2011-11-24 / Front Page

Council schedules ‘special meeting’ with contractors to discuss Fort Getty

BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The Town Council this week outlined the short-term process it will follow towards a first-cut decision on the current and proposed uses of Fort Getty. However, if the
public comments expressed during the meeting are any indication, residents will have much more to say before any Fort Getty uses are put to a vote.
 
The councilors met on Nov. 21. The first of the milestones they specified for the Fort Getty process is Dec. 12, when the council will hold a “special meeting” with the Landworks Collaborative – the contractor charged with evaluating the economics of Fort Getty uses. Even though the meeting will have a work-session format, it will be held as a “special council meeting” to allow for the possibility of voting. In the case of this meeting, the votes would be cast for the purpose of formally selecting Fort Getty uses that the council will submit to Landworks for economic analysis.
 
Resident Derek Hansen, who has launched a website to gather input on future uses of the park (FortGettyChoices.com), asked the councilors a number of questions
intended to gauge the opportunities for public input, if any, during the Dec. 12 meeting.
 
Asked if the public should submit its comments in writing, Town Council President Mike Schnack said “the meeting will be open to the public,” implying that the public will have an opportunity to speak. Schnack added that anyone who would like to submit their comments in writing should send them to Town Clerk Cheryl Fernstrom.
 
Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero added that Fernstrom would need to have those comments by Dec. 8 in order to formally list them under the “Communications and Petitions” portion of the agenda.
 
The Dec. 12 session will focus on the layout of the RV campground, which dominates the 40-acre park. Each of the town’s Fort Getty Master Plans has recommended
layout alterations because, as the 1994 master plan observed, the dominance of the
RV campground has fostered “a perception among town residents that the park is ‘off-limits’ during the camping season.”
 
The 2006 master plan advised the town to “condense” the RV campground and set aside a park within the park for residents to enjoy. The town has also surveyed resident preferences, with the most recent of those efforts being the May 19 charrette. Several council members have dismissed the results of that charrette – which was facilitated by Landworks – as unrepresentative because of what they describe as an “insignificant” turnout.

The 111 participants who qualified to vote (as Jamestown residents) strongly preferred the “open space and passive recreation” option for the park. However, during the council’s Nov. 7 meeting, Councilor Bob Bowen said that there was already a “consensus”
among the councilors to preserve the RV campground with nearly all of its 88 seasonal camping sites intact.
 
During this week’s meeting, Mary Meagher – who chaired the most recent of the Fort Getty Master Plan Committees – expressed her “dismay” with the claim of “consensus,” pointing out that “there isn’t any public record” of a vote or any other action to establish
a consensus. Bowen asserted that the “consensus” he referenced “came from the town administrator,” but Meagher responded by repeating her observation that the record doesn’t substantiate the claim.
 
Unable to attend this week’s meeting, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser could not be reached for comment on the “consensus” exchange. Meagher also took issue with the observation in which Keiser noted that the council was free to tell Landworks what percentage of the park would be reserved for the RV campground.
 
“That is a critical land-use allocation” that should be placed in the hands of people trained in land development, Meagher said, adding that she “wasn’t sure that such a critical initial decision” should be handled by Landworks, either.
 
“They will be doing a financial analysis,” Meagher said, pointing out that the land-use decisions in the 2006 master plan were reached “after many, many meetings” held
to examine the input from landscape architects.
 
Meagher, who has previously advised the council to respect the ecological frailty of the park – particularly the saltwater marsh – also urged the council to “think through very carefully” any proposal to weaken the regulatory safeguards for the waters around the boat
ramp, which lies just north of the marsh.
 
The second of the Fort Getty milestones was tentatively set for Jan. 9, when Landworks will return to Jamestown for a “final” workshop with the council. But there will be some other Fort Getty issues for the council to address in parallel with its RV campground
decisions. One of those will be a review of the fees paid by RV campers – particularly the seasonal fee, which stands at $3,700. 
 
Schnack told Parks and Recreation Director Bill Piva to bring forward a recommendation at the next meeting, if possible. The subject of seasonal fees was mentioned briefl y as part of a more extensive discussion on Fort Getty rules. The council had asked to see a list of them, said Schnack, because “the park is becoming a little unruly and we need to comment
on the rules [in an effort to] take back some control.”
 
It quickly emerged that the rules raise many questions. For example, Schnack asked Piva, “What are ‘park models’ [noted in the prohibition against them]?” Piva said they are “portable [but not mobile] houses.” Bowen asked about reports of golf cart use at the RV campground. Piva replied, “We haven’t said we’d allow them and we can tell the campers not to bring any.” Councilor Bill Murphy, who said allowing the carts would likely prompt more and more of them to appear, also said the RV campers should be told that
anything left in the ground, including flower and vegetable plantings, would be removed by the town –which would bill for the work.
 
His remark was prompted by a rule saying, “No holes shall be dug in the campground for any purpose.” A more serious issue, however, is the reported storage of boats (on trailers) within the campground. “We allow them to have their boats in there briefly,” Piva said, “but we don’t have 24/7 security there.”
 
The RV campground rule that will be the most diffi cult for the council to craft is a limit on visitor parking. Meagher noted that, in 2004, former rec director Matt Bolles “said that there was a limit of two cars per campsite, but our impression was that [the limit]
had fallen by the wayside.” Consequently, said Schnack, visitors park their cars “all over the campground and there’s nothing in [the list of rules] about cars. It gets to a point where [local residents visiting the park] feel like they’re encroaching on the campground.
There’s an area behind the bunkers available for a number of cars. If we put our heads together we can figure out where to put visitors’ cars.”
 
Councilor Ellen Winsor, however, said she was “concerned that we’re taking a piecemeal approach [to the suite of RV campground decisions]. We should use the work session we have coming up, and [Meagher’s] master plan, to inform what we do with the rules.”

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