Three committee members resign from maritime center project

By Angie Hilsman | Aug 24, 2016
Photo by: Angie Hilsman The Landing Rehabilitation Committee proposed putting a visitor's center between the Padanaram Bridge and a floating dock (after moving all those rocks). George Leontire would like to see the center at street level.

George Leontire and Will Milbury are the soon-to-be owners of 4 Water Street, the original location for a proposed maritime center. But after the duo voiced concerns over the most current proposal—which happens to abut their property—three of the maritime rehabilitation committee members resigned.

Behind the current proposal are Patty Sweriduk, Kevin Murphy, and Arthur Burke, who led the opposition to the $765,000-purchase of 4 Water Street and took charge of the redesign after voters rejected the purchase during Spring Town Meeting. Following a confrontation with Leontire and Milbury during a August 22 meeting, the three resigned.

“Effective today, Patty, Arthur and myself have resigned from the committee. We feel our volunteer work has reached its conclusion and the Town should proceed with the remaining work necessary to secure the grant,” said Murphy via email on August 23.

Neither Sweriduk nor Burke could be reached for comment, and Murphy declined any further comment.

As main members of the Water Street Landing Rehabilitation Committee, the three had been in charge of repurposing the $1 million grant that was set to fund the 4 Water Street purchase. A revised grant application is due to the Massachusetts Seaport Economic Council on November 1, 2016.

“[The Select Board] is not the driving force on that, they are,” said Select Board Vice Chairman Frank Gracie. “If that’s true [that the committee members have resigned], I think that would essentially kill the project,” he said.

The committee’s proposal—set for an already town-owned property at the Water-Bridge streets intersection—doesn’t fit the aesthetic of Padanaram, doesn’t increase pedestrian access to the waterfront, and the two-story building hinders views of the harbor from other Padanaram locations, said Leontire via phone.

“The purpose and scope of what was being proposed made no sense from a community perspective and from our own perspective,” said Leontire. Leontire said he would like to see something with more historical significance. He also had issues with the proposed maritime center opening up to his property, which is only 25 feet away, he said.

“Move the building out of the high water area and into the parking area,” he said. He explained that by adjusting the building to a one-story and relocating it to the edge of the parking lot so that it overhangs the current dirt ramp (with the help of pilings), there would still be room for parking spaces, a deck, and uninterrupted views of the ocean. This design also provides public space in the front of the building, not towards his property, Leontire said.

“My goal here is not to stop the project. I think that it wasn’t fully thought through,” said Leontire.

Town Administrator David Cressman cancelled the committee’s scheduled presentation of a revised plan and budget at the August 22 Select Board meeting, saying that there was no point in presenting until a solution could be found.

“If they come to agreement, the Select Board can meet on [September 6] to weigh in. Otherwise, that’s the end of the project,” said Cressman. “There’s got to be a plan that the neighborhood can accept. Some of the people in the neighborhood don’t like this plan,” he added.

It is not yet clear how the project will develop without Sweriduk, Murphy, and Burke.

“Our goal is that we don’t want the town to lose the $1 million grant,” said Gracie. He added that the original plan to overtake 4 Water Street took a year to put together. The committee is left with only a few months to design a new plan that would increase waterfront access.

It will be hard for the Select Board to drive the project forward because it was Sweriduk, Murphy, and Burke’s vision, said Gracie. “Time is the biggest enemy right now,” he said.

Dartmouth’s Director of Development Deborah Melino-Wender could not be reached for comment before publication.

The committee’s proposal for the $1.2 million project included a 10-by-100-foot floating concrete dock running parallel with the Padanaram Bridge, which would provide room for larger power boats to dock; a two-story, 20-by-40 foot visitor's center, which would also house the harbormaster and bridge tender; a 15-by-65-foot deck area to serve as an esplanade for walking; a rollout mat to assist in launching dinghies and small boats; a handicap-accessible ramp connecting the esplanade and the aforementioned floating dock; and a makeover for the parking lot.

The previous Water Street maritime center proposal depended on $466,000 in Community Preservation Act funds—which are raised through a 1½ percent property tax surcharge—alongside the grant. Committee members had hoped to keep that money for the revised plan.

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