With Deadline Soon, Projects Line Up For CPA Funds

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Community Preservation Act

In April 2009, preservationists replaced the roof on the 1887 Chatham Railroad Museum, with help from a Community Preservation Act grant. The town may now seek to use CPA funds for work on the vintage caboose, pictured in the foreground. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM From new bike path crossing lights to an affordable housing consultant, Community Preservation Act funds are being eyed for a variety of projects. And more applications are likely to trickle in as the Jan. 15 deadline approaches.

The community preservation committee reviewed some of the applications this week, and will hold a second session on Jan. 14 at 4 p.m. at the community center. As of this week, the town had already received a handful of applications for CPA funds, which are reserved for use for open space purchases, affordable housing, recreation and historic preservation projects. Funds come from a 3 percent property tax surcharge, plus a variable state contribution, and as it begins the next fiscal year, the CPA account will have a balance of around $1 million. All appropriations from the fund require approval by town meeting.

The town’s affordable housing trust fund is seeking a $250,000. The trust is designed to allow the town to rapidly purchase properties for affordable housing without the need for obtaining specific town meeting approval first. The trust has made several purchases recently and is now considering a proposal to purchase a single-family house on Crowell Road from a private housing consortium for an estimated $135,000.

A second CPA application seeks $8,000 for the installation of water bottle filling stations around town, and the third seeks a $30,000 contribution to help fund a new affordable housing consultant position.

Another application is from a group of volunteers seeking to build a small park on the so-called Marconi triangle, the waterfront parcel bounded by Route 28 and Ryder’s Cove Road. As part of the town’s planned improvements at the boat ramp, the Friends of Marconi Park are proposing to improve the existing walking trail on the 3.7-acre site, with a bench at a scenic overlook and a new waterfront trail that connects to the parking lot. They are also proposing to install interpretive signs and to remove invasive plants. The grant request is for $79,100.

In May, selectmen voted to support the idea of a park. At the time, organizers had already raised around $4,000 and were soliciting additional donations. They planned to seek Community Preservation Act funds to defray the cost of some of the work. The park would clearly qualify as a recreational project, but the triangle also includes two buildings that are part of the original wireless campus, which is part of the Marconi National Historic Register District, so it may also qualify under historic preservation.

Organizers say the proposed park is on land that was once used for the recreation of employees of the wireless station. While that park included a tennis court, the current proposal calls for the area to remain mostly wooded, with the exception of a small grassy area.

Another group that has expressed interest in CPC funds is seeking $350,000 to help rebuild the Chatham Community Playground adjacent to the elementary school. Around 20 volunteers have been working since 2014 to improve the playground, and have already worked with town and school officials to improve drainage on the site, which is now grassy and mostly flat.

“The current area does not meet the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board mandates because of the wood fiber surfacing (wood chips),” organizer Lindsay Bierwirth wrote in a letter to supporters. “The school will have to replace the playground surface with poured-in-place rubber surfacing, and while the structures are removed to replace the surface, it only makes sense to update the play structures themselves.”

Although the school is operated by the Monomoy Regional School District, the property is owned by the town and leased to the district. The playground is a busy one and is frequently used by year-round residents in addition to visitors. The playground across the street at Veterans Field lacks equipment for small children, organizers say. A consultant analyzed the existing facility at the school and looked at the entire campus for ways to add or upgrade existing equipment and play areas. Three areas of focus that resulted were the need for greater accessibility, enhancement of creative play areas, and the need for areas that could serve as outdoor classrooms.

Early estimates for the entire package of improvements approached $1 million, so organizers proposed working in stages. With the first stage – the drainage and grass at the field – complete, proponents are now focusing on the play structures, many of which are fully functional but can be expanded or enhanced. In addition to CPA funds, organizers have been raising private donations and hope that the Monomoy Regional School District will contribute at some point.

Other applications include $30,000 to help fund a regional housing coordinator position; $17,000 for a new croquet court; $9,562 for work at the Atwood House Museum and $28,911 for an exhibit featuring a wetu, a Wampanoag dwelling.

Town Finance Director Alix Heilala said that a number of other individuals have expressed interest in CPA funds for their projects. They include crossing lights for the Old Colony Rail Trail, support for the archaeological dig at the Nickerson homestead, work on the caboose at the railroad museum, the restoration of cemetery headstones, and a potential open space purchase.

What remains to be seen is what the state’s contribution to the town’s CPA account will be in the years ahead. The available state contributions have declined over time as more Massachusetts communities signed on as participants, and now more than 175 municipalities are vying for the funds. The main revenue source for the state matching funds, a $20 fee on real estate transfers, hasn’t grown over time.

City and town leaders have joined Gov. Charlie Baker in lobbying the legislature to commit additional funds for the Community Preservation Act, which now matches only around 19 percent of the funds committed by cities and towns; in the early years of the act, the first participants saw a dollar-for-dollar match. Proponents have suggested that lawmakers increase the $20 flat fee to $50 to revitalize the fund.