The CPA Has Been Good For Chatham

“I’m as restless as a willow in a windstorm
I’m as jumpy as a puppet on a string
I haven’t seen a crocus or a rosebud
But it might as well be spring.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein

May snuck up on us this year. Perhaps it was the cold rainy weather or maybe that so much has happened in Chatham that we just did not pay attention to the calendar.
But June and the summer are just ahead, and it is time now to pay attention. A friend recently told me that Mother Nature decided to punish us with a terrible spring after the mild and relatively snow-less winter. I guess it could be true. My statement that so much has happened in Chatham is certainly true. The annual town meeting has come and gone, and the article for the new council on aging building was rejected. My reading on that vote is that there were just too many reasons to vote no on the article. Some people voted no because they didn’t like the location, others because they didn’t like the design, and still others because they felt it was too expensive. I doubt that many actually believed that the COA did not deserve a new headquarters. The job now is to quickly come up with a plan that lessens the number of reasons to say no and get this project started. Developing such a plan will be heavy lifting, but I’m optimistic.
I wrote last month about the Chatham of the past with 12 gas stations for 3,000 residents in 1965. Thanks to all of you who have commented favorably on that story. It seems there is a big appetite out there for things about Chatham as it used to be. I agree Chatham was terrific, but I think the Chatham we enjoy today is also pretty terrific.
Two recent changes in the east end of Main Street feel very positive. First, Naomi Turner and David Veach sold the Chatham Candy Manor to Paige and Robbie Carroll. Susan Carroll, Robbie’s mother, has worked at the Candy Manor for years and the transition has been seamless. Naomi has been the owner of the Candy Manor for over 60 years and the fact that the store will change very little, if at all, is great for Chatham. The Candy Manor has been an important anchor on Main Street.
And the same can be said about the sale of the Chatham Squire. Richard Costello and George Payne have created what is one of Chatham’s most beloved spots, and there had to be concern as to what the future held. The sale of the iconic Squire to Todd Hearle means that changes will be few and that Chatham will continue to enjoy its favorite neighborhood bar. Todd and his family have a long history here in Chatham and he has stated that Richard Sullivan will continue as general manager with Bob Davis staying on as executive chef. Todd’s parents, Ron and Debbie Hearle, have been right across the street at the Hearle Gallery for years. Squire owners Costello and Payne have many reasons to be very proud of their 50-plus years of ownership. I’ve been thinking that when summer visitors return and visit both the Candy Manor and The Squire, they will have no idea that anything has changed at all.
I continue to believe that the town meeting is a wonderful way to manage the business of the town. Chatham is fortunate to have Bill Litchfield, a skilled moderator who keeps the meeting on track. This year’s warrant had 71 articles and took two full nights to complete. For this town meeting, there were a number of resident-sponsored petition articles. Any Chatham citizen can sponsor a petition article with a minimum of 10 signatures. Article 67 proposed withdrawal from the Community Preservation Act. I admit to being a big fan of the CPA and have felt strongly that the town has benefited greatly since adopting the CPA at the town meeting in May 2002.
The Community Preservation Act creates dedicated funds for affordable housing, historic preservation and open space as well as the development of outdoor recreation facilities. Funds are raised by a voter-authorized surcharge on local property taxes of 3 percent. Florence Seldin, Norm Pacun and Dick Batchelder along with Coley Yeaw were the early proponents of the CPA in Chatham. There was significant opposition and some people felt that the 3 percent surcharge would depress real estate values. In 2002, Coley Yeaw advocated strongly on the floor of the town meeting in favor of the CPA. He stressed that the benefits would far outrank any negatives. Of course, Coley was right, and it may be an understatement to say that real estate values have been just fine.

As part of the CPA, the selectmen choose a community preservation committee with representatives from standing town committees. Dr. Michael Tompsett is presently the chairman and his committee is charged with determining if requests for funds are worthy of recommendation. Affordable housing is one of Chatham’ most critical issues and this year the committee approved requests totaling $524,500 in this category. Over the years, more than $4 million has gone to affordable housing, and I cannot imagine how much greater the housing problem in Chatham would be without these funds. In this year’s warrant, Article 36 proposed that the selectman negotiate the purchase of a house at 466 Crowell Rd. That house will be rehabilitated and added to the MCI Rent/Escrow Program. Under that program, the tenant pays the monthly rent for five years and the town puts 50 percent of that rent in an escrow account for the tenant to use as a down payment on his or her own home. This new home will make it five homes in the MCI program. So now five families can live in Chatham with reasonable rents and have the expectation of money for a down payment in the future. I feel it is a wonderful program and that, if possible, further expansion is warranted.
Other articles funded projects in the areas of historic preservation, open space and recreation. Fortunately, both the selectmen and the finance committee voted unanimously against the proposal to withdraw from the CPA. I think that the prevailing wisdom was that many benefits for Chatham have outweighed the 3 percent surcharge. The CPA has helped fund many pieces of property to provide open space and recreation. Furthermore, the exteriors of so many important Chatham buildings have benefited. I admit there have been a few CPA articles that have been a bit of reach, but on balance the CPA committee has done a fine job and Dr. Tompsett has been an excellent chairman. I believe that Chatham was correct in retaining the CPA and the town will continue to benefit from CPA funds.
Happy spring!