A complicated arrangement that will require the town of Edgartown to put additional land under a conservation restriction in exchange for expanding an old hangar at the Katama Airfield was back up for discussion this week, with the town counsel asking for further thought about the deal.
Town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport told the selectmen Monday that while the conservation restriction agreement was likely to be completed in the next few weeks, he thought it would be “helpful before signing just to take a step back and see what, at the end of this process, we are signing.”
At issue is a circa-1945 hangar at Katama Airfield, which is in a state of disrepair. In the 1980s, the town purchased Katama Airfield and more than 100 acres of surrounding land; the land was placed under a conservation restriction with The Nature Conservancy. Among other things, the conservation restriction prohibits the expansion of existing buildings. The town could rebuild the hangar without amending the restriction, but only if it is rebuilt within the same footprint.
A plan to rebuild and double the size of the old hangar at the grass airstrip was approved by voters at a town meeting three years ago.
But the expansion required an amendment to the conservation restriction by removing about two acres from the restriction, with the new hangar building the only construction allowed. Amending a conservation restriction requires approval from the state legislature, among other things. “The end product is much more complicated than any of us really contemplated,” Mr. Rappaport said Monday. To double the size of the hangar, he said, a conservation restriction will be put on 21 acres of land elsewhere in town, some subject to a complete conservation restriction and others limited use. He said the conservation restriction document will go from a fairly simple couple of pages to a 16 to 18-page document.
“I’m not the decision maker here,” Mr. Rappaport said. “But it’s helpful to have a pause point to say, do we really want to do this or could we live with a rebuilt hangar the same size?”
Selectmen also mentioned that there are concerns about needing more money to complete the project. Voters at town meeting approved $250,000 toward the project, including $200,000 in Community Preservation Act funds.
“We’re hearing the town has to give up a lot to double the hangar in size,” selectman Michael Donaroma said. “I’m certainly behind the airport . . . but if we’re going to go back to the town and possibly ask for some more money, at the same time we have to understand all that the town has given up to get this.”
Katama Airfield manager Mike Creato said he thought the conservation restriction needed updating anyway, and he felt the issue had been worked out with all parties. “We’ve reached the point where we thought we could live with this,” he said.
The airfield commissioners who attended the meeting stressed the need for expansion. “What we’ve done now is look at what the needs are and come up with a hangar size that’s intelligently thought out and planned,” airport commissioner James Craig said. “In terms of space there is merit,” he said.
“The sand in the gears is The Nature Conservancy,” airfield commissioner Bob Stone said. “And I don’t understand why anybody, regardless of a conservation restriction, can object to getting rid of an eyesore and replacing it with something that . . . works, I just don’t understand it.” Mr. Rapapport said: “I think the lesson is conservation restrictions are really hard to change.” In the end the selectmen and airport commissioners decided to have Mr. Rappaport create a document highlighting what the town will be giving up with the new conservation restriction, and discussion will continue at a future meeting. In other business, selectman approved putting shellfish licenses on sale on April 1 annually instead of June 1. They also accepted town treasurer Sharon Willoughby’s retirement after 27 years working for the town, with thanks and best wishes. The selectman also voted to continue last summer’s later bar hours, with bars open until 1:30 a.m. from July through Labor Day weekend with last call at 12:30 a.m. There will be extended hours over the Fourth of July long weekend; last call from July 3 to July 6 will be at 1:30 a.m., with bars closing at 2 a.m.