Letters To The Editor: March 23, 2023
No Confidence In Leadership
As I read the latest comments by our town leaders relative to the existing Chatham Senior Center, it’s becoming clear to me that we need to question their ability to make cogent decisions which are in the best interest of those of us who reside here. In a clear attempt to manipulate public opinion of the previously failed new COA initiative, they are attempting to dress up the acceptability of the project by appealing to those of us who believe affordable housing is the most important problem we currently need to address by suggesting that using the old property for housing will make a meaningful impact. I hardly think asking voters to approve the spending $10.6 million-plus for a "nice but not critical to have” facility is in their term a “win-win” — well maybe it is for the 1610 property owner, who will get the donation tax benefit. I’ve yet to hear that our “leaders” have suggested or even tried to convince the1610 property donor to consider donating the land for the much needed construction of affordable housing units. I have no confidence that our current leadership has what it takes to impact the crisis at hand without fiscally compromising our future.
Who Has The Final Vote?
There have been many articles about the former Harwich Middle School recently. The town meeting in May last year approved Article 57, which directed the town to study the best use options for the property. Additionally, the article directed a comprehensive business plan to determine if a cultural center could be financially self-sufficient. Over the last five fiscal years, the operation had expenses over $200,000 per year and lost over $500,000.
Now in fiscal 2023 the building expenses have dropped to about $120,000 and it is generating profits, per the director of cultural affairs. I find these numbers quite interesting and one of the reasons the citizens voted for this article. There has never been a business plan and the experiment has never been profitable. The town administrator did produce an overview of the property last November asking for $1.9 million dollars in capital improvements with some vague estimates of revenue. His words to the board during the presentation were, “If we build it they will come.” Quite a business plan. Now the board of selectmen and the T.A. say Article 57 was nonbinding – also interesting.
The town has not followed the voters' direction to seek options on this property since 2016. It may be a case of “not in my backyard” and a few insiders making the middle school their “pet project.” Regardless, the arrogance, contempt, and lack of transparency surrounding this building and Article 57 is wrong, and the townspeople should not stand for it. When an article is thoughtfully written, debated, and voted upon by a clear majority, the select board and town administrator do not have the final vote.
Supports New Senior Facility
I fully support moving forward to build a new Chatham Center for Active Living (senior center) at 1610 Main St. in West Chatham. I will vote in favor of the project at town meeting on May 6. Full disclosure: I am a member of the Friends of the Chatham Council on Aging, I have volunteered in the CCAL reading room for several years, and I (and other Friends) answered calls at the COA during several months of a staffing transition. That is to say that I have witnessed firsthand the extensive reach of COA services, programs and resources. The tremendous constraints of lean staffing and a repurposed residential building that is undersized, poorly ventilated and inadequate for the demonstrated, dynamic and digital realities of a full-service, 21st-century senior resource center have been both glaring and mind-boggling.
Serving the varied and vital needs of a strong and growing contingent of Chatham residents who range in age from 60 to 95-plus demands constant vigilance, which is in place, but also a variety of health, nutrition and wellness services, as well as social, cultural, practical and intellectual programs to build community, volunteerism and trust. A new flexibly designed and fully functional senior center — that could include a much-needed adult day care option — would serve Chatham residents as a touchstone for resources as the needs of our community’s older residents change going forward.
Many Will Benefit From New Facility
On May 6, Chatham Town Meeting will decide whether to build a new senior center for active living in the West Chatham village center and whether to renovate the council on aging's aging facility for affordable and attainable housing. Every senior and worker has a vested interest in voting for these important initiatives.
More than half of Chatham's nearly 7,000 citizens stand to benefit from a modern COA facility designed specifically to meet senior's needs. The COA has outgrown its Stony Hill Road facility, a converted office building, and outgrown community center space it uses. Chatham's fast-growing senior community needs a welcoming space dedicated to programs such as supportive adult care and sensitive confidential services like financial and medical insurance counseling; recreational, educational, social and wellness activities; and a kitchen that supports social gatherings. Every one of these vital programs and services are necessary to relieve the heavy burden of isolation many seniors face today.
Chatham's working households face a similarly dire need for housing. By repurposing the existing COA facility on Stony Hill Road for housing, Chatham can kick-start its affordable and attainable housing program, saving perhaps as much as $1 million on the cost of building apartments from scratch.
Much has changed in the two years since a majority of voters approved a modern senior center for active living but fell short of a needed two-thirds super majority. Chatham's municipal finances are in the best shape today than they have ever been. Chatham's tax base has grown expansively in the last two years. Hotel, rental, and meals taxes have more than recovered to their pre-COVID levels, contributing to today's $8 million surplus.
Seniors and young working voters are needed at town meeting in May to help advance their well-being and the well-being of our entire community.
More Transparency Needed
The 2023 warrant is closed. That should mean no more surprises or secrets crafted behind the scenes, hidden until just before the warrant was closed.
We were told at public meetings in January that the COA at 1610 Main St., rejected by town meeting in 2021, was “off the table.” No mention that a select board member and our town manager had been working behind closed doors on the re-gifting of the land. Suddenly, it was back on the table: the building too big; on a too-small, dangerously sloped lot; and too expensive. With strings; many, many strings.
The select board, late Monday, March 6, scheduled an extra meeting to be held on Wednesday, March 8, solely on the COA. Apparently only the proponents had a heads-up. A meeting of such importance should have been widely advertised. Those who spoke in opposition were treated rudely and subjected to name-calling.
One surprise warrant article authorizes the town to make a requirement change in the use of property held for municipal purposes. It would replace the current two-thirds majority vote to a simple majority. Ironically, it would only require a simple majority vote to do away with the two-thirds majority! This was never discussed publicly and was revealed one week before the warrant closed. It smacks of an intent to change the rules if you can’t get what you want.
At least six affordable housing-related articles were presented within two weeks of the warrant closing. None of these was properly aired because the public must speak at the meeting’s beginning before the article has been defined or discussed.
Controlling information or limiting access to it are at odds with basic democratic principles. Transparency is government’s obligation and our right.
AC Supports Citizen Petition, Bylaw Change
After giving careful consideration of the citizen petition regarding the removal of obstructions encroaching the approach and departure flight paths at the airport, the Chatham Airport Commission enthusiastically supports the petition; and thanks Rellan Monson for his efforts in crafting this petition and obtaining the necessary signatures for its placement on the warrant.
The commission would like to make one clarification: the airport commission has not “mandated” the removal of the trees. The removal of vegetation determined to be within the approach path to the airport is necessary to remain in compliance with agreements between the town and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The property owners had a choice of removing this vegetation at their expense or selling an easement to allow for the removal by the town. Passage of this petition will eliminate the need for both easements and out-of-pocket expenditures by property owners.
The commission also supports the proposed bylaw amendment to Chapter 100, section 4. This amendment would allow the commission to undertake the survey, identification, removal or lowering of vegetative obstructions that pose a hazard to landing and departing aircraft. The cost of this project would be paid for from available town funds authorized for this purpose.
The airport commission encourages the citizens to vote yes on both of these articles at annual town meeting this spring.
Huntley Harrison, chair
Chatham Airport Commission
Honor Seniors With COA Vote
Chatham cares for its residents. We support and use schools, roads, infrastructure, and address ecological, labor and industry problems. We care about our neighbors and can assume our neighbors care about us.
Yet we see those, who for their own reasons, say no to every project or issue presented to them, and those who with scorn say they “would never use such a thing.” However, when it comes to the center for active living, or senior center, it is not hard to find in each neighborhood or among acquaintances those who need its services: financial advice, health care, respite care, exercise, a myriad of classes, or the companionship of a meal with other, an ease for loneliness, a sharing of grief or joy. To look for oneself and see that same need requires only a bit of imagination and the passage of time.
We are being given another chance, seldom offered, to vote on May 6 for the center for active living. A chance to show that Chatham honors those who for so long have made this a fine place to live, to provide a center for seniors that answers so many needs.