2011-10-06 / News

Islanders speak out on Fort Getty debate

BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

A majority of the Town Council this week defl ected pleas for much more resident participation in the Fort Getty decision process. The council, which met on Oct. 3, had only intended to schedule the next step in the process. But a large number of residents turned out for the meeting, and nearly all of them spoke out in support of greater inclusivity.

One of those residents, Derek Hansen, was scheduled to address the council during open forum. Hansen had sent the council a long letter detailing the recent history of Fort Getty planning issues, and he called on the councilors to foster “a conversation that’s based on shared values.”

“Two meetings ago,” Hansen said, “council President Schnack made the point that one problem with the [Fort Getty] charrette led by Landworks was that they had brought things back to square one. But I don’t think anyone has ever taken a good look at what a blank slate – a true square one – would look like with regards to whether we maintain the RV campground or not.

“I also have a hunch,” Hansen continued, “that a majority of the council believes that most, if not all, of the survey data from the charrette is flawed, and that they have decided to use their own judgment, and the opinions of the people they talk to, to make [Fort Getty] decisions. If it’s the case that a lot of the data is flawed, then let’s correct [the flaws] and go get really good data.”

Hansen also said that “it’s easy for the community to believe – and I’m not saying this is the case – that the council has allowed a flawed, data-gathering process to happen because, in the end, the council knows that it is going to vote on what happens at Fort Getty.”

Hansen’s opinion was echoed by resident Richard Ventrone, who said the council shouldn’t “spend a nickel” on Fort Getty upgrades until there is more public input. “Since it is the taxpayers’ money, and since we elected the council to represent the taxpayers, I believe – and I heard things at the last workshop [implying that Fort Getty decisions are] a done deal – I believe that before the council votes to have trailers there, I would love to see the council listen to the people and their ideas for things besides trailers. There are many possibilities for generating money there – more than what we’re getting now.”

Ventrone also asked, “Would you consider having another charrette? Maybe we could draw more than 100 people. At this point, you’re saying 100 people [who voted at the charrette] were unrepresentative of Jamestown, and yet, we’re listening to five people saying, ‘We’re the representatives and this is what we’re going to do’ – and that’s very upsetting for a taxpayer.”

At the outset of his remarks, Ventrone referenced his argument for a referendum to decide the future uses of Fort Getty, but council President Mike Schnack pointed out that the Town Charter only provides for financial referenda, and warned that it would be a slippery slope to make referenda available for all sorts of issues. “You might as well move to California,” he said.

Resident Ken Newman also urged the council to consider eliciting additional public input. Newman agreed that a referendum would be a “difficult” approach, but added that a thorough survey would be a viable, “interim” alternative to gather the information. Yet another approach was suggested by resident Mary Meagher, who said that “an idea competition would be a fabulous way to deal with Fort Getty questions.”

Meagher, a Jamestown designer who chaired the most recent Fort Getty Master Plan Committee, said that, “As someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about Fort Getty and a lot of time studying architecture, I find Fort Getty both daunting and inspiring. Fort Getty has enormous possibilities, and you’re hearing people asking you to be visionary – and to be visionary, you need help.”

Meagher reiterated her desire to see the RV campground less dominant at the park, thereby increasing public access. But she reminded the council that any increase in access should be sensitive to fragile ecosystems and mindful of energy use.

“Like Derek [Hansen],” she added, referring to Hansen’s observation that the Fort Getty debate is dividing the town, “I regret that some of the conversation has become us versus them. It has never been my intention to create an us-versus-them circumstance – and certainly not to critique campers, who have been living with less-than-great conditions while, as Valerie noted, building a really wonderful community.”

Meagher was referring to Valerie

Malloy, who had earlier disputed Hansen’s reference to friction sparked by the Fort Getty debate. “You call it divisiveness,” Malloy told Hansen. “I call it standing up for what you believe in. I’ve never seen you at any of the Fort Getty meetings and I don’t know where you came from. But Fort Getty, to me, represents simplicity and family values, and it’s lovely to see the people there, having fun with their grandchildren.”

In sharp contrast to Malloy, Councilor Ellen Winsor applauded Hansen for the thought and research that went into his letter, and offered a motion “to embrace a Fort Getty choices’ committee that would develop a process for community discourse to support the process and evaluate all ideas.”

Councilor Mike White immediately seconded Winsor’s motion, but only, he explained, “to start a conversation. I don’t agree with Councilor Winsor. We’re a committee, too, and we are the only committee willing to take control of this process – and the only committee elected by the people.

“We had a two-and-a-half hour workshop with [Landworks],” White continued, “and no one discounted that discussion. We have a large volume of information and we’re taking information from other committees and meetings. It’s time for the Town Council to start doing actual work, with help from the consultant – and maybe an idea for another committee will come out of those discussions.”

Schnack argued, “It’s kind of disingenuous to put together a process committee while [the council is working with Landworks].” Councilor Bill Murphy said, “The only way to make everyone happy would be to appoint another committee because a committee slows down or stops the process. Only the council can make the decision. Not a committee.”

Councilor Bob Bowen said, “We are the process committee,” to which Winsor replied, “I don’t understand why a pair of committees can’t work on parallel tracks at the same time. This may be a representative democracy, but there are citizens trying to present ideas. They would like to contribute to the process and they would like you to embrace their [participation].”

“We’re not precluding anyone’s opinion,” Bowen responded. “We have a succinct list of [council preferences for fixed and flexible] uses, and they will go to the consultant and they will run some models. That’s the next step. If we reach the point of a bond issue [to pay for RV campground improvements], then people can [effectively] vote [on the RV campground by voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the bond].”

Town Planner Lisa Bryer observed that the most preferred Fort Getty use among charrette voters was open space and passive recreation, and that Landworks “will incorporate that information” into its use evaluations. Said Schnack, “That’s what we’re looking for: What are our options and what will they cost?” Bryer, however, reminded the council that there would be value to additional survey data because those data would reveal trends in islander preferences.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser will work with Landworks to schedule a workshop – probably in November – on the selection of fixed and flexible uses for its economic analysis of the options. Hansen’s letter is accessible at www.fortgetty choices.com – a web site that Hansen has just launched.

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