Edgartown Eyes Small Trial of Buried Lines


Words of wisdom coming out of Edgartown town hall on the eve of the annual town meeting included: bring a seat cushion and line up a babysitter for two nights.

Ninety-two articles will face Edgartown voters Tuesday night - a record number for an annual town meeting warrant. The bulk of the town's business is financial housekeeping, but several big ticket expenditures and zoning matters will also be debated on the Old Whaling Church floor, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

"I guess this is what happens when you don't have a special town meeting in the fall. It leaves lots of housekeeping to deal with in the spring," said Peter O. Bettencourt, town administrator. "But it's mostly routine, nothing outrageous."

Voters will be asked to sign off on a $20 million operating budget - expenses up four-and-a-half per cent over last year. In addition, 16 override questions - requests that would allow the town to exceed its spending cap of two-and-a-half per cent - will face voters on the floor of town meeting and in the ballot box next Thursday.

Included on the town's wish list of override expenditures is $75,000 for the repair and painting of the town's clock tower on top of the Old Whaling Church. Another $198,000 is being requested for the ongoing dredge management program. The highway department wants a new pickup truck and front-end wheel loader, while the animal control officer needs a truck. The police department needs a new cruiser and truck, and the fire department is asking for a $95,000 addition to their Pease's Point Way station.

A $350,000 request to sewer Pine street, Curtis Lane and Clark Drive also faces an override vote. With this low-pressure grinder pump system, residents must contribute about $5,000 to run pipes to the new equipment; the town will pick up the rest of the cost. If residents pooled their resources to pay for sewer, costs could exceed $10,000 per lot.

"This isn't a neighborhood with a lot of means. $10,000 on Pine street is different than $10,000 on South Water street," said Joe Alosso, facilities manager for the Edgartown Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Voters will also be asked to approve $1.5 million in capital projects and repairs for the town water department. The funds, which will be recouped through user fees, are needed to build new offices and a garage, as well as revitalize the long-dormant Wintucket pump station. The water department will also tap into this money for ongoing development of a new well on the Pennywise Path property.

Unexpectedly high special education costs - tuition fees for special needs students in off-Island residential care - will also require voters to agree to a $250,000 budget override. If residents fail to approve the override, Edgartown school officials will be forced to cut costs by a quarter-million dollars in this current fiscal year. In addition, more than $375,000 in free cash is being requested to cover these unanticipated tuition fees for the current fiscal year.

Voters will also discuss a project that could impact the streetscape downtown. The Edgartown beautification committee will be working with village homeowners to bury utility lines. Through private funding, overhead utilities will be placed below ground and street lamps will be installed on sidewalks. With voter approval next week, the project will begin at the foot of School street.

The beautification committee is also seeking permission to survey homeowners on several other downtown properties to gauge interest in burying power lines.

"From my point of view, it's a total enhancement to the area. It creates a safer and more reliable power system. It also creates an opportunity to find new locations for shade trees that previously did not exist," said Stuart Fuller, town highway superintendent and tree warden.

Aside from the dollar-and-cent questions, voters will determine whether the town's tax collector should be appointed or elected.

An extension of the town's building cap - currently 84 per year - will also be debated by voters. The town has operated under a building cap for the last four years, and the monthly lottery that distributes building permits is a source of irritation for many town contractors. Edgartown planners say that slow growth is needed while they finish a new master plan for the town.

"The problem is the inconvenience, the fact that tradespeople can't plan on a job. But to me, it's kept a lot of off-Island buyers and maybe Chapter 40B out of Edgartown," said Alison Cannon, planning board chairwoman.

The planning board has been busy this winter, and members will be presenting voters with zoning changes aimed to protect everything from the rural character of Island roads to the darkness of the night sky.

Changes to the Island Roads district of critical planning concern call for prohibiting some types of cutting and building within the first 25 feet of these roads without a special permit. The board also proposed extending the district to include Meetinghouse Way, Slough Cove Road, Litchfield Road, Clevelandtown Road and Meshacket Road.

Voters will also be asked to place limits on outdoor lighting.

"We're seeing a lot of floodlights and people uplighting trees. It disturbs the wildlife and the neighbors, and you can't see the night sky. This is particularly a problem on the harbor," said Ms. Cannon.

A new wind turbine bylaw - one which caps the height of a wind machine at 80 feet - is likely to stir debate. The bylaw enables the planning board to weigh heavily the aesthetics and noise caused by the proposed wind machine before granting a special permit. The planning board crafted this new bylaw after wrestling with a 100-foot turbine request for the head of Edgartown Great Pond last summer; the board eventually denied that request.

If voters approve a new house height regulation, homeowners cannot burrow their home in a hill in order to gain extra height on the home. House height would be measured from the mean natural grade of the land's natural state. In this same vein, voters are being asked to prohibit excavation on house sites within the Cape Pogue and the Special Places districts of critical planning concern, unless it is related to a permitted use.

The planning board is also presenting a second-story deck bylaw, which would require decks to be a minimum of eight feet wide and deep. Ms. Cannon said this change is being requested because rescue personnel have difficulty turning a stretcher around in a tight space. Decks were previously allowed to be four feet by four feet.

The Edgartown conservation commission wants $40,000 for property maintenance, part of which will be used to repair buildings at the town-owned Katama Farm. Also, $30,000 is being sought by the Katama Airfield Commission to upgrade the airfield hangar.

Edgartown residents, along with citizens of other towns, will determine whether to allow the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank to raise its first-time homebuyer fee exemption from $100,000 to $300,000. Currently, these year-round buyers do not pay the two per cent real estate transfer fee for the first $100,000. The existing threshold was set in 1986, and land bank officials are raising the limit to meet current real estate realities.

Town voters are being asked to help foot $25,000 of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority's administrative budget. This would be the second year Edgartown committed funds to the regional housing authority's budget. The allocation is subject to every other town chipping in. The request needs an override vote.

The Edgartown emergency medical technicians, along with other Island emergency personnel, are seeking funds to outfit two ambulances with paramedic equipment at a cost of $40,000. Island towns are moving toward a shared paramedic response program, and Edgartown's ambulances need cardiac monitors and a special medicine case. The department is also seeking $3,300 to upgrade the salary of an EMT-intermediate, who will now function as a paramedic.

Residents will also be asked for permission for the town to stockpile potassium iodide - nonprescription pills that can be used to help prevent damage to the thyroid gland in the event of human exposure to radioactive iodine. The board of health is bringing the issue to voters in response to a community concern about evacuation difficulties on the Island if the Plymouth nuclear power plant ever experiences a release.

Town hall is in need of some new equipment, and voters will also be asked to invest in a new phone system, roller shelving for assessors books, mail machine, off-site storage shelves, copier and repairs to the town hall clock.