Charged situation leads to public hearing

Neighbors want answers about VTA plans in Edgartown.

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Sara Piazza of Main Street tells Edgartown selectmen why she thinks a public hearing is needed on the VTA's Church Street project. — George Brennan

A $1.4 million proposal by the VTA to add an electric charging platforms on Church Street in Edgartown and make other upgrades at the bus station has sparked neighbors to call for a public hearing on the project.

On Tuesday, Edgartown selectmen Arthur Smadbeck and Margaret Serpa agreed to schedule that public hearing, but offered no promises that anything would change as a result. Neighbors circulated a petition to seek the public airing, Sara Piazza of Main Street told the board. Selectman Michael Donoroma was absent.

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 4 pm at Edgartown library.

Though they agreed to hold the hearing, Smadbeck and Serpa were visibly agitated, and quickly adjourned Tuesday’s meeting after Jane Chittick, who lives near the VTA station and Visitors Center on Church Street, accused the board of holding private meetings about the project. “The whole project has been hidden,” she said.

“I disagree with that,” Smadbeck said. Even after the meeting was adjourned, Chittick persisted. “Certainly don’t discuss it publicly, which is of interest to the whole town,” she said, chiding the decision by Smadbeck and Serpa to end the conversation.

The VTA first broached the charging station in February 2018, and has since held two public hearings before the town’s historic committee, Smadbeck said. The project has also come up at selectmen’s meetings, including one in late December where selectmen approved plans to remove some trees.

Piazza mentioned the petition, and calmly explained her reasoning, saying many residents were not aware of it. “It’s in the historic district, and it’s raised concerns of many people who have spoken about this project,” she said. “It’s a big project … What’s actually going on? What about the trees? What are the broader implications for Church Street? Some people think the VTA has outgrown that bus stop that started out as a bus stop for smaller buses.”

Piazza wondered whether all buses have to go to that station. “How big is the VTA going to get on Church Street? And the question, of course, does every person who comes to Edgartown have to come into Church Street on those giant buses?”

Smadbeck said he could see no harm in a public hearing on the project. “To have another one can’t hurt. To get the commission involved can’t hurt,” he said.

Chittick called on selectmen to issue an injunction against taking down four trees that are part of the plan because bids were due on Wednesday for a contractor, but Smadbeck said the board didn’t have that authority. “We can’t take unilateral action like that,” he said. He pointed out that there are plans for the trees to be replaced.

“Well, your public hearings aren’t really public,” said Chittick, who is a member of the town’s finance committee. “The public hearings take place in some office upstairs — the selectmen’s office.”

“No they don’t,” Smadbeck responded, pointing out that earlier in the evening, the board held a public hearing on a trade show.

Town administrator James Hagerty said the VTA administration would be invited to the public hearing to separate fact from fiction.

“I’ve heard pros and cons, and I’m interested in hearing it all,” Piazza said, reiterating her concerns with the size and frequency of the bus service.

Angela Grant, administrator for the VTA, did not return a message seeking comment.

In other business, the selectmen briefly discussed a memorandum of understanding that is in the works between the town and the Boys & Girls Club as they try to work out the swap of property that would allow the the club to build a new facility on Edgartown–West Tisbury Road near Sweetened Water Farm, and the town to expand the parks department and cemetery.

Smadbeck said there was no MOU yet, and Hagerty said he is exploring whether he can release the MOU publicly prior to it being voted on. Neighbors interested in the project were in the audience, and asked a few questions. The town is looking to bring the issue to town meeting, but Hagerty said it won’t be rushed. Smadbeck said some issues, including a road, raised by neighbors are being addressed, to which some people in the audience nodded their heads in the affirmative.

Selectmen approved the removal of a shade tree at 15 Tilton Way after a brief hearing. Fred Fournier of Landscope, representing the homeowner, said the boxelder maple will be replaced with a linden tree gifted to the town for use wherever the tree warden deems appropriate.

Fournier, referring to a previous incident where The Times pointed out selectmen made a mistake in approving a previous swap of trees, deadpanned, “The tree is not on the invasive species list.”

The town approved selling eight plots of land taken by tax title, ranging in price from $9,500 to $21,600.

Selectmen also heard a brief update from Liz Argo, director of the Cape & Islands Electric Cooperative. Argo told the board that the town’s two solar projects earned the town $172,359, the third year in a row the projects at Katama Farm and Nunnepog Well have increased their output. She also told the town about her future plans to retire, as well as the cooperative’s efforts to combine battery storage with solar projects.