No action on Fort Getty
The Town Council on Monday night remained undecided about what to do with Fort Getty despite hours of testimony from townspeople and council members.
The council met on July 16 and Town Hall was lined with residents and visitors. Some came to speak, while others sat and listened, yet most of the crowed voiced support at one time or another through applause.
Issues raised included parking for cars, boats and trailers; whether to reduce the size of the RV campground; what effect the current and future uses of the land could have on the environment; how to enforce previously set rules; and how to make the area accessible to Jamestown residents and visitors alike.
“It sometimes sounds when we have a meeting about Fort Getty or a workshop, that when the points are made, everybody’s talking like we haven’t been doing anything,” said Councilor Michael White. “We have done stuff while we’ve been going on.”
White continued to say that “all but the top part of the pavilion” was finished. He also mentioned that the electrical issue, which had once been known to give electrical shocks to trailer owners, was solved.
Patrick Bolger and Betty Hubbard submitted a letter to the council prior to the meeting. Both Bolger and Hubbard served on the Fort Getty committee that wrote the master plan in 2005.
The last paragraph of the letter states their hopes for what would take place at the meeting. “We hope that on July 16 [the councilors] discuss options openly and thoroughly. We hope they utilize the efforts of their consultants and our committee as starting points. We hope they do not feel compelled to decide on expensive investments in infrastructure, but that they begin the planning process.”
Hubbard echoed these statements when she spoke, adding her concern for the environmental impact on the land. “Pat and I were struck by the fact that when we finished – even before the new pavilion, even before the new sailing program, even before anything else that has occurred now that you might want to look at carefully and take time to evaluate – our commit- tee felt that we had not done justice to the environment,” she said.
The now disbanded Fort Getty committee, according to Hubbard, wanted to have a survey done to assess whether or not the way the land was being used had changed. She also noted that parking was – and still is – an unsolved issue.
Councilwoman Ellen Winsor wants the Fort Getty committee back. “I feel the committee and the town planner need to also create a community-wide charrette,” she said. “We have very many talented people here. Have them all come in and volunteer: architects, landuse planners, engineers, historians, writers, web masters, marketers and citizens. Get together like we did for the downtown and start with the Landworks report and the scenarios that were offered in the land-use report to leverage the funds we’ve already spent on Fort Getty and let the charrette evolve. Let this community speak and let the Town Council listen.”
Mary Meagher, who chaired the Fort Getty committee, also spoke. “We haven’t had a kind of conversation in 2 1/2 years,” she said, as pictures she’d taken at Fort Getty were projected on a large dropdown screen, which hung from the ceiling. “We’ve had a lot of people making speeches on both sides ... and I recognize I am one of them, but not a real conversation that planning requires.”
Richard Ventrone addressed the council as well before it began its discussion. “Even though I don’t want [the RV campground], why don’t you be objective and do something where we can get a formal kind of voting of what the people of Jamestown want. We’re talking about a piece of property that Jamestown has owned that’s worth $20 million.”
The economic value of the campground was also brought into question. “If you take 105 campsites and you multiply them times $3,700 – which is what we charge – it’s $388,500,” said Councilman White. “That’s how much we could – or should – get from that campground. There isn’t any doubt that this town for many, many decades ... has enjoyed the benefits of having $400,000 in income.”
The income gained from the campground is placed into the town’s general fund.
Townspeople also questioned whether guests of the campground were supporting local businesses, or if they were bringing in supplies from off the island.
Councilman Bill Murphy said he spoke with a few business owners and they were “afraid” to come to the council meeting because of the backlash they might receive from residents if they spoke on behalf of the campers. “They know they get the campers,” Murphy said. “I know that.”
Councilman Bob Bowen said he is in favor of keeping the RV park, ostensibly at the same capacity it is now. “I think decisions made about what we do or how much of an RV park we have should be targeted towards how much space we want to allocate to that park. I’m in a position where we should be doing the upgrades to the campground and thinking out a 20-year plan for this.”
Bowen, along with White, Murphy and Town Council President Michael Schnack, all spoke about the idea of redesigning the current layout of the campground, a layout which they acknowledged was not being followed accordingly by campers. Schnack brought a detailed picture of changes he would like to see, including upgrades to bathroom facilities and improvements around the boat ramp.
“The campground seems like it’s the exclusive use of the campers, which, if you walk up there now, it pretty much is,” Schnack said. “They have vehicles, toys, tchotchkes – everything just spread out all over the park.”
He also noted that campers do not park according to the grid pattern in the layout. “Over the years, what we’ve done is just said, ‘Yeah, go up there and park your trailer wherever you want and we’ll fill in the blanks later.’ That’s how this park really developed. I think it’s wrong and it feels like it’s not open to Jamestowners.”
Schnack continued: “Over time people have just decided that they need to build decks as big as their campers. I’ve never seen a campground like this in my life – these are summer residents. I don’t have a problem with summer residents, but I have a problem with all of this stuff that’s built up there and the congestion.”
In the former master plan, there was a suggestion for a park manager. “When I go up there, I see a lot of people that are not following the rules even after we went forward and rewrote them and made sure they were really clear,” said Bowen. “They’re still not following the rules. You can’t make rules and then not police them.”
Murphy added that the town should tighten up the rules. “Most of the places I’ve researched, there is somewhat of a ranger system. I do know that up there at Fort Getty on the weekends there is no staff other than the gate person.”
Discussion took place about whether this responsibility fell on the recreation director, or whether a new position should be created.
“In order to improve the park, a reconfiguration needs to be made,” said Town Administrator Bruce Keiser. “The layout and the infrastructure, currently, is what causes the sprawl. There was never any master plan to begin with, as a normal RV park or trailer park would be created using. This happened historically over time, and one trailer was just added after another.”
Keiser continued: “Decks and so forth can be cut back and parking can be addressed, although we need to find where that parking is going to be, but the key issue is going to be – and everybody in their comments has mentioned this – is how many trailers and where they are going to be laid out in order to create the space that we need to provide the supporting and ancillary services.”
Fort Getty was placed on the agenda for the next Town Council meeting on Aug. 1.