CHATHAM – For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, the traditional summer town meeting — held to update seasonal residents on local issues and solicit their input — will not happen.
Instead, the 13-member summer residents advisory committee, which has sponsored the event for a number of years, is putting together a pre-recorded video presentation which will cover many of the same topics, although without the usual interactive back-and-forth between homeowners and town officials.
Scheduled to be shown on Channel 18 on Aug. 11 and available for streaming on the town's website, the session will include presentations by town officials, including Chairman of Selectmen Shareen Davis, Town Manager Jill Goldsmith and Finance Director Alix Heilala, as well as updates on coastal issues from Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon and the town's response to COVID-19 from Health and Nature Resources Director Dr. Robert Duncanson, according to SRAC Chairman Katherine Malfa.
The presentation will also include the committee's popular “finance scorecard,” which compares the town's financial details with other Cape towns.
The advisory committee, the only official town board dedicated to summer residents on the Cape, usually meets in May and begins regular weekly meetings in June. Because of the pandemic, the committee held one meeting shortly before the June 22 annual town meeting and began regular Friday morning meetings July 10.
“It's a shortened year,” Malfa said, “although I would say we've got a lot done in our shortened, virtual, pandemic summer.”
In the past three weeks the group has had presentations from Davis, Goldsmith and Heilala as well as Public Works Director Tom Temple. This Friday at 9 a.m. Community Development Director Katherine Donovan will meet with the group, and on Aug. 7 Duncanson will be the guest.
The meetings are held online, and time is set aside for questions and comments, particularly from summer residents.
One of the group's main focuses this summer is looking into the issue of attainable housing, an issue that has been a priority for selectmen and other town officials as well.
“Our view is that housing is necessary and needed for young families and young professionals,” Malfa said. A working group has been looking at data and focusing on the idea of cluster developments. The goal would be to have 10 developments of 10 single-family homes, each with open space to create year-round neighborhoods. The target home price would be about $300,000, Malfa said.
“Our work to date shows that the $300,000 price is doable if the land is donated and if we can alter zoning laws to permit this,” she said. The group's vision is to reserve the housing for year-round residents who meet specific eligibility criteria. The working group is developing a report to deliver to the selectmen at the end of the summer along with other recommendations.
The group is also looking into the issues of a residential tax rate. A petition article submitted to the annual town meeting seeks to adopt a state law allowing the town to set a lower property tax rate for year-round residents. Like other petition articles, it was postponed at the June meeting, initially to a fall special town meeting, although selectmen last week decided to cancel that session and move that and other articles to next spring's annual meeting (selectmen were scheduled to discuss rescheduling a fall special town meeting on Tuesday; see related story elsewhere in this issue). Malfa said the matter is “an important issue for summer residents.”
The SRAC is also studying prioritizing capital projects.
The committee includes summer residents from all geographic sections of town, Malfa said, and from states ranging from Massachusetts to California. “I think we have a nice cross section,” she said. Malfa, who worked in securities law before retiring, calls Washington, D.C. home, and has been a member of the committee for 13 years.
“Nothing is quite as interesting as being chairman this year,” she commented, referring to the challenges posted to both the committee and the town by the pandemic. Although the group is meeting virtually, all members are at their summer homes in town, she said, adding that town staff have been helpful in getting everyone up to speed on the virtual meeting technology.
“We're really very thankful to the town staff for accommodating us in our meetings,” she said. “We know how busy they are and how hard everyone is working in this pandemic year.”