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Something new

I have been talking to a handful of people about a new way to get a positive, informed discussion about the island’s future going. It will not be the new YACKon.com but something even cooler. If you want to stay in the loop, send me an email at grant@sand.agency and I will let you know when it launches. –Grant Sanders

watch your step

Why I will vote “yes” for a new school on Article 12. But I won’t like it.

The overcrowding in Nantucket Public Schools is not a problem. It’s a symptom. A symptom of our desire, as a community, to build and make money. Greed, basically. That’s right, I said it. The schools are a symptom of our greed. And we saw it coming.

Let me explain. 20 years ago, it was no secret on Nantucket that we had a problem with building. We were growing too fast and our growth was not, as economists like to say, sustainable. A lot of people in the community got together and wrote the comprehensive plan. Planning Director, John Pagini counted houses and lots and sewer hook-ups on the island to see just how many people we could accommodate. Sustainable Nantucket sprang up as a hard-hitting political organization designed to foster leadership and shine a light on the leading economic and social indicators that were making the island less livable. A cap on the number of building permits what we would allow each year was passed at town meeting. And, for a while, it looked like we might just have a solution to the breakneck growth that was plaguing our island.

And then the wheels fell off the wagon. The economy sagged. John Pagini left the NP&EDC and was replaced by Andrew Vorce. The comprehensive plan got modified and turned into a Master Plan, which has been twisted and morphed into a blueprint for growth as opposed to a way to stave it off. Sustainable Nantucket found that the politics were no longer sustainable, and after Executive Director, Christine Silverstein left Sustainable, the organization voluntarily had its teeth pulled and turned into a feel-good green group with no desire to poke at the hornets nest of island politics because, I am told, it’s hard to raise money doing that (money, again). Builders, concerned with making more money, crowded town meeting, some of whom have never been to ATM before or since, and repealed the building cap.

The result? Now, instead of leadership that wants to manage growth, we have a collection of town fathers and mothers who embrace it and bend over backwards to accommodate it. The Planning Board lost a progressive champion in Alvin Toppy Topham in 2007 and became “the permitting board” in a lot of people’s eyes. The board of selectmen is so powerless that we have the fewest candidates for the office in three decades. And developers are looking to leverage the town meeting process to build 60 homes where fewer than 20 ought to be.

And, as I mentioned, we need a new school. Why do we need a new school? Because instead of managing the number of bedrooms and cars the island could safely and sanely carry, and the number of homes we are willing to allow, we have just opened the floodgates. And over the past 20 years, lots of people have come here to build those houses and raise a family and have kids. And those kids deserve a good education. It’s our obligation to make it happen.

But I still don’t like it. I don’t like the fact that we had an opportunity to manage this process and we failed. Miserably.

In addition, there are several zoning article changes that seek to down-zone several year-round neighborhoods (down-zoning is the act of making the maximum size lots in a district smaller to allow more homes to be built there). This is just a bad idea. See, we are about to spend $46 Million on a new school, but if we allow all of these neighborhoods to down-zone, we will be able to accommodate more and more people and those people will have children and the school will need to grow even more. In short, if we say yes to down-zoning now, we will be called upon to say yes to a larger school in 20 more years.

Hey, I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy. I believe that anyone should be allowed to do what he or she wants to do as long as it does not harm others. But making it possible for more and more people to live here (and for developers to make a massive pile of money) is doing damage to others in this community. Older people for whom tax increases are extremely difficult on a fixed income. People who came to Nantucket to get away from the crowds now find themselves fighting them at every new roundabout, at the expanded post office, in line at the larger police station and jockeying for check-out space at the soon-to-be-opened larger Stop and Shop. In 20 years we have seen a doubling of banks. A fight over parking spaces between the Brewery and Bartlett’s farm. A 50% increase in roundabouts with more planned. A huge increase in fast ferry service. A scallop fishery that has nose-dived thanks to an increased number of homes with emerald-green fertilized lawns around the harbor. And a sizeable bump in the trash we find on roadsides and beaches (I know because I help clean up as part of the Nantucket Clean Team during the spring, summer and fall.)

All because we are greedy.

So, at this town meeting, I do, begrudgingly, hope we treat the symptom of our growth and fund a new school. But, at the same time, I hope we treat the disease and say “no” to all new growth initiatives.

Because the patient is not doing so good. In case you weren’t paying attention.

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Nantucket Music Festival Line-Up Announced

The Nantucket Music Festival (August 2-3), has booked some pretty good acts that you may actually want to go hear play. The line-up includes Grammy Winner Bruce Hornsby, alt-rock darlings Guster, roots reggae fave Steel Pulse, party band frontman Donovan Frankenreiter and a few others of note — Lucas Nelson & POTR, Ayla Brown, Ben Taylor, Entrain, and Freddy Clarke. You can get all of the details at http://nantucketmusicfestival.com

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Nantucket Town Meeting Snarky Recap.

Ah, it’s Spring on Nantucket (or a reasonable facsimile) and that means Town Meeting has come and gone. Here’s a re-cap of the action on Saturday, April 5 at the Mary Walker Pendelton Auditorium.

There was a short discussion on Article 10 concerning the purchase of new trash cans. Some of which were those newfangled solar-powered compacting trash cans. Yes, I know they are not in keeping with our 17th century whaling village look and feel, but let’s face it, when trash cans overflow, neither is the trash that spills out over our streets. The objection to new trash cans was voted down.

The Community preservation act funding was called into question (article 30) when a concerned citizen brought up the fact that a church (gasp) was getting money from the town to make it’s sidewalks and walkways more accessible. Also, someone called into question the use of CPC funds to help the Land Council keep 94 acres of FAA land open and wild. Both objections made moot by votes against them.

Article 33 was called which asked town meeting to affirm that 30% of our room occupancy tax goes to Visitors services. Town meeting said yes. But it’s really up to the town’s administration to decide and the vote was non-binding. Good luck with that Visitors’ Services. Some good quotes in this debate, however, including a woman who underscored the importance of spending funds to “lock up tourists when they’re too drunk to find their cars.” Reality is often funnier than fiction.

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Article 34 was called but the town did not vote to buy the Eagan properties abutting dead horse valley. Please build something nice there, developers. Thanks for playing.

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Article 48 and 47 came up for discussion. This was the measure to change zoning and allow big-box retail stores on old south road. The developer, seeing the writing on the wall decided to try to pull the article in hopes of getting more public support for the Fall or next ATM (why am I seeing a snowball melting in hell in my mind’s eye?), but Adam Reed, selectman candidate tried to pull a fast one and get them banned from town meeting for two years. His ploy was so ham-fisted that even Linda Williams, the grand dame of ATM grand-standing saw it as grand-standing and said so, eliciting irony-fueled tittering throughout the hall. Mr. Reed’s motion was voted down and the electorate ultimately decided to take no action. So the dream of a suburban big-box retail play land on Old South Road is still alive (albeit barely given the fact that even the motion to postpone indefinitely did not even lose by 2/3rds — too many peeps just don’t like this idea — including this writer).

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Article 75 (a parking amendment) was called but quickly passed by unanimous voice vote.

At lunch I had a nice chat with two selectmen and a former selectman. The veggie chili was excellent.

After lunch we debated article 77, which asked that the town warrant be printed in plain English. Selectman Bob DeCosta got up and said something stupid about how “convey” and “sell” were the same thing and if you don’t know that maybe it’s time to learn, which was quickly and only slightly sarcastically corrected by former Selectman Michael Kopko and tweeted by Jason Gaziadei. Good times. In the end, Plain English did not win out.

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After a couple of called articles that resulted in no changes to the basic fabric of the universe we came to Article 80, which sought to make the Town Manager an elected position. The. Stupidest. Idea. Ever. I got up and said so. As did others. The word “odious” was used. The article failed with only a couple of people saying aye. Way in the back. Thanks for trying, guys.

Article 87 was passed. It sought to change the make-up of the HDC from an elected board to a partially elected and partially appointed board. A good compromise? We shall see. Article 88, which sought to make the HDC completely appointed was quickly squashed by the voters.

Article 90, after much wrangling and re-writes behind the scenes was approved by voters. It asked the Selectmen to look into allowing new town employees to have a choice of retirement plans, which could help reduce the burden of unfunded liabilities in the area of healthcare and pensions. I think most of it went over the ovters heads, but they voted for it anyway, once the verbiage was made simple and understandable. Nice.

A few articles in the 90s were called but technical amendments were allowed by the voters and passed easily with little debate.

The last real discussion of the day centered around keeping a few lots on town land just off of Fairgrounds Road as affordable lots. Susan Bennett-Witte proposed an excellent amendment to article 101 and the voters saw wisdom in it after a few people spoke. People with hyphenated names are often smarter than the average person. It’s a scientific fact.

Article 103 (land acquisition in Madaket) was called but no one really wanted to debate it after some technical amendments were made, the Planning Board’s recommendation was affirmed by he voters.

And that was it. Seven hours. Governtainment at its best.

If you really want to get the sense of the meeting, check out the hashtag #ACKatm2014 on twitter. It’s a hoot.

Yack On.