Last Night at the RTM

Southport has been getting a tad overdeveloped compared to what it used to be, the really quaint village with many beautifully kept holder homes. Over the last handful of years, though, parcels have been bought up, subdivided and condos and duplexes have shown up with alarming regularity. As a result, the various citizens’ groups have been working to get homes and entire streets declared historic districts to at least try and retain the ld, rustic feel.

Spruce Street is a perfect candidate for preservation so most of the street and the nearby buildings comprising the Southport train station have applied for Historic District status. To be included 2/3s of the proposed area had to approve the plan so of course there are numerous hearings and procedures. When the final area is ready, the Historic District Commission brings the deal to the Representative Town Meeting for approval.

According to the state statutes, we have to take action and we have three choices: approve it as is, reject it with an explanation, or return it to the HDC with specific recommended changes.

Regulars here know that this first came before us at a Special Meeting two weeks ago, which began the grumblings among us. What was the hurry we asked? The mealy-mouthed reply was something along the lines of, we need to hurry this up to get the process done before more disaster befalls the neighborhood.

We heard from all those in favor and the one family, at 115 Spruce, that was vehemently opposed. During the Special Meeting and subsequent Standing Committee meetings, we kept hearing how 80 got to opt out but a semantics issue forced 115 to remain. None of us liked what we heard. Away from the meetings, we started to hear details such as the guy at 80 threatened to sue to stop the process, got taken out so the 2/3s vote would pass. We also learned that this failed ten years ago and it wasn’t until the folks at 115 began the application process to subdivide and potentially build duplexes on the land that suddenly this came roaring back to life.

Last night, we zipped through the agenda, disposing of some ten items in thirty minutes. We then dwelled for another 90-100 minutes on Spruce Street. A lot of the time was caught up as my colleagues weren’t paying close enough attention so the Moderator had to repeat himself endlessly clarifying where we were and what our options were. As a group, it was a fairly poor showing.

The first thing we did was propose to go with option three, sending the item back to the HDC with the recommendation that 80 be added back in. This brought vigorous debate from the Body while it was uniformly objected to by the Southport residents, largely because if it meant another vote, they feared it would fail. Well, it passed. Then a member proposed revising the item to still include 80 but now exclude 115. That failed since the sense of the Body was that it should be all or nothing. The next motion was to delay the entire matter one-month figuring this would give us more time to learn and more time to cool off the hot tempers. That too, failed, as we felt we had heard enough and a month wasn’t going to change that.

We were then dealing with the revised action item and debate was renewed from the Body and the floor if this was the right thing. I wound up being one of the final speakers and I pointed out that regardless of what happened at the HDC hearings and meetings, the perception we received was that this was a seriously flawed process and we weren’t happy with the results. Additionally, I felt they hadn’t done due diligence when it came to the Southport station so had no support from the Parking Authority and therefore, no vote had been received Since everyone was counting noses, this was a glaring omission. There was also the issue that between the vote 10 years ago and today, two more historic houses were demolished in favor of five duplexes yet they did nothing. “Where were the HDC and the neighbors when 100 and 112 came tumbling down?” I asked. I finally objected that after all this time, for it to come at us with the speed of (ahem) a bullet and therefore wanted my colleagues to approve the measure. (As I took my seat, one of my peers leaned over and whispered, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you find your tires slashed.”)

In the end, that’s exactly what happens and the HDC now has 65 days to get their ducks in a row and get something accomplished. It could be, that in that time, 80’s sale will conclude and the new owner can vote rather than the current owner’s temper tantrum.

If anything impressed me, after the disappointment over our collection comprehension issues, was that the various votes were incredibly bi-partisan. I wish more of the votes were like that.

And as I drove home, I was pleased to see my tires were intact.