ORLEANS — Town meeting kept the water quality projects ball rolling May 8, but not without deflating it a bit.
Voters – the turnout was 489 - agreed to spend $2,963,560 on work in the fiscal year starting July 1, but removed $730,900 planned to take the design of a wastewater collection system for Meetinghouse Pond to 25 percent completion. They supported the proposed new DPW and Natural Resources building that will cost $13,575,000 and signed on to pay the town's share of a $1.3 million feasibility study and schematic design for a renovated Nauset Regional High School. Town meeting also endorsed paying its $700,000 share for demolishing the Tri-Town Septage Facility plus another $170,000 to tear down the old compost facility.
All of the above will have to clear another hurdle at the ballot box May 16, but one horse was scratched by the voters. Question 5, which would have banned recreational marijuana manufacture or retail sales in town, failed to win the support of town meeting; the assembly did vote to impose a moratorium until June 30 of next year so the planning board can draw up rules and regulations.
The much-discussed zoning amendment to encourage apartment development downtown was approved, but the article calling for a resident beach parking fee was indefinitely postponed.
Voters approved a $33,527,010 operating budget for the town and schools, and also signed off on the capital improvement plan through fiscal year 2023.
Moderator David Lyttle completed his first annual town meeting in just over five hours. At one point, he announced, “I think that passed by simple majority,” and then corrected himself with good humor: “No, I determined it passed. I'm not allowed to think.” Later, town meeting changed the moderator's term from one year to three, bringing it into line with other elected offices in town.
The spirit of participatory democracy was evident throughout as the finance committee sometimes took opposing views on articles supported by the selectmen and as amendments from the floor challenged and sometimes altered spending proposals.
Selectmen and the finance board were unanimous in support of spending $3,694,460 to advance water quality projects, 30 percent of which Selectman Alan McClennen said would be devoted to addressing “a new challenge,” contaminants emerging from the capped landfill in a plume heading for Town Cove. Other projects include identification and evaluation of a new potential effluent discharge site, continued studies of nitrogen removal by aquaculture efforts, and initiation of fresh water pond clean-up, starting with Uncle Harvey's Pond.
One item – preparation of a 25 percent design for sewering Meetinghouse Pond – was sidetracked by an amendment proposed by Ed Daly, an engineer who has served as an alternate member of the Orleans Water Quality Advisory Panel. Noting that construction of the Meetinghouse Pond system was eight to 13 years down the line, he questioned how well an engineering study done now would hold up a decade later. “We do not know what technological advances will be made in 10 years,” he said.
McClennen said the 25 percent design was being brought forward now in part to present the potential of a larger-scale design-build-operate plan for the town's eventual wastewater system that would attract more bidders.
Daly's amendment to remove $730,900 from the omnibus wastewater article passed 205 to 190, changing the total to $2,963,560.
An attempt to knock out funding for the article's aquaculture projects via an amendment by fisherman Steve Smith was defeated on a voice vote. He wanted to eliminate next fiscal year's oyster filtration project at Lonnie's Pond and related work and shift attention to the use of quahogs. Stressing his “great respect” for Smith, Bob Wilkinson said the town had spent a large sum ($377,993 in the last 18 months, McClennen noted) on the project and had to continue to be able to provide convincing evidence to regulators that natural processes worked as well or better than traditional sewering.
“I find them both delicious,” Judith Bruce said of oysters and quahogs. “I believe they are both equally good at filtering.” To which Jeff Eagles added, “It's not a mollusk war. We're gonna need oysters and quahogs.”
The $1.3 million study and schematic design funds for a redone Nauset High passed unanimously. Chris Galazzi, one of the town's members of the Nauset Regional School Committee, said Orleans's share would be $158,595, and noted that the other three towns in the district had voted to support the work.
Town meeting picked its way through three marijuana-related articles. Voters amended the bylaws to ensure that the existing ban on smoking in public places extended to marijuana and also eliminated criminal penalties in the wake of statewide legalization. They postponed indefinitely a proposed ban on retail marijuana establishments and said yes to a moratorium through June 30, 2018, on such venues to allow the planning board to set up rules and regulations.
Finance committee member Peter Monger spoke forcefully in favor of opening the town to marijuana merchandisers. He said local tax levies could bring $100,000 to $200,000 to the town's coffers and estimated 20 to 40 jobs could be created for “growers, plant tenders, security, and store staff.” Fincom colleague Peter O'Meara spoke in favor of the ban, saying marijuana's role as a gateway to other more powerful drugs is still being debated. Noting that federal prohibitions remain in place, Police Chief Scott MacDonald warned that sales came with “a high risk of robbery, breaking and entering...I think it will increase crime in the community.”
The planning board's zoning amendment to allow increased residential development in the downtown area weathered some criticism from Josh Stewart, who said the allowable density “scares me a little bit” and that there are insufficient guarantees of affordable and workforce housing in the mix. He also said the proposal seemed written to favor a particular project. “I don't think dropping 150 to 250 apartment units on 15 acres will solve all the problems,” Stewart said.
“It's not just about one guy, one developer,” Mark Powers said, noting that the districts affected run from the Eastham rotary to the Brewster town line. “I have three acres of land where I could build housing for my employees...I hire 60 people. Two live in Orleans.” The measure passed by the required two-thirds majority.
Imposing a seasonal resident beach parking fee, even one as low as $20, failed to gain support. The finance committee voted 5-1-0 to support it, but the selectmen were 0-4-1 against. The lone abstainer, Selectman Jon Fuller, said he found the proposal “the least painful way to to add money to the beaches.” He noted that granting agencies look askance at communities that discriminate by charging visitors but not residents to use beaches.
Nevertheless, the majority of selectmen moved to indefinitely postpone the article. Selectman Mark Mathison said they believed the beach charge should be part of a comprehensive review of fees by the board. John Laurino, chair of the revenue committee, said indefinite postponement meant “kicking another can down the road.” He reminded voters that they don't actually get free access to the beach; they support that service not through a fee but through taxes.
The revenue committee hit .333 for its three turns at bat. Town meeting agreed that the town should accept state law that allows the creation of enterprise funds for certain services, but it said no to the idea of voting on such funds outside the general operating budget. Voters indefinitely postponed action on the committee's call for an annual review of all user fees, permits and licenses with the eventual goal of having them cover all direct and indirect costs.
Proponents of Article 4, which would have reaffirmed town meeting's May 2003 declaration that residents were “entitled to lead lives of peace and dignity without regard to status, including citizen or immigration status,” moved for indefinite postponement. Larry Minear and Monica Goubaud said they recognized the need for more dialog and would hold community forums on the issue.