PROVINCETOWN — A very Provincetown sort of controversy — featuring flowers, public benches, property lines, and angry comments to the select board — has been resolved after the town’s dept. of public works returned a bench to the West End spot where it had been for years.
Brian Orter, who with his husband, Michael DiMartino, bought the house at 119 Commercial St. last year, quickly realized he hated the two benches that have long been fixtures in front of their new house. They live at “the turn” on Commercial Street where, at a wide junction with Franklin Street, the street wraps around the Coast Guard Station and jogs about 30 yards closer to the waterfront before proceeding farther west.
This broad intersection looks great for people-watching — but Orter told the select board last month that these were “not that Forrest Gump bench.”
“People smoke weed, toss cigarette butts, and leave poop bags,” Orter said. “People treat our home like a bus station.” At night, Orter said, there were abandoned cocktails, beer cans, and even used condoms, as well as all the noises the use of these items entails.
So, when the DPW removed the two benches after one was destroyed and the other damaged by a snow plow in January, the homeowners were elated. But many others were furious. They argued that the benches had provided a place for seniors to rest and for community members to gather.
Orter told the select board that an employee of the DPW had told him that the tree between the benches was his responsibility. Might that mean the tree and both benches were actually on his land?
Orter said that, based on that exchange, he had planted flowers where the benches had been, only to have a different DPW employee demand their immediate removal. The employee stood and supervised him while he pulled up the flowers, Orter said.
The controversy at the select board meeting sent acting DPW Director Sherry Prada on a mission to research engineering records. She discovered a plan from 2010 by Bennett Environmental Associates marking the slice of land between the pavement and Orter’s low hedge as town property.
“I work for the taxpayers, which means I work for all of them,” Prada said.
Having done the research, she and Town Manager Alex Morse determined that a compromise was in order. Prada had the DPW return one of the two benches to its original spot; the other bench was not returned. The public landscaping committee and the DPW planted another round of flowers and put down wood chips.
“The neighbors are thrilled,” said Prada. “The owners of 119 Commercial are not.”
Prada also said that perhaps the DPW had not been clear about the tree. The tree is on town property and is maintained by a town contract with Bartlett Tree Experts. Maintenance occurs when the town requests it, she said. If a property owner would like to have it trimmed in the meantime, because of branches hanging low over his property, for instance, then he would have to pay for the trimming of those branches. Prada said she understands that that was confusing.
“We did guide the owner of 119 Commercial through the proper process, and he did follow all the steps respectfully,” Prada said.
On a recent visit to the bench, David Morse of Albany, N.Y. was doing yoga stretches and meditating while waiting for a yoga class to begin.
Orter said he had no comment.