The Oak Bluffs select board voted 4-1 to approve issuing a request for proposal (RFP) for the Circuit Ave. portion of its streetscape project.
The streetscape project has been in the works for years. Design and engineering have been vetted by committees and public hearings, but the select board was nearly split when they voted 3-2 to approve the design that was generally favored, but contentious when it came to the designs for parallel parking on the busy Oak Bluffs street.
The project — funded by $2.7 million that was approved by voters at the June 2020 town meeting — focuses on Circuit Avenue North, Circuit Avenue South, Kennebec Avenue, Healey Square, and a portion of Lake Avenue. Improvements include new widened sidewalks, trash cans, streetlights, and crosswalks, and provide accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Healey Square would also be redesigned and get a brand-new look by removing the large planters at both ends.
Select board member Brian Packish said the project will be fragmented, with the Circuit Ave. portion prioritized first. He added that the project is expected to come in under budget due to additional funding from a state grant for the harbor portion of the project.
During a Zoom meeting Tuesday night, select board member Gail Barmakian took issue with the sequence of beginning the project and then getting funds.
“We have never started a project without having the financing in place. Not raising an appropriation, but where it’s coming from. Even though you can because we haven’t borrowed yet,” Barmakian said. “It would seem to me a very careful, smart, and responsible approach to know those funds are going to be raised in a specific way and go to the town first.”
Voters approved borrowing the $2.7 million, but the funds are not in the town’s budget because the money has not been borrowed yet, according to town administrator Deborah Potter.
“You have an authorization to borrow, but you don’t actually put the money in your budget to pay it back until you incur that debt,” Potter, who is also the town accountant, said. “In this case, since the project would be commencing later in this year, there are strategies employed that you don’t ban or bond the money until such a time you know you can actually push it forward another fiscal year and a half until your first payment is due.”
She also said there were no issues with the way the town was conducting the project.
“There’s multiple ways to get a solution done, and there does not appear to be anything out of the ordinary in the way this has been done,” Potter said.
Barmakian voted against the project, saying it was “shortsighted” and “irresponsible” to go forward with a project without knowing where funds were coming from.
Parks commissioner and streetscape committee member Amy Billings similarly had concerns about the project funding, and separately about parking. “I do worry about accepting a bid whether it’s high or not high, and the other parts of the project not getting done,” Billings said. “I’m pretty disappointed the parallel parking was pushed through without more thought.”
At the beginning of the discussion, Packish disclosed that he does not own any property on Circuit Ave., and filed disclosures with the state ethics commission. Packish is part owner of the building that houses the Red Cat Kitchen on Kennebec Avenue.
But Maura McGroarty, a member of the town’s finance committee, raised concerns about Packish’s involvement in the project.
“As chair of the select board, in my opinion, I haven’t asked the ethics board, you should not have even been on the streetscape committee, never mind chairing it, at the same time you were eligible to vote as a member for its approval,” McGroarty said. “I think that’s a problem. I haven’t pursued anything about it. I am saying this respecting the position you’re in, but thinking it’s very problematic.”
Packish thanked McGroarty for her comments.
The chat section of the Zoom meeting had several comments from town stakeholders ranging from support to dismay.
“As a taxpayer that is stuck paying for this plan, I can’t emphasize enough how I don’t care what one guy on TripAdvisor thinks. I love Circuit Avenue on any day, and would only prefer it be repaired with current parking rather than what a tourist wants,” Rich Weiss said.
“We have been planning and looking into this for so long — can we just get it done? It’s a good plan,” Kathy Laskowski said.
“Wider sidewalks and parking have been publicly discussed since 2014 and voted on in May. At the time there were 35 businesses in favor and 8 against the project. Four businesses were neutral,” Doug Abdelnour, who owns Nancy’s Restaurant, said.
In other business, the board approved the opening dates for the scalloping season. For Sengekontacket Pond and outside waters, the recreational season opens on Oct. 17, and Nov. 8 for commercial permit holders. Lagoon Pond will open on Nov. 13 for recreational, and Nov. 15 for commercial.
Shellfish constable Chuck Fisher said most of the adult scallops he’s been seeing are stunted in growth. The regulation for scallops is a well-defined growth line which is at least 10mm from the hinge. However, if the growth line is under 10mm, the shell height has to be at least 2½ inches from the hinge to the tip. “So either really big, or a really defined growth line 10mm from the hinge,” Fisher said.