July 7, 2009 - The storm gods were in evidence and so was the influence of this morning’s full moon if the passion of the evening’s Selectboard Meeting participants was any indication. Thunder rumbled, rain poured down, and citizens rose in a steady wave to express their concerns about a succession of possible board actions.
Young people from town pleaded their cause and said they are still being targeted by police. The owner of Alici’s was very upset about his banned sandwich board. Downtown merchants were supportive of the young people but majorly against the board’s initiative to institute Sunday parking enforcement. And finally, advocates of the West River Park project, who were just denied by the DRB, were very anxious that the Selectboard allow them to resubmit an amended application rather than just canceling the project as some on the board were threatening to do (spoiler alert: the board approved it but barely).
In between they held impenetrable discussions about the wastewater treatment plant upgrade and agreed to pay Hoyle and Tanner some more money. The issue that got the most play was whether or not to hire a person from Hoyle and Tanner to oversee their own project on behalf of the town or to hire an independent person to do the town’s oversight. Even Gene Forbes of Hoyle and Tanner said that it would be a good idea for the town to have their own person but there seemed to be some confusion about just how many hired overseers they were talking about and in the end it was two, not one, both of whom had to be paid, and so it went.
Chair Jesse Corum remarked that the July 4 festivities went very well and were injury free with great weather. He congratulated police, fire, and recreation staff and said it had been a great day. John Allen thanked Public Works for their “help with the float.”
Town Manager Barb Sondag announced that the Town didn’t get any of the money it applied for to do the Main Street sidewalks project.
Jesse - This means we won’t be doing the downtown sidewalk from Wells Fountain to Malfunction Junction after all.
Barb - Not all at once, anyway.
Public Participation - Solid Waste Management District
Jane Southworth - I have a report which I’ll leave with you. Windham Solid Waste Management District is recalibrating. They have been going since 1988 and now need tweaking in light of the budget crisis and the surcharge issue. This report gives a history of services they provide — which are considerable — if we didn’t have them, we’d have to do all state requirements ourselves. So as part of the District, we get their services. It includes a summary of finances, current operations, staff and discussion on work going on in policy and planning. All their meetings are open to public.
The new Solid Waste Plan is on their web site.
Public Participation - Youth In Brattleboro
A number of young people took the mic to tell their stories of what they see as unfair and harassing behavior by the police downtown. A number of business owners also spoke impromptu in their defense. Town Manager Barb Sondag said that young people should know that the town has decided to enforce everything in an effort to get to harder criminals and that they will continue to enforce everything until the “problem is under control.”
Cal Glover Wessel - I represent a large number of young people. Last Friday, we were wasting our time at the Transportation Center. An officer of the law approached and asked us to move. We had a discussuion about the ordinance and what it boiled down to was that quite literally we’re not allowed to stop moving at any time in Brattleboro. We could not take a break at any point or sit on benches for any period of time. Was he wrong or did he misunderstand the ordinance? I want to know the details regarding this ordinance, and if what I was told is not what’s written, then there should be a discussion with the police department on how they are enforcing it.
Round of applause
Jesse - I’ll take this up with Chief Wrinn and find out what’s going on.
Scott Dixon - On the skateboard ordinance - I’d like to see if any discussion or compromise can be had to change the wording— I know skateboards can be annoying but for me it’s the most positive thing I’ve done in my life. It’s helped me control my anger and stop drinking. But now, I can’t ride from here to there without fear of being arrested by the police and taken to jail. Being stopped by police has happened to me and others. I know you want an appealing and safe business district, but I’m part of the business district too. I work in a downtown bookstore. I was late to work one day this spring because I was stopped by police on my way to work, and then had to walk in. I was told never to be found skateboarding again. I wish it could be reworded - it would be beneficial for parents and kids, a very positive thing.
Ian Bigelow - Skateboarding is at this point as much a sport as biking. Lots of people bike. Many places in country have no problem with skateboarding. I don’t understand why it’s seen as such a problem here. We should do something about that. These complaints about reaction of police saying that people can’t sit in places like benches which are meant for sitting or stoops in front of closed shops — people like to sit.
People come to Brattleboro because there is culture, and we’re part of that culture. We should embrace that, not tell them to move along. People have a right to be there. It’s gone over the top. To many of us it’s become like a police state, totalitarian, you can’t do anything but shop and if you don’t have any money then you can’t be here. Absurd.
Jesse - We hear you loud and clear. Skateboard facility would help immensely. Appreciate you coming forward. We’ve heard you loud and clear. Thanks.
Nancy Braus - I’m way too old to skateboard, but I have to say I see it on Elliot all the time — the harassment. The problem isn’t the skateboard people. Drugs are the problem and alcoholics — like the one who broke my window — but I want to support these young people. They aren’t the problem. Go after hard drugs and heavy duty alcoholics on Elliot.
Dora - Thank you for coming and speaking out. I’ve been concerned with the reaction. I understand that police have been getting lots of complaints from merchants. Brattleboro was just named a cool, hip place to visit and part of that is the culture Ian is talking about. We need to deal with real crimes but not tell someone they can’t sit on a bench if they’re not doing anything or causing damage. We’re a cool, hip town and need cool, hip solutions. I’m concerned about reactionary language, including merchants at the meeting last week. People are being lumped together but there’s a lot of different people involved in this. I talked to a former reporter, and he said he’d never known a town that hated its kids as much as Brattleboro and that concerns me. We need to find a way to let kids skateboard even on the street, and work together to have a dialog.
Barb - I hear what you’re saying but what would you like us to do? Please let me speak. As I hear stories retold, they’re from one person’s point of view, like just sitting on a bench, but the question is how many, were you blocking — we’ve heard stories of people blocking, sitting on stoops during business hours. We’re talking about mutual respect. It’s unfortunate for citizens to expect police to enforce mutual respect.
There are places where people can skateboard. A skateboard park won’t help a person using skateboard for transportation. Some things will be difficult to resolve. If I’m on Main Street, there’s parked cars and trucks. Is it fair to let skateboarders ride there? Let’s look at the policy with representatives from the skateboard community to see how hard it is to do this safely. Help us figure out where it is safe to ride. Not fair for people to skateboard where it isn’t safe.
The other issue is what officers have been asked to do. People say get drug dealers and people who are really drunk. Wouldn’t it be great if officers could just do that. One way to do this is to enforce everything. We’re not going to look the other way on some things, we’re going to enforce them all and that is how we’re going now. That’s the way to get some of the drug dealers and drunks, how to clean it up. It’s unfortunate that some will be swept up with them.
I recommend staying away from downtown on skateboards because they are enforcing all laws and until the problem is under control, that’s the way we’re going to address it. Downtown is also residential so we have to balance those issues as well. I hear you but I’m not unrealistic that the skateboard park will solve the problem. That’s not what people are saying. They’re saying that skateboard is mode of transportation.
I can work on a change to that ordinance if you want.
Dora - I would love for you to work on that ordinance.
Barbara Holliday said that kids just need a place to go while Martha O’Connor said that while she appreciated what people were saying, they should not do it in private parking lots. A parking lot is a parking lot, she said. She said that people had to help the Selectboard find a place for the skateboard park and that police officers were just trying to help.
She also said unequivocally that Brattleboro was not unfriendly to young people, and that “we pay more for parks and rec in this town....” She said she would speak with the former reporter who had purportedly made the remark.
Jane Southworth suggested a task force to discuss “where a kid can go outside that isn’t prohibited.” The owner of Verde’s said that occasional problems notwithstanding, she felt it was important to “include and support these young people as part of our culture and part of our town.’
Said one young man as the discussion wound down “We need to be part of the dialog. We’re not a problem to be solved.”
Barb Sondag asked interested parties to provide her with contact information if they would like to be part of the dialog to come.
Public Participation: Alici’s
The owner of Alici’s Restaurant, which is way off Main St at the foot of Harris Place, was upset because the Zoning Administrator had threatened to fine him for having his sandwich board out near Main St. He said that other merchants on Main Street are allowed sandwich boards, even out at the edge of the street, and no one stops them. He said he felt singled out by this enforcement against his signboard.
Alici: I do my best but I feel discriminated against. My hours of operation were restricted right away. My restaurant is in the urban district where none of this is required but still there are special rules for my business. But I tried my best — now my sandwich board is a huge thing — now they are going to fine me $100 a day for the sign. And yet I see empty shops on Main Street popping up like mushrooms — you need to support small business.
The problem with Alici’s sign, according to Town Attorney Bob Fisher, is that it isn’t located on his premises. Alici said the ordinance didn’t say anything about that.
Dick DeGray asked what could be done to help Mr. Alici. Fisher said Alici could apply to the Development Review Board for permission to have a sandwich board. He would have to pay notice of violation or appeal the decision. If he does neither, the town can start fining him. Fisher said this wasn’t town ordinance but state billboard law. Mr. Alici said he’d rather engage in his passion — cooking — than spend all this time getting permission for a sandwich board. “I came to this country for freedom but we’re not free,” he said.
Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade
First there was a public hearing to comply with federal funding requirements brought on by the fact that the new plant will increase flow of so-called high strength waste (from food production facilities such as the cheese factory) by 30%. The hearing was on the environmental impact of this increase. There was no comment at the meeting but the public can weigh in by contacting State Environmental Engineer Tom Joslin at 802-241-3740. Comment period ends July 18.
Then they had the clerk of the works discussion. It emerged toward the end that the board was under the impression that the so-called Resident Project Representative (a Hoyle Tanner engineer who sees to it that the project is constructed according to the design specifications) was the same as a so-called clerk of the works, which is a town hired individual who represents the town at meetings, approves change orders and the like.
For a long time, the town pondered whether to hire their own oversight person or use Hoyle and Tanner’s Resident Project Representative (RPR). Gene Forbes of Hoyle and Tanner and Sondag, who were apparently thinking more about the RPR job, thought a Hoyle Tanner person should do it. But Dick and Dora were still keen on actual, town-representing oversight. Finally, Gene Forbes said that for that, the town should hire their own person who would represent the town exclusively and not oversee the actual construction process as an RPR would.
Dick was dismayed at this because he realized that the town would have to hire people for both positions, not just the one as they had originally thought.
The board voted 5-0 to hire Hoyle Tanner to be the RPR contractor for phase 1 and to talk some more about a town representative to provide oversight, routine approvals, and the like.
There was another engineering agreement in which the town agreed to pay Hoyle Tanner another $12,000 to handle the bid process for the upcoming phase one RBC unit project.
And the town revealed that it needed to replace a failed backup generator for the Spring Street Pump station. They are currently renting a 90 kw backup for $850 a week and would like to buy it for $23,000. The Selectboard approved the purchase and hoped that it could somehow be rolled into the cost of the wastewater upgrade project since it would have been replaced anyway.
Arts, Taxes and Grants
Here are a bunch of unrelated items:
The board approved the Arts Committee’s Public Art Policy after it was changed to meet Jesse Corum’s objections.
The new municipal tax rates were approved. Martha O’Connor was unhappy to learn that the residential combined tax rate will go up 10 cents or $100 for every $100,000 worth of home value.
Landlord Jason Cooper got a $25,000 Rental Housing Improvement Loan to install a pellet boiler in a building at 131 Elliot. Dick said the committee approved this one enthusiastically, and that the boiler would actually heat two buildings owned by Cooper that are across the street from each other.
The Police Department got $32,000 for increased DUI patrols on routes 5, 9, and 30.
The town’s Aquatic Nuisance Grant of $2162 was approved. Martha and Jesse had concerns about oversight of the money. Barb assured them that Patricia from the Finance Department would provide all needed oversight.
There was audible thunder outside just as the board got to the $50,000 grant to do a study about how to fix Crosby Brook which according to Sondag is “an impaired waterway.” She said that if it wasn’t fixed it would also impair development on Putney Road.
The Justice Center got their annual operating grant from the Vermont Department of Corrections of $80,000. It was not as much as they asked for but the same as last year.
Parks and Recreation were approved to buy a $29,000 mowing, blowing, raking tractor. DeGray wondered why the town was making capital purchases when they hadn’t collected any tax revenue yet. Finance Director John Leisenring said that they had the cash flow so it was no problem to make the purchase now. “The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30,” he said.
Free Parking On Sundays
The plan was to revise the parking ordinance to raise rates and add Sunday parking enforcement as a way to close a shortfall in the parking budget. Dick DeGray spearheaded the initiative. Downtown merchants were dead set against it.
Nancy Braus of Everyone’s Books said that our parking would be higher than Burlington and Northampton with this increase. She said a better way to get money would be to enforce running of stop lights with surveillance cameras. But she said, Sunday is a day for relaxing and taking your time. She said her customers would be annoyed by this change.
Dart Everett also opposed the measure on behalf of Centre Congregational Church.
Felicia from Coffee Country said that people like to come down and hang out on Sundays and that charging for parking would discourage them. She felt that later hours for parking enforcement would cause problems for restaurants and that in this economy, it was a bad move to raise parking rates.
Alison McCray said that she had surveyed 22 merchants downtown and only found 2 in favor with 2 neutral and another 18 against the proposal. She wondered if some sort of metered parking system might help prevent tickets. She said public lots needed better signage and that she would be willing to join a committee to work on these problems.
Bob Woodworth of Burrow’s Specialized Sports said that he was one of the two who favored the change saying that too many people hogged spaces on Sunday and that charging for parking would encourage people to move along.
Dick DeGray said that he didn’t want to do this but he had to because parking is “an enterprise fund” and has to support itself. “This is stricty a monetary issue.” he said. “I don’t sit around at night thinking of ways to charge the people of Brattleboro more money.”
John Allen declared himself to be “on the other side of what he just said” and suggested that the town get rid of the parking enterprise fund. “Get rid of paying for parking,” he said.
A number of other ideas were floated including resident stickers and special parking fees for tourists.
Dick said the Transportation Center parking garage had to be maintained and the loan paid off.
Martha moved to strike the Sunday parking language from the ordinance and it was approved by a vote of 3-2 with Dick and Jesse against.
The West River Park Project
As reported previously, the Development Review Board denied the town’s application to build a multi-use recreational facility at the West River site owned by Cersosimo Industries, citing a number of issues with the plan including traffic and pedestrian safety and environmental issues related to the shoreline buffer zone. Jesse Corum said that there were three options — drop the project, allow the town to resubmit the application with changes, or to appeal the DRB decision to State Environmental Court. He asked the committees for their input.
Speaking for both committees (the Field Space committee and the Recreation Board), Parks and Recreation Director Carol LaLotte said that they were “disappointed” by the denial. She said that in a nutshell, both committees wanted to re-tool the application and run it by the DRB again.
Not all members of the board were amenable to continuing the project. Dora Bouboulis and Martha O’Connor were against resubmitting the proposal, saying that the project now was not what Town Meeting reps had voted on. Dora also noted that the land itself was expensive at $250,000. John Allen said that to some extent, he viewed it as “throwing good money after bad” and “wondered if it was time to cut our losses.”
Members of the committee reminded the board that the original need had been for field space, not the skatepark, dog park, or community garden which would have to be cut to even hope for DRB approval. They encouraged the board to allow them to try again.
Dora reminded the committee members that there were more objections than just the skatepark and other add-ons, including traffic safety and concerns about encroachment into the shoreline buffer zone. A member of the public said that with only 2 playing fields possible on the West River property, there would still be a field space problem in Brattleboro even if the town did go ahead with the project.
Members of the committee declared themselves to be shocked that the board was considering cancelling the project. Indeed, it looked very dismal for the West River Park’s prospects until one committee member called John Allen to task regarding his position against continuing, saying that he had talked to him a few weeks before and found him in favor. Allen said he had learned more in the intervening weeks and was still on the fence.
After considerable discussion, a vote was held and the West River Park people were given approval to resubmit their application to the DRB with changes. Dora and Martha were the two dissenting votes while John Allen voted yes with the majority.
Martin Suit Settled
At the very end of the meeting, the board voted to approve the settlement with former Chief of Police John Martin. Jesse and Dora abstained, and paying the deductible to the insurance company passed with John, Dick, and Martha’s three affirmative votes.