Edgartown voters give thumbs up to expanded historic district

Edgartown voters said yes to a plastic bag ban and no to trash district spending.

Edgartown voters will gather inside the Old Whaling Church tonight for annual town meeting. - File photo

Updated 1 pm, Wednesday

Edgartown voters seated in the Old Whaling Church, in a generally approving mood, said yes to most of the 81 warrant articles on the table, and approved a $33,536,846 million fiscal year 2017 (FY17) operating budget at special and annual town meetings Tuesday night.

Edgartown voters go to the polls Thursday, April 14, to decide one contest. Olga Church, Stephen Miller, and Justine Shemeth DeOliveira will vie for two available seats on the board of library trustees. Voters will also take action on three Proposition 2.5 overrides: a request for $260,000 to purchase a new ambulance; $350,000 to rebuild and resurface town streets; and $210,000 to construct a new bike path on Meetinghouse Way. The polls are open from 10 am to 7 pm in Edgartown town hall.

The meeting began with reports from town officials. Selectman Michael Donaroma praised the opening of the new Edgartown library adjacent to the Edgartown School, and briefly recounted the project’s seven-year history.

Mr. Donaroma and town information technology (IT) manager Adam Darack tipped their hats to town administrator Pam Dolby for tackling the dilemma of relocating the Edgartown Post Office following its sudden closure due to rain leaks on Friday, April 1. “Hopefully this will be over soon,” Mr. Donaroma said.

When it came time to elect town officers from those present at town meeting, a concerned voter yelled out that selectmen had neglected to nominate anyone to the fence-viewing committee. It was also pointed out that Robert Ward has sat alone on the three-person committee for several years. Taken aback, selectman Art Smadbeck moved quickly to avert a constitutional crisis, and asked who wanted to be a fence viewer.

Voters shouted out names from all around the hall. Ultimately, voters agreed to elect shellfish constable Paul Bagnall and resident Trudy Carter to the post of fence viewer.

Voters moved forward, dispatching the 77 articles on the annual town meeting warrant. With several exceptions, few provoked lengthy discussion.

Voters agreed to expand the historic district to nearly twice its size by a vote of 169 to 48. The vote required a two-thirds majority to pass. The HDC has purview over any part of a house or building that is visible from a public way within the historic district, including from Edgartown Harbor.

The most vocal opponent to the expansion was contractor Norman Rankow, who criticized the HDC for a lack of consistency in its criteria when reviewing projects.

In an exchange between Mr. Rankow and HDC member Susan Catling, Mr. Rankow recounted experiences his clients have had with the HDC where composite materials — non-wood building materials — were arbitrarily rejected for not being historically accurate, despite being more durable and, according to Mr. Rankow, indistinguishable from wood.

Ms. Catling said guidelines recommend natural materials, “but we make exceptions.” After approximately 20 minutes, moderator Philip J. Norton deftly closed debate and called for a vote.

The only money item rejected was a request to allow the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District to borrow up to $2.5 million for capital improvements, to include restructuring traffic flow and residential drop-off at the Edgartown transfer station. Edgartown would shoulder the largest share of the debt. Voters questioned why they were being asked to approve such a large amount of money when there was no set plan for how the money would be spent.

Refuse district superintendent Don Hatch attempted to answer concerned voters, but was unsuccessful at swaying the vote. The project, he said, was intended to enhance the way that materials are separated. Planning board member Robert Sparks spoke in favor of the article, and assured voters that the money would be in good hands.

“These things don’t just happen in a vacuum,” Mr. Sparks said. He added that nothing would actually happen until further public hearings took place.

Unswayed, voters killed the article with an indefinite postponement.

There was one audible nay and much applause following a vote to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. The measure will not be enforced by police but by the board of health agent, per an amendment proposed by selectman Art Smadbeck.

Vineyard Conservation Society outreach coordinator Samantha Look, who has spearheaded the Island-wide initiative, reiterated many environmental benefits to banning the bags, which she said are difficult to recycle and are often eaten by wildlife.

“The bags are incredibly detrimental to our local recycling. The bags, despite many claims on them, are not locally recyclable. They get mixed in. We have a single-stream system here, and they get mixed in when they leave the Island and go to sorting facilities; they are responsible for clogging up the sorting machinery, which results in stoppages, which results in labor costs which comes back to us as taxpayers,” Ms. Look said.

Voters asked for few clarifications about the proposal prior to the near-unanimous approval. The ban will go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.

Money matters

Major spending items approved included a $500,000 appropriation from the 2016 Community Preservation Committee (CPC) budget reserve and unreserved fund balance for a Memorial Wharf restoration project, and $350,000 toward interior improvements at the Edgartown town hall.

Voters approved an $84,000 appropriation from free cash to be spent on purchasing and equipping two new police cruisers.

Voters agreed to raise and appropriate $85,000 for a new roof and exterior repairs to the Edgartown police station, as well as $260,000 to purchase and equip a new ambulance. The ambulance purchase requires approval of a corresponding Prop. 2.5 override ballot question at the polls.

Voters also approved $210,000 to construct a bike path on Meetinghouse Way, which will also appear as a Prop. 2.5 override ballot question.

A total of 262 of the town’s 3,321 registered voters attended the meeting. By and large, voters flew through the vast majority of articles. Jeff Norton summed it up this way: “We will do what we want to do if we want to do it.” The meeting ended just after 10 pm.