effect on the regulations of the bill,” Mr. Veno said.

The fertilizer measure, which claimed six pages of the 22-page warrant, will create a uniform set of regulations to protect water bodies from the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, through the creation of a district of critical planning concern (DCPC) known as the Island-wide Martha’s Vineyard Lawn Fertilizer Control District.

Voters happily granted $84,000 of free cash to police Chief Tony Bettencourt to purchase and equip two cruisers, as well as $50,000 for radios, cameras, and equipment he said he needed to get the job done.

Edgartown voters unanimously approved several bylaws, including zoning changes to add registered marijuana dispensaries (RMD) as a use allowed by special permit in the B-II Upper Main Street district, and to govern curb cuts and driveways in B-II districts.

Voters agreed with little discussion to approve several Community Preservation Act appropriations for a range of projects that include a $350,000 renovation of the town hall.

Voters said yes to contributing $149,704 to help relocate the Gay Head Lighthouse as part of a regional effort. The article passed with a small round of applause.

Another regional request for support netted ACE MV $27,765.

After nearly three hours, and with just two articles to go, including a request to fund pest management, one voter asked for the definition of a pest, as well as what means are used to trap pests. Town administrator Pamela Dolby responded by saying the traps referred to are used only by the school department and the harbormaster department, not by the town hall.

“You don’t think there’s any rats in town hall?” Mr. Norton quipped. “We should put it to a vote,” he said to a round of laughs and applause from voters.

The meeting concluded just after 10 pm.