Select Board moves forward with maritime center plan

By Jaime Rebhan | May 09, 2016
Photo by: Angie Hilsman

A $1.7 million proposal to create a maritime center in Padanaram was approved -- narrowly -- by the Select Board on Monday.

In a packed meeting room, three board members voted to allow Town Administrator David Cressman to post the town's intent to purchase the $765,000 property at 4 Water Street in the state's Central Register -- a requirement of state procurement law, and the next step in the process for the project. Select Board members John Haran and Kelli Martin-Taglianetti were the dissenting voters.

Posting in the Central Register starts a 30-day clock, after which Cressman can negotiate a purchase-and-sale agreement for the property. Town Meeting will have the final say on the project's fate, however, when it convenes in June.

A total of $1 million of the estimated $1.7 million project cost would be covered by a grant from the Massachusetts Seaport Economic Council. Town Meeting members will also consider whether to spend $466,000 in Community Preservation Act funds on the project. Community Preservation Act monies are raised through a 1½ percent property tax surcharge.

The property includes a house, garage, and dock. It is unclear, at this point, what the property will look like and what services will be provided if the project is ultimately approved. Officials have discussed housing offices for the Harbormaster and Parks and Recreation Department at the property, offering kayaking and paddle-boarding, administering programs for new boaters, building accessible docks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and offering places for transient boaters to tie up.

Depending on which departments are interested in operating out of the site, also on the table is demolishing the house, the garage, neither, or both.

State Rep. Chris Markey (D-Dartmouth) was among those who expressed support for the project on Monday, though agreeing with some who say the plan is not perfect in its current form. He warned officials against substantially changing the project as it was proposed in the town's grant application to the state, as some officials and members of the public have suggested, as the town could be at risk for losing the grant.

"Are there adjustments that need to be made [to the plan]? You bet your butt there is," Markey said, later stressing: "You are given a golden opportunity ... to give people who don't have access to the water, access to the water."

The Waterways Management Commission and Board of Parks and Recreation both weighed in on the matter at the Select Board's meeting. Members of the Commission expressed concerns about costs it would be asked to pay for maintenance and improvements to the property -- costs members said would fall on the backs of boaters who may not want, need, or use the services offered at the site.

The town's Harbormaster Office is self-sustaining, meaning that it is funded completely by the fees paid by boaters for mooring permits, waterways usage, dinghy registration, and related services.

"We're not the bad guy. We're just going to protect our boaters and our boaters' money," Waterways Management Commission Chairman Gerald Hickey told the Select Board. "This is nothing for our boaters. ... These are [services for] transients coming in."

The public and the town's Waterways Management Commission have argued that the water is too rough in the area for recreational programs, especially for new boaters, and have suggested the town provide waterway access and recreational programming elsewhere. But supporters of the project are worried that the town would risk losing the grant altogether if it made that type of change.

The Select Board had received word from the state on what would and would not represent a substantial change from the town's grant application, though how much wiggle room the town has in tweaking the project was unclear on Monday. Supporters seemed to want to err on the side of caution.

Late last year, various town entities including the Waterways Commission provided letters of support that officials included with the submission of the Seaport Economic Council grant. Select Board Chairman Stanley Mickelson wondered why the Commission's support has wavered.

"What changed is we started looking at the numbers ... and the numbers indicate that the boaters are going to have to be in on this," said Hickey. "Is this thing going to sail right for our community?"

Members of the Board of Parks and Recreation said they see the project as an opportunity for the town. The department could operate a satellite office at the property and offer beach stickers on the weekends to residents who are unable to get to Town Hall during the week, Chairman Joe Vieira suggested.

Vieira noted that it's rare that waterfront properties such as the one on Water Street go up for sale.

"It's a great spot," he said. "If we don't do it, I think we'll regret it down the road."

In expressing her support for the project, Town Meeting member Lara Stone of precinct 8, who works in fundraising, noted: "Any time somebody wants to give me a million dollars, I rarely turn them down."

Stone, who served on the Select Board for six years, explained that in applying for grants, "you strike when the iron is hot," and address the details after learning whether the application is approved.

David Adelberg suggested that officials keep their ultimate goal of increasing water access, but continue to explore all options in light of the many comments expressed in the standing-room-only meeting on Monday.

Incredulous, he exclaimed: "I can't believe we have this many people here without an open bar!"

The Select Board thanked those who attended the meeting, though the vote was taken among protests by audience members and member Haran, who argued that the way the matter appeared on the board's agenda did not satisfy the requirements of the state's Open Meeting Law, and thus should not be voted upon Monday. Chairman Mickelson disagreed. Haran asked that the town attorney weigh in on the matter. Cressman agreed to ask the attorney for his assessment.

In other town business, the Select Board:

  • Accepted a "Sister City" agreement with Dartmouth, Devon in England, as part of its 2020 celebration of the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. It also agreed to partner with Plymouth 2020, the organization planning the celebration in Massachusetts. Referring to the town's celebration of its 350th anniversary in 2014, Select Board member Shawn McDonald noted: "It's another opportunity to have a good party. ... There is a history here. I think it's a natural fit."
  • Reappointed Herve W. Vandal Jr. as constable.
  • Accepted resignation letters from six members of the Council on Aging. It seeks volunteers to fill the seats. Information will be posted on the town's website, www.town.dartmouth.ma.us.
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