Friday, April 30, 2004
Selectmen agree on Parcel A Task Force composition
The debate on the proposed makeup of the Parcel A Planning Task Force, assigned to develop a plan for affordable housing and a ballfield on Parcel A on South Street, raged on at the April 27 Selectmen's meeting. In the end, the South Street neighbors emerged from the fray with what they wanted: two seats on the task force.
At a previous Selectmen's meeting, Chair Tim Hult had proposed that the task force would consist of seven members, including one representative each from the Board of Selectmen, Housing Authority, Planning Board, Conservation Commission, and Recreation Commission. In addition there would be a representative from the community at large and one from the Parcel A neighborhood, which is where the controversy arose.
Neighbors of the Benfield property showed up in force on Tuesday night to argue that they should have two representatives on the task force. Alan Carpenito of South Street strongly believed, "You should show respect to the neighborhood by having two members on the task force. It's the right thing to do." Mary DeGarmo of South Street agreed, adding, "The neighborhood should be given the courtesy of representation."
Sensing that the two neighborhood representatives would equal two negative votes regarding playing fields, RecCom Chair Maureen Tarca countered by requesting that they also have two representatives. Hult quickly grasped where this situation was heading and urged everyone to remember, "We have to have a well-functioning committee that will do a good job in meeting the community's needs." At the same time, Selectman John Ballantine feared the effect of increasing the task force to nine members would render it cumbersome and ineffective.
Some thought that the Selectmen do not need a representative on the task force because they will ultimately act to approve the final plan and should not also advocate. "Bad mistake," responded David Freedman of the Planning Board. "It sends a bad signal to the others that the Selectmen aren't involved." Ballantine agreed and volunteered to be the Selectmen's representative. This would result in a task force of eight members, with the neighborhood representation raised to two and RecCom denied an addition vote.
"What's wrong with eight? Does it have to be an odd number?" queried Hult. While an odd number is handy when it comes to breaking ties, Hult hoped that the membership would be unanimous in their quest to satisfy the community needs. The other Selectmen agreed and voted 4-0 to support the eight-member task force and went on to challenge the new group with the charter of producing a master plan for Benfield Parcel A in time for the Spring 2005 Town Meeting.
Prior to the task force debate, Tim Fohl of South Street raised the possibility that the Benfield property may contain "Indian artifacts on sacred land." He recommended that members of the Narragansett tribe be invited to investigate further and volunteered to help Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie in making arrangements. Carpenito concluded the evening's discussion with one last statement from "disgruntled abutters" regarding the folly of rejecting playing fields in such isolated locations as the Bisbee land and Foss Farm and instead plunking one down next to several houses on South Street.
The Selectmen will send a letter to those groups involved, requesting their recommendation by May 11 in hopes of having the final task force in place by June 1.
In March the Special Town Meeting voted to purchase the 45-acre Parcel A on South Street from the Benfield family. 26 acres of the parcel were designated as conservation land and the remaining 19 acres were reserved for community housing and one ballfield. An amount of $50,000 was voted to fund a one-year planning process.
© 2004 The