Preservation vs. Legal Nightmare

As the clamor grows louder in Oak Bluffs around the Veira Park baseball project, a few key points are important to keep in mind.

It is not illegal for the town to spend money to restore its Little League Park, and Oak Bluffs voters have twice said yes to the project, first at the annual town meeting last April and again at a special town meeting this summer. Voters also approved spending money from their town Community Preservation Act fund to pay for the project.

The question now at hand centers on whether using Community Preservation Act funds to renovate and expand a town ball park is allowed under the state law that created the act.

That question is in the very early stages of being decided in the courts. A single, perfunctory ruling from a superior court judge recently went against the city of Newton which wants to use Community Preservation Act money to renovate two parks. Newton is appealing the decision. A similar case is pending in the town of Wayland. Attorneys for both towns believe the lower court is wrong and they plan to aggressively seek further appellate review in a higher court.

The case is important for all towns in Massachusetts that have adopted the terms of the Community Preservation Act, and it is far too early to predict the outcome.

This week a group of Oak Bluffs taxpayers jumped into the fray with a lawsuit against the town challenging the use of Community Preservation Act money for the Veira Park project. The taxpayers are disgruntled neighbors who want to kill the Veira Park plan using whatever means they have.

The lawsuit may be short-lived if the Martha’s Vineyard Commission votes against the project next week. In that case, it will be back to the drawing board for Martha’s Vineyard Little League.

Whatever happens with Veira Park, the job of the Community Preservation Committees in Island towns will certainly be more difficult going forward. These volunteer committees, charged with evaluating applications and choosing which projects to recommend, will be forced to consult their respective town counsels as they consider applications for park and recreation projects.

And sadly, the Community Preservation Act may prove to be more of a red tape nightmare than dream come true as a source of funds for worthwhile civic projects.