Our View: Chatham Town Meeting

Editorial.

Next Monday's town meeting in Chatham promises to be one of the lengthier sessions in recent years, with a 71-article annual warrant and a single-article special town meeting scheduled for Tuesday, May 14. Quite a few of the measures promise to spark discussion, ranging from funding for a new senior center to land acquisition, proposals to ban plastic bottles and Styrofoam containers, and withdrawal of the town from the Community Preservation Act.

There has already been significant debate about a zoning bylaw amendment to allow accessory dwelling units, essentially separate apartments, in single-family homes. Opponents say the bylaw is flawed, would lead to abuses and wouldn't create much-needed affordable housing. Backers, however, point to safeguards that require both the homeowner and renter to be year-round residents, a limit of 20 permits annually—10 by right, 10 by special permit for nonconforming properties, roughly half of those in town—and the fact that market rate housing is needed just as much as affordable housing. We urge voters to approve the ADU bylaw amendment, which will require a two-thirds vote to pass. An affordable ADU bylaw already on the books has created zero units; given the town's housing crunch and the emphasis on retaining young people and working families, a more expansive ADU bylaw is warranted. The 20-permit limit ensures that it won't overwhelm neighborhoods with apartments within existing homes, and if abuses are discovered or the measure simply proves unworkable, it can be revoked at the next town meeting. Opponents have mounted a campaign of fear, but we shouldn't let imagined “what ifs” frighten us from trying innovative ways to encourage housing for year-round residents.

Along similar lines, we support Article 16, which increases the Chatham Childcare Voucher Program, run by Monomoy Community Services, to $55,000 from the current $25,000, as a way to ease the financial burden on families. We actually believe this doesn't go far enough, that the town should follow the advice of the economic development committee and institute free childcare and pre-school vouchers for all Chatham kids, but apparently that's too radical a leap; this increase to the existing voucher program will, we hope, serve as a stepping stone for a more comprehensive approach support for families with young children.

We believe appropriating $6.6 million for a new senior center on Middle Road is premature at this time. We are not convinced this is the best site nor are we enamored with the preliminary design. Voters should reject Article 15 and send town officials back to the drawing board. The existing senior center is tired and wanting in many aspects, but it will serve for the time being while a better location and design are developed.

Voters should also reject Article 40, which seeks $100,000 for shark mitigation measures at Oyster Pond. There is no design or concept for this; no firm could be found to take on the task when the town sought proposals earlier this year. A lesser amount, perhaps $50,000, should be appropriated just in case someone can be found to conduct the needed analysis, but we don't need to tie up the entire amount before we know what is possible and practical, if anything.

We also oppose Article 67, the petition measure to withdraw the town from the Community Preservation Act. We are, however, somewhat ambivalent about the special town meeting article calling for the town to purchase an interest in the George Ryder Road VFW property. That will allow the town to contribute toward much-needed renovations to the post and is necessary due to an obscure state law that prohibits the town from contributing money to a private organization. This seems like a drastic work-around that could have other ramifications that haven't yet been adequately explored. This measure should be postponed for further investigation of ways the town can assist the post. Likewise, we're not sure the town needs to spend $50,000 to hire a consultant to investigate a town-owned dredge program (Article 70). Although the Barnstable County dredge program has had problems recently—not only the dredges breaking down but increasing demand from Cape towns—a town dredge would cost millions to acquire and almost as much to operate annually. Chatham has extensive dredging needs, but permitting and opposition from property owners have been just as problematic recently as difficulties with the county dredge. Other nearby towns, especially Orleans and Eastham, also have significant dredging needs. Perhaps a regional committee to investigate the viability of a jointly-owned dredge would be a more appropriate step before spending $50,000 on a consultant.

We endorse the addition of a Crowell Road house to the town's MCI Housing Savings Program (Article 36); $1,275,000 to purchase 3.17 acres of land on Goose Pond (Article 59); the plastic beverage bottle, straw and Styrofoam bans (Articles 64, 65 and 66); and urge the selectmen to move forward with Article 61 to accept seven roads in the Stage Neck area as town roads.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Monomoy Regional Middle School on Crowell Road. We urge all voters to study the warrant they received in the mail this week and attend the session; free childcare is also available.