Commission urges Fort Getty ‘balance’
The Conservation Commission will urge the Town Council to embrace the value and sensitivity of Fort Getty’s ecosystem when considering the current and proposed uses of the island’s only municipally owned park. The recommendation was hammered out during the panel’s Aug. 17 meeting.
As part of its effort to implement the Fort Getty Master Plan, the Town Council is poised to select a group of Fort Getty uses for economic analysis. The council is scheduled to make the selections during its Sept. 6 meeting.
Landworks Collaborative, the company that facilitated the Fort Getty charrette, will run the numbers for each of the selected uses. The May 19 charrette was intended to gauge resident preferences for Fort Getty uses.
The commissioners didn’t debate the merits of any uses – current or proposed – although they had a frank discussion on the consistency of the RV campground use with the “purpose” of the park. However, because the meaning of terms like “purpose” and “recreation” are subject to interpretation, the commissioners decided to keep their recommendations focused on “conservation values.”
To that end, they voted unanimously for a “call to action” urging the Town Council to “keep in the forefront” a consideration of the park’s “unique resources” as the councilors try to “balance multiple and potentially conflicting” uses of the park while ensuring “year-round public access.”
Referring to a working draft of the recommendations, which included a list of current park uses, commission Chairwoman Carol Lynn Trocki said the list should be deleted because it wasn’t prospective. “It would be better for us to say, ‘Here are the sensitive resources at the park, and we would like to see those resources protected,’” Trocki said.
The recommendation letter will also reference the commission’s charge, which directs the panel to “promote and develop natural resources, protect watershed resources, and preserve natural esthetic areas.” The charge also says the commission “may recommend to municipal councils, boards, or agencies, a program for the … preservation of open areas, streams, shores, wooded areas, roadsides, swamps, marshlands and natural esthetic areas.”
Town records indicate that Fort Getty covers about 40 acres, with much of its eastern side bordered by wetlands. The ecologically sensitive areas include eelgrass beds, a pair of beaches and walking trails.
According to Landworks, 23 acres of the peninsula may be developed without any Coastal Resource Management Council restrictions. Developed uses already in place include the former John C. Rembijas pavilion, which is slated for replacement at its original location along the southern beach; the boat ramp; the dock; the bathroom and shower facility; the two-acre tent camping area near the gatehouse; and the approximately 11- acre area dedicated to RV camping in the middle of the park.
Ellen Winsor, the Town Council’s liaison to the commission, observed that RV camping has affected the environment of the park in at least one instance. “The RV campers are good people living in temporary homes which discharge [wastewater] chemicals that affected the leaching field,” Winsor said.
She was referring to the deodorant chemicals, which are used in the RV’s holding tanks. Because the chemicals ruined the park’s leaching field, the RV’s wastewater is now hauled away to Taylor Point or other wastewater treatment plants.
Trocki pointed out that “there are different ways to measure burdens [on natural resources].” She added, “I want to see us reiterating the importance of the fragile resources at the park and [urging the council] to mini- mize the impacts on those resources.”
The commission’s letter will also reference deed and zoning restrictions on the use of the park. Under the 1955 deed granting Jamestown the Fort Getty property, the General Services Administration said that the land “shall be continuously used and maintained as, and for, public park purposes, and for a public recreational area, but for no other purposes.”
Alluding to the acreage reserved for RVs, Commissioner Ted Smayda said, “If we’re not abiding by the deed restrictions, there may be a need for a recommendation to rectify that.” But Trocki pointed out that the terms of the deed were limited to 20 years, “So it would be a stretch to say we’re violating the deed. It’s a very gray issue.”
The other restrictions on Fort Getty uses are established under the park’s zoning designation – OS-II Park and Recreation – which is intended to “to allow agriculture as well as recreation activities that will not substantially impact the historic, scenic and/or environmental character of the zoning district, nor compromise natural resources.”
Referring to the OS-II language on “scenic character,” Commissioner Michael Brown said that the town isn’t abiding by either the deed or the zoning restrictions. Smayda said, “I could argue that the ‘improvements’ to the park are not ‘improvements.’ They are antithetical to environmental protection and [more aligned with] economic squatters’ rights protection.”
But Trocki argued that the commission has to be “cautious” with the scope of its advice, adding that “we’ll get further [with prospective recommendations] than we will by going backwards and picking apart [previous town decisions].”
She also said that park uses like the pavilion and the RV campground “are not necessarily inconsistent with [OS-II] zoning. Our focus has to be balancing the non-developed resources like the eelgrass beds and coastal buffers with the developed resources.”
Resident Mary Meagher, who chaired the Fort Getty Master Plan Committee, told the commissioners that Fort Getty is unique among all of Jamestown’s parks – state or locally owned – because “it’s the only one providing so much public access to the water with a boat ramp, a dock and two beaches. Because of all that access to coastal resources, Fort Getty is a very sensitive area and it intersects with your charge.”
Smayda replied that “Fort Getty has lost its recreational character” because of the demand for waterfront access and “all the RV people paying for space. [The park] has become just a means of access to something else.”
Said Trocki, “That’s why we need to remind [the council] that the park is a tremendous resource that needs to be respectfully managed.”
“Respectful management” could include restraint, Meagher said, in upgrading the RV campground facilities. The council has previously discussed, but not debated, a proposal to upgrade the 30-amp electrical service available at the RV pedestals to 50 amps, which would accommodate demand from air conditioners and other appliances in the larger RVs.
Meagher said that she is among the Jamestowners who “don’t think 50- amp electrical service is camping.”
The only specific reference to the costs of upgrading and repairing Fort Getty infrastructure came from Winsor, who suggested that the potentially $1 million-plus expenditure for that work would amount to a “lost opportunity” if the money wasn’t invested in environmental protection instead.
The council will debate the justifi cations for repairs and upgrades at some point after Landworks provides its economic analysis of current and proposed uses. But the council, Smayda said, must also acknowledge “the abundance of scenic treasures” at the park and engage in a “vigorous” debate on environmental protection.
The debate, he added, should go beyond “window dressing to maintain the status quo.”