Community watch your step

Published on March 22nd, 2015 | by Grant Sanders

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concerned with making more money, crowded town meeting, some of whom have never been to ATM before or since, and repealed the building cap.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.

About the Author

Island resident and host of part of the time. Creative Director at Mintz+Hoke, Avon, CT most of the time.

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