Nostalgia guides pavilion decision
The Town Council this week decided to replace the John C. Rembijas Memorial Pavilion, which collapsed in a February snowstorm, with a similarly simple structure in the same location. The decision wasn’t necessarily surprising because most of the councilors had previously stated their intention to maintain the status quo. The vote, which was the first in a series of near-term steps towards implementing the Fort Getty Master Plan, wasn’t free of dissent.
The council met on Aug. 1. Two of the other topics addressed during the three-hour meeting were also contentious, with the first of those being a permit to allow a reggae event at Fort Getty. The second of those decisions involved the lively issue of line-item budget amendments at Financial Town Meetings.
The meeting agenda included a discussion on the architectural presentations from the pavilion workshop held on July 25, but the councilors hadn’t previously announced their intention to select an architect and a location at the Aug. 1 meeting.
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said, “The location doesn’t have to be decided tonight,” but three of the councilors – having personally decided against the hillside location – were determined to proceed with voting.
The most salient reason to delay the vote was the unanswered question about insurance reimbursement for a scour-proof foundation slab – which the state requires as a prerequisite for granting building permits in flood plains. A scour-proof slab would add about $200,000 to the cost of building a replacement pavilion in the original location, raising its total cost well north of $400,000. But that’s where a slim majority of the councilors want it built.
Councilor Bill Murphy, referring to his preference for the simple design submitted by architect Andrew Yates, said, “I’m staying with my original position. Put the pavilion right where it was, and stay as close as possible to what we had.”
Councilor Bob Bowen said he liked all of the submitted designs, but added that he preferred the original location, and warned that “the costs seem like they would be higher on the hill.” Councilor Mike White said he was vacillating on the choice because the hillside location would put the pavilion out of the flood plain. However, he noted that “the people I talk to don’t want things to change. So I came to the conclusion that we should keep it where it was, and the structure should be simple, which is why I’m leaning towards Andrew Yates’ design.”
Councilor Ellen Winsor didn’t identify her preferred design, but she urged the council to delay its vote, arguing that, “By pushing for a decision right now, we’re delaminating the [pavilion] discussion from the rest of the Fort Getty Master Plan. I talked to one of the architects and he said he’d be happy to hold a [pavilion] charrette for free. Time is on our side. There’s no reason to rush.”
Council President Mike Schnack was the lone councilor to support the hillside option, which was rendered in drawings by only one of the three architects who had offered ideas to the town. Unlike the simple, pre-fab style of Yates’ proposal, Shahin Barzin had proposed a distinctive design embedded in the topography of the hill. But Schnack focused his remarks solely on the location itself.
Relocating the pavilion to the hill, said Schnack, would eliminate the problems of wind intrusion and potential flooding at the original site. The hill is “a much better location,” he said. “In the old pavilion, when you were inside you felt like you were inside. You had one view out to the parking lot, one to the dumpster and one to the volleyball court.
“On the hill,” Schnack continued, “the cars wouldn’t be blocking your view. You’d have a much better view and you could design a crisscross [sidewalk] pattern for handicapped access. So, I would go with Shahin’s design on the hill. The pavilion is only one piece of the master plan, but it’s always been part of the plan and it’s the building that anchors the park.”
Nevertheless, the council voted by a 3-2 margin to award a design contract not to exceed $38,450 to Yates (Schnack and Winsor voted “no.”) The council’s next Fort Getty step will be taken during its Sept. 6 meeting – the day after Labor Day – to decide on the “musthave” elements of the park. That decision will set the stage for an economic analysis of the various elements by the Landworks Collaborative, which is the contractor that facilitated the May charrette on Fort Getty uses.
A second thought-provoking topic addressed by the council was the request by Nick DiGiando for a permit to hold a “Reggae by the Beach” event at the tent, which is serving as the temporary pavilion at Fort Getty.
A town official questioning the wisdom of the permit was Acting Police Chief Angela Deneault, who pointed out that a Facebook post about the party suggested to her that as many as 1,500 people would attempt to attend – or three times more than the number of people that the town regards as safe and appropriate at the site.
The event is scheduled for Aug. 6, and will run from 2 to 10 p.m. Asked if he would rope off the pavilion area, DiGiando said that ticket holders would be given wristbands to wear. He also said that ticket sales would be used to pay for the presence of additional police officers and a firefighter, as well.
Deneault pointed out that there were six police officers assigned to the July 4 fireworks at Mackerel Cove, and that, she pointed out, “was a 30-minute event,” whereas “only one police officer” has been assigned to the reggae event. She also seemed skeptical about assurances that attendance would be limited to 300 people.
Keiser said the event “would be a great use of Fort Getty, but we have to make sure that we look at each potential problem area. We don’t want the event overrun and we want to be sure there aren’t any post-event issues.” To that end, DiGiando will be meeting with Keiser, Deneault and presumably a fire department official to address security concerns.
Under the terms of the permit that the council unanimously granted for the event, Keiser can pull the plug if the concerns aren’t fully addressed.
The council was also unanimous in its decision to accept the recommendations of the Charter Review Committee, which met briefly before the meeting to formally sign off on its recommendation letter. The letter advises, among other things:
• “No changes to the FTM.”
• Adopting an ordinance “to codify the order of business of the FTM…so that all participants will be aware of the process and procedures, and improve the efficiency of the meetings.”
• Increasing “the number of voting machines” and advising the Board of Canvassers “to work with the town moderator to improve the voting process.”
• “No recall referendum.”
• Requesting “legal review of charter Sections 103, 218, 219, 102 and 1106 to determine whether or not budget line item changes moved and approved at the FTM are legal and binding on the council.”
Resident Arthur Christman, who had sought the addition of recall procedures to the Town Charter, told the council that the issue should be a referendum in the November election. But the council focused all of its attention on the line-item recommendation. Under the results of a 2002 referendum, Jamestown residents overwhelmingly passed Town Charter language which enables registered voters offering FTM motions to amend “any single appropriation” if the proposed amendments are greater than $10,000. At issue in what promises to be a drawn-out debate are the words “any single,” which could be interpreted as meaning a line item.
However, that language was not the language recommended by the then-empanelled Charter Review Committee, which had recommended language identical to the current language in the Town Charter.
That discrepancy prompted Schnack to say, “Maybe the [2002 referendum] is invalid.”
Most of the councilors expressed unequivocal opposition to granting voters the power to amend line items. Some of them “are [salaries] for town officials and I would be nervous about saying a line item could be voted down,” said Murphy.
Schnack described this possibility as “a little disturbing” and pointed out that there’s a “conundrum” resulting from the referendum language, which seems to conflict with charter language saying “’all town powers’” are vested in the Town Council.
Bowen said granting voters a say in line-item expenditures “could ruin the whole FTM process.” He added, “Anything ambiguous in the charter needs to be cleaned up. FTMs aren’t intended for line-item changes.”
Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero has been assigned the task of looking for those ambiguities. He will report back to the council during its second September meeting.