Selectmen Say ‘OK’ to VFW Town House Exploration

It’s likely that most of us inside the Marion Town House on the night of February 7 will be dead before there’s any progress on the town house renovation project, suggested Marion Board of Selectman Stephen Cushing just before acquiescing to allowing an exploration of a town house construction project at the VFW site.

The plan now is to wait and see if a citizen petition for an article on the Annual Town Meeting for $35,000 to fund a preliminary study for a new construction at the 465 Mill Road site will pan out and lead to a less expensive, more efficient, more attractive option than the option put forth that night by the Town House Building Committee.

It looked like at least two of the three selectmen might have approved moving forward that night with Option 3A to renovate the town house while reducing its current square-footage in half, until debate over the warrant article and debate from Selectman Steve Gonsalves and residents led to a ‘why not’ vote of sorts.

“We can’t say you can save a lot of money by building a new building,” said town house committee Chairman Bob Raymond. He did emphasize the historic value of the town house and its status as a fixture in the village center, as opposed to the “isolation” of relocating it to Route 6.

The 3A option at $7.9 million was the most economical, most efficient option on the table.

Finance Committee Chairman Alan Minard, a staunch supporter of exploring the VFW site for a new construction, sat in the audience and scoffed at various points throughout Raymond’s presentation and at one point asked out loud, “What are they smoking?”

Results of an informal survey mailed to residents with the census returned 931 responses, with about 55% in favor of a town house renovation and 40% in favor of a VFW new construction.

Gonsalves thanked the town house committee members for their work, but then said, “I still haven’t seen really a design or a plan for the VFW property. I’m visual. I gotta see things to understand them. Words and numbers, they’re great and all, but…”

Gonsalves said he never sent his own survey back because he didn’t have enough information to make a decision.

Cushing addressed what he called the notion of a cheaper option, saying, “I don’t think it’s out there.”

Gonsalves called himself a “pennies guy,” and later also a “many voices kind of guy,” looking towards an economical option, and also one that can accommodate the curiosity of those interested in exploring the VFW site.

“I think people are not giving the residents enough credit,” said Chairman Jody Dickerson. “Personally, I think we should go forward with this and let the voters take care of it … let them decide. I think it’s time to move forward. We have to market this and go from there.”

Planning Board Chairman Bob Lane told selectmen he thought a vote to move forward with Option 3A would result in a bitterly divided town.

Some residents spoke out against moving forward without exploring a VFW site option as well, and Raymond explained as best as he could that the committee early on had already presented a ‘new build’ option, and only the building property would be changing – costs would remain relatively the same.

Discussion heated up between Gonsalves and Dickerson after Gonsalves said he thought the town had let the Town House crumble for long enough without taking action, to which Dickerson took offense. Gonsalves asked, since we’ve waited this long, what’s the big deal in waiting a little more for a VFW site option?

Dickerson said that was why the town formed a facilities department, and all the while the school had an addition added, among other large-scale projects.

“You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts,” said Dickerson to Gonsalves.

Minard “begged” the selectmen not to go ahead with Option 3A, warning them that the issue will fail on the Town Meeting floor.

“I’m tiring of the process, I guess,” said Cushing. “It’s wearing me down.” He added, “We’re at a point that we’ve gotta do something. I’ll agree with Steve…. I’m willing to give it a second look at a new building.”

“I think it will validate all that we have done,” said Raymond, adding that he would ultimately welcome a new study on a VFW site option.

The selectmen tabled the matter until after the Annual Town Meeting in May to see if voters approve the article to appropriate $35,000 towards a VFW site exploration.

Also during the meeting, the board tabled a request from a master plan open space subcommittee chaired by Margie Baldwin to form a new committee consisting of the nine entities in town that manage open spaces.

The goal is to consolidate open space management and acquisition efforts into one formal group to communicate, share ideas, and also support each other with the individual entities’ endeavors.

Baldwin likened the idea to the Community Preservation Commission where representatives from various boards and committees unite for a common purpose, and told selectmen an open space committee she termed the Marion Stewards of Open Space would be ideally filled with reps from groups such as the Marion Open Space Acquisition Committee, the Conservation Commission, Affordable Housing Committee, the Pathways Committee, Tree & Parks, recreation, and the Sippican Lands Trust, among others, including the Trustees of Washburn Park.

“Everybody’s enthusiastic about it,” said Baldwin, all except for MOSAC Chairman John Rockwell, she pointed out. “We’ve outlined a large task for ourselves, but we think it’s an important task and a way to move the Master Plan forward.”

Rockwell objected to the idea, saying his committee had already voiced its opposition to a formation of a formal committee that would include non-town organizations such as the SLT.

An informal committee to communicate and share information sounds good, he said, but a committee that requires meeting notices for quorums instead of just informal emails and meetings would, to him and other MOSAC members, be “just another layer of bureaucracy.”

Baldwin disagreed, arguing that, as it is now, “The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing a lot of the time when it comes to what this town is doing.”

The more people – such as her proposed nine-member board – the more work that can be done.

The debate heated up between Baldwin and Rockwell until Dickerson interjected.

”I do have some concerns … about the Trustees of Washburn Park and Sippican Lands Trust since they are technically not [town organizations],” Dickerson said.

Gonsalves said he was an “all-under-one-umbrella kind of guy,” preferring to unite the nine entities as Baldwin and her subcommittee requested.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” Gonsalves said. “We just have to figure out how to make it happen, so I’m in favor of it.”

But it would be best if everyone were on board, Cushing pointed out. And since Rockwell said he hadn’t yet had the opportunity to speak with his MOSAC members before being asked to vote to join this new committee, Rockwell couldn’t support it.

“I don’t want the vote of MOSAC to kill the whole thing,” said Baldwin.

Dickerson said the matter should be tabled until Rockwell could approach his board, and the other selectmen agreed to table it until March 7.

That night the board also watched a presentation given by Danny Warren of Warren Environmental about a new and effective pipe lining the Town had expressed interest in learning more about for the municipal sewer system.

VFW and sewer staff members said the technology was impressive, and Warren offered to return for a demonstration and would provide his service to a couple of manholes in town to show the effectiveness of his product.

In other matters, Cushing announced he would not be seeking re-election this year at the end of his third term. It was a difficult decision to make, he said.

The next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for February 21 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

By Jean Perry


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