Oak Bluffs selectmen hand off new town hall to planning board

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Renderings from the proposed new Oak Bluffs town hall. — Illustration courtesy Town of Oak Bluffs

Tuesday was a busy day for infrastructure in Oak Bluffs. On the heels of the grand opening of the town’s new $8.3 million Fire/EMS station that day, selectman Walter Vail restated his case for a new town hall at the selectmen’s regular meeting that night.

“The current town hall is in terrible shape,” he said. “[Building inspector] Mark Barbadoro could make a list a mile long.”

Since the selectmen’s Dec. 1 meeting, members of the planning board and selectmen had met. “We had quite a discussion last week,” Mr. Vail said. “I think there’s a lot of things the planning board wants to do with public input. So let’s get a full range of public opinion and find out — do we want a town hall? Where do we want it? And how much are we willing to spend?”

Mr. Vail said he thought it was unnecessary to begin afresh, since Keenan + Kenny architects, designers of the new fire station, had completed extensive plans for a new town hall in 2014. The current town hall is 11,407 square feet. The town hall in the Keenan + Kenny plans would be 20,261 square feet, and cost $6.8 million dollars.

Selectmen debated the idea of forming a town hall building committee comprised of planning board members, capital improvements committee members, selectmen, and volunteers with expertise, as was done for the new fire station.

Planning board chairman Brian Packish said he believed the entire project should go directly to the planning board, instead of a committee with a “token” planning board member.

Bill McGrath, chairman of the capital improvements committee, agreed with Mr. Packish. “I think the planning board has the facility and the ability to have the public hearings that we need. The building committee doesn’t,” he said. “The planning board has had the attendance at the meetings. It would be simpler to use the planning board as the forum.” Mr. McGrath said he, like Mr. Vail, was in favor of the plans that were submitted in 2014. “Let’s put it out there,” he said. “I don’t think anybody disagrees that we need a new building. You can agree or not agree with the timing or the money.”

Mr. McGrath said that the money for a new town hall is available if the town acts this year.

Selectman Gail Barmakian suggested that it might not be the time to spend on a new town hall, with the grant money for the North Bluff seawall repair suddenly hanging in the balance.

Planning board member Ewell Hopkins said the need for a new town hall should be weighed against the overall needs of the town. “I think we’d be shortsighted if our only goal was to build a town hall,” he said.
“I just want to get something done,” selectman Kathy Burton said. “At the end of the day, it may be much more efficient to include the planning board. Let’s get it done. Let’s get it right.”

Mr. Packish said he would put the new town hall on the agenda for the board’s Jan. 14 meeting, at which point the public outreach will begin. “At the end of the day, I don’t want a building that wins by four votes,” Mr. Packish said.

In other business, Emma Green-Beach from Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group and Samantha Look from the Vineyard Conservation Society lobbied selectmen to support a bylaw for the 2016 annual town meeting warrant that will ban plastic shopping bags. Although there were concerns that the ban might unduly affect smaller businesses, by the end of the discussion, selectmen unofficially gave their unanimous support, but held off on a vote until they could consult town counsel on the wording of the bylaw.

“We know people don’t like change, but the time has come for this,” selectman Greg Coogan said. “I know we survived before plastic bags, and I know we’ll survive without it.”
Selectmen also approved extending hours for serving alcohol on New Year’s Eve until 1:30 am.

The board also unanimously reappointed John Breckenridge to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.