2011-05-26 / Front Page

Open space, recreation at Ft. Getty, islanders say

By Phil Zahodiakin

Last week’s public workshop on the future uses of Fort Getty featured a vote on a wide range of ideas for the park and it was “open space and passive recreation” that emerged as the most heavily favored option among the residents who voted during the lively event on May 19.

The workshop, which was held at the Lawn Avenue School gymnasium, drew 125 people, but only one seasonal camper. It was attended by all of the town councilors, the town administrator, the recreation department director, the town planner and planning assistant, six Planning Commission members, and the planning and development director for Bristol.

Mary Meagher, who chaired the long-serving (and now-disbanded) Fort Getty Master Plan Committee, and several other current or former committee members helped lead the breakout discussions at tables around the gym. The discussions were intended to select the use-options that would be offered to the voters.

Fort Getty is a peninsula embraced on three sides by 28 acres of coastal wetlands. Most of the 23 acres available for development or other purposes are occupied during the spring and summer by 105 seasonal campers whose 2010 payments to the town totaled $310,800.

The campground facilities need more than $1 million worth of work, but the current Town Council has not launched any major work because of disagreements about the future uses of the park, which are evident in the feedback from numerous surveys.

Nevertheless, the current council has indicated its intention to “get off the dime,” and last week’s voting will help inform its deliberations on the park. The workshop was organized by Landworks Collaborative, a consulting firm based out of Worcester, Mass., which was selected from several respondents to the town’s solicitation for facilitators.

The solicitation was drafted by Town Planner Lisa Bryer, who told the gathering that the future of the park had reached a crossroads. During the many years that Jamestown has tried to reach a consensus on the future of Fort Getty, “the park has grown and evolved” and “demand [for access] has increased,” Bryer said.

“The park has been a cash cow for the town with very minimal investment,” she said. “But this lack of investment is beginning to show. The pavilion collapsed this winter. The campsites need new electrical pedestals. The main water line needs replacement. And the bathrooms, even though they’ve been recently renovated, still generate some complaints.”

Bryer continued, “If we’re going to invest significant funds in our park, the question becomes, ‘How do we want that money to be spent?’ and ‘For what use?’” Another important question Bryer urged the participants to consider was “whether the park must, or should, generate income.”

The preceding question, and associated options, was one of three that went to the voters, who cast their votes by affixing colored dots to posters with the questions and options.

The second of the questions was, “What should Jamestown do with the RV park?” The third question asked the voters to select their preferences from the 42 use-options identified during breakout discussions.

Prior to the voting, a Landworks staffer – answering a question from the public – said that the revenue from RV campers reduced by approximately $50 the annual property taxes on a house appraised at $400,000.

However, Town Council President Mike Schnack responded by saying, “When you put your dots up, remember that the loss of revenue wouldn’t be just an additional $50 on your tax bill because you will also have to make up in taxes the cost of any improvements you want to make [to the park].”

Landworks President Bob Mulcahy said, “The RV park is the central issue of the evening” because the seasonal campers’ share of the park is so sizeable that any change in their share would result in “totally different plans.”

Under the voting procedures, only voters with proof of residence were allowed to vote on all three questions. Non-residents were allowed to vote on the use options, but the lone non-resident in attendance did not post any votes. Ultimately, 111 residents participated in the voting.

The tallies in response to the options posed under the heading, “Should Park Uses Generate Revenue or Not?” were as follows:

• Revenue neutral (meaning the park and its activities pay for themselves): 65

• Revenue producing: 44

• Cost to the town but services provided: 2

The voting tallies in response to the options posed under the heading, “What should Jamestown do with the RV Park?” were as follows:

• Eliminate RV park: 63

• Reduce size of RV park: 32

• Keep RV park: 16

The results suggest a change of opinion since the 2004 Fort Getty survey, which asked, “With the knowledge that the Fort Getty campground provides tax relief of about $0.16 per every thousand of valuation on your taxes ($56 per year for a house valued at $350,000), what would you like to see happen to the campground?”

The 2004 tally showed that 30 percent of the surveyed residents supported an elimination of the RV campground; by contrast, the 63 voters who supported an elimination of the campground in last week’s vote accounted for 56 percent of those who voted.

Each voter had five dots available to vote for any of the 42 uses or park elements selected during the breakout sessions. The results for the uses and park elements receiving 30 or more votes were: passive recreation/open space, 87 votes; sailing center, 57 votes; year-round restrooms, 44 votes; overlooks/viewing bench, 35 votes; enclosed wedding/ function pavilion, 33 votes; trail system, 31 votes; and tent camping, 31 votes.

Uses and park elements receiving more than nine but fewer than 30 votes were: improved or more beaches, 29 votes; marine education/recreation center, 28 votes; adaptive reuse of existing battery/historic features, 28 votes; amphitheater, 27 votes; historical interpretive signage, 15 votes; commercial fishing access, 15 votes; nature preserve, 14 votes; picnic areas, 14 votes; pier improvements, 12 votes; and farmers’ market, nine votes.

Uses and park-elements receiving more than one but fewer than nine votes were: smaller pavilion, eight votes; affordable housing, six votes; boat trailer parking, six votes; water taxi for Bay Island Park System, five votes; floating touch-and-go dock, four votes; bike trail, three votes; and fenced dog park, two votes.

Uses and park elements receiving one vote each were: yearround public swimming pool, kayak rental, snack bar, ice rink, upgrading outhauls, aquaculture and permeable parking surface.

Uses and park-elements receiving no votes at all were: aquarium, carousel, boat rental, wind surfing rental, exercise circuit, café, restaurant, sculpture park, residential gated community, indoor/outdoor festival space, bait and accessory shop, and disabled access.

Mulcahy said, “Our intent is to take the information from this workshop and translate it into a strategic plan that can actually be implemented.”

Bryer said that, “The workshop was a tremendous success. There was great energy, passion and thoughtfulness throughout the room.” She also expressed the view that most of the useoptions identified by the participants “could be accommodated by the park while still adhering to the majority preference for open park space and passive recreation.”

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