CHATHAM – The annual town meeting begins Monday at 6 p.m. at the Monomoy Regional Middle School on Crowell Road. Voters should prepare to settle in for a longer-than-usual annual legislative session covering a number of significant topics, including funding for a new council on aging facility, a controversial accessory dwelling unit bylaw, funding for a shark barrier at Oyster Pond, bans on plastic bottles and straws and styrofoam containers, and 18 Community Preservation Act requests.
Given the lengthy warrant, it was fairly obvious that the meeting would go two nights even before selectmen called a special town meeting for Tuesday, May 14, to deal with the Chatham VFW's request for funds to help renovate the George Ryder Road post (see separate story).
“It's going to take time to get through them,” Chairman of Selectmen Dean Nicastro said of the 71 articles included in the 100-page warrant.
The first dozen articles deal with budgets and routine matters, although some may not be as routine as usual, particularly Article 5, which sets the salaries for elected officials. Members of the board of selectmen and the moderator are having their remuneration doubled—selectmen from $2,000 to $4,000 (with an extra $1,000 for the chair) and the moderator from $600 to $1,200.
This year's operating budget, Article 8, is $30,882,921, a 1.34 percent increase. The Monomoy Regional School budget request is $9,138,886, a $71,800 decrease due to declining enrollment and still less than Chatham's education costs prior to regionalization, as noted in the finance committee's report in the warrant. Operation and school budgets combined total $40,300,176, a 1.18 percent increase.
“We commend the constraint evident in such a modest increase while noting the overall low rate of price and wage growth nationally,” the fincom report reads.
Article 15 seeks $6.6 million to design and build a new 10,150-square-foot council on aging facility on Middle Road to replace the current senior center on Stony Hill Road. A 2015 needs assessment showed increasing demand for COA services as the town's population ages, and the proposed design would serve both the current and future needs of the agency, according to officials.
But the location has been criticized as too remote, and the site, which is heavily sloped, is seen by some as not suitable and adding to the construction cost. While selectmen endorsed the measure unanimously, the finance committee was “quite split,” said Chairman Stephen Daniel. “There are those who think it's simply too big” and expensive, he said. The official 6-2 vote in the warrant reflects a $6.3 million price tag, based on the Friends of the Council On Aging contributing $250,000, but that donation is based on the new center being at least 10,000 square feet, he said. A fincom vote on the full $6.6 million was much closer at four in favor and three opposed, he said.
The new building would be funded through a capital debt exclusion, requires a two-thirds majority to pass town meeting, and must also be approved at the May 16 annual town election.
An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) amendment to the zoning bylaw has engendered significant discussion. Article 17 is unanimously supported by the selectmen, finance committee and planning board, as well as numerous outside agencies, especially housing advocates who see the measure as a way to increase the availability of rental housing for young people and families and provide housing options for seniors.
Under the zoning bylaw amendment, which requires a two-thirds vote to pass, separate apartments could be created within single-family homes or, with a special permit, in accessory buildings. So-called in-law apartments are already allowed, but under the ADU measure the occupant would not have to be a relative, as is the case now. The main dwelling would have to be occupied by the homeowner year-round and the ADU must be rented on an annual basis to preclude use as short-term rentals. ADUs are limited to no more than 900 square feet and two bedrooms. There is a limit of 20 ADUs annually; 10 by right and 10 allowed by special permit on properties that are nonconforming. The measure also creates a five-year amnesty for existing illegal apartments.
Opponents say there are not adequate safeguards in the bylaw to prevent abuse, such as someone signing a 12-month lease but only using the unit during the summer. There is no provision for notifying neighbors of by-right ADUs, and there is no requirement that the units be rented at affordable rates. They say the provision could change the character of residential neighborhoods.
Proponents say there is a need for market and attainable rentals which ADUs would help fill; an existing ADU bylaw limited to affordable rentals, they note, has created no units. Seniors could lease an ADU to provide extra income or move into the smaller unit and rent the larger portion of the home, allowing them to age in place. Currently, homeowners can rent their houses on a short- or long-term basis with no notification to neighbors.
Selectmen this week found a way forward on Article 61, which seeks to correct a faulty 1997 taking of easements on Battlefield Road, Cedar Street, Champlain Road, Port Fortune Lane, Sears Road, Stage Harbor Road and Stage Neck Road. Last month, the board unveiled a plan to take the easements in two parts: one for the existing paved roadway itself and another maintenance easement to allow utilities and town crews to maintain buried and above-ground utilities. The compromise aims to satisfy conditions of a suit brought against the town by nine property owners, but other area property owners argued that the proposed maintenance easements are too large and should be reduced. This week, the board voted to allow property owners until May 31 to request a meeting with the public works director to discuss reducing the maintenance easement on their specific properties. Because the town is only considering reductions in the scope of the easement taking listed in the warrant, town counsel opined that it can be considered at the May 13 town meeting without needing a new warrant article, an adjournment of the meeting or a special town meeting. The selectmen would then have until Sept. 10—the 120 days allowed by state statute—to approve and execute the new taking.
“This is extremely generous on the part of the town,” Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said. Article 61 requires approval by two-thirds of voters to pass.
There are two major property acquisition articles on the warrant. Article 36 seeks funds for the town to purchase a home at 466 Crowell Rd. which would be added to the existing MCI Housing Savings Program. Under the program, the dwelling will be leased to an income-qualified family and half of the rent escrowed for a downpayment on the purchase of a home. The program has been in place for four homes at the town-owned Marconi property for 16 years.
Article 59 seeks $1,275,000 to acquire 3.17 acres of open space on the shore of Goose Pond, one of the town's largest freshwater ponds. Funding will come from land bank monies and, possibly, a state grant, so borrowing will not be required.
Several measures deal with dredging and waterways. Article 39 seeks $575,000 for the second phase in a dredging-beach nourishment plan for the Nantucket Sound shoreline, as well as dredging of Chatham Harbor, pending resolution of litigation by a shorefront property owner who blames failure of his revetment on previous dredging. Included in the article is an estimated $50,000 to analyze groins and jetties along Nantucket Sound to determine if modifying existing structures or adding new ones would curb erosion and cut down on long-term dredging and beach nourishment costs.
Article 70 seeks $50,000 to hire a consultant to study whether it makes sense for the town to own and operate its own dredge.
A feasibility study and, possibly, design, permitting and construction of a shark barrier to protect swimmers at the town beach at Oyster Pond is sought in Article 40. The $100,000 request is relatively vague; the town already tried to hire a consultant to conduct such a study but received no takers. Concern about the presence of seals near the beach, which is used by families and children, and the possibility that sharks could follow prompted the proposal.
Other capital projects include $250,000 for the redesign and engineering of the transfer station; $100,000 for design and engineering of a parking lot, visitors center and open space at the town-owned Eldredge Garage property; and $7,150,000 for the next phase in the wastewater expansion project. Phase 1E will extend sewers to sections of George Ryder Road, Stony Hill Road, Stage Harbor Road and Bridge Street. A two-thirds majority is required along with approval of a debt exclusion ballot question at the town election.
Voters are also being asked to add $30,000 to the Chatham Childcare Voucher Program to help support local families. A placeholder article seeks funding for enhancements to the West Chatham Roadway Project (see separate story).
There are 18 Community Preservation Act projects on the warrant, totaling $1.4 million. They include five housing-related requests, bicycle crossing lights, water bottle filling stations, improvements to the elementary school playground, restoration of ancient gravestones and continuation of the archaeological dig at the Nickerson Homestead.
There are eight petition articles on the warrant. They seek to ban the town's purchase and distribution of beverages in plastic bottles as well as town-wide bans on plastic drinking straws and polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam packaging. A petition article seeking the town's withdrawal from the Community Preservation Act
is unanimously opposed by both the finance committee and selectmen. A nonbinding resolution submitted by petition seeks to change the designation of the board of selectmen to the select board.
Selectmen and the finance committee are at odds over Article 42, which seeks to create a capital stabilization fund. The fund would specifically pay for expenses related to the acquisition, upgrade and maintenance of property, buildings, technology equipment or wastewater projects, according to the article. A two-thirds vote is required to establish the fund or make expenditures from it. Selectmen propose setting aside $2,265,000 paid by Harwich as part of the wastewater intermunicipal agreement in the capital stabilization fund.
The finance committee opposes the measure 6-2, said Daniel, with the majority viewing the stabilization fund as a “spending fund.” They'd rather see the money used to pay down the town's debt. “We have a lot of it and we're incurring more of it all the time.” This year's budget includes $6.3 million in debt payments, 15 percent of the total budget. The funds could also be used to pay down the town's other post-employment debt obligation, he said.
Free childcare is available for each night of town meeting from 5:30 to 10 p.m. in the middle school library. To register visit www.chathamcommunitycenter.com or call 508-945-5158. Copies of the warrant can be downloaded at www.CapeCodChronicle.com or the town's website.
Alan Pollock contributed to this story.