PROVINCETOWN — Every year since 2006, town meeting voters have dispensed special funding measures called community preservation grants. The money comes from a 3-percent surcharge on property taxes and can be used for historic preservation, affordable housing, outdoor recreation, and open space.
This year, the community preservation committee has recommended just over $1 million in grant requests to town meeting voters. They appear on the warrant as Article 8 and include funding for two affordable housing projects, the affordable housing trust fund, the Chelsea Earnest Memorial Playground, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, and the Schooner Hindu.
The largest recommended grants this year are, as they have been almost every year, for affordable housing. The warrant contains a $500,000 grant request to The Community Builders Inc., the Boston-based nonprofit that is building 65 units of affordable housing at the former VFW Hall site at 3 Jerome Smith Road.
In past years, Provincetown approved grants to support affordable units in projects at Seashore Point, Province Landing, and Stable Path. What’s unusual this year is that warrant Article 11 asks to transfer $2,250,000 to The Community Builders for the same project. That money comes from free cash ($600,000) and from the town’s tourism fund ($1,650,000), which is itself funded by the rooms tax on stays in hotels and short-term rentals.
The Community Builders bought a parcel of land on Captain Bertie’s Way for $1.4 million last year to add to the Jerome Smith project, Town Manager Alex Morse told the select board at this year’s budget meetings. The town would otherwise have bought that land directly at a special town meeting, Morse said, but the developer was able to purchase it faster and for the same price. The relatively large contribution to the 65 units on Jerome Smith Road should be seen, at least in part, as financing the purchase of that land, Morse said.
Article 8 also asks to transfer $225,000 to the affordable housing trust fund. The third housing grant in the article is $75,000 for the 46 affordable apartments at Juniper Hill, the new name for the 95 Lawrence Road project in Wellfleet.
That request drew extensive discussion at the community preservation committee meeting on Feb. 16. Voters are often skeptical of giving money to other towns for their housing projects, said Chair Kristin Hatch.
“We spent half an hour at town meeting debating $20,000 for the Cape Cod Five project in Orleans” in 2021, Hatch said.
Provincetown was the first town on Cape Cod to offer support to another town’s housing project, Hatch added, but that was a special case: $50,000 for a supportive living center for adults with autism, also in Orleans.
Some committee members wondered whether these transfers between towns weren’t simply canceling each other out. Others were not pleased that Wellfleet voted not to support a similar grant request for The Community Builders’ Jerome Smith project in Provincetown this year.
Jay Coburn, CEO of the Community Development Partnership, which is developing the Juniper Hill project in Wellfleet, told the committee there were reasons for the requests that weren’t strictly financial.
“By funding each other’s projects, it demonstrates strong regional commitment to the DHCD,” he said. The Dept. of Housing and Community Development is the state agency that makes the $20-million awards that actually fund these projects, Coburn said. “We are working very closely with The Community Builders, Rep. Peake, and Sen. Cyr to pressure DHCD to fund both of these projects this year.”
Despite several board members voicing their disappointment with Wellfleet, the board voted unanimously to recommend a grant of $75,000 — reduced from the original request for $100,000 — to town meeting voters.
PAAM and Hindu
An open space and recreation grant for $100,000 to replace the sand in the Nickerson Street playground, formally known as the Chelsea Earnest Memorial Playground, with a poured rubber surface was approved by the committee with little discussion. It follows a similar project in the Mildred Greensfelder Park in the town’s East End.
The two historic preservation grants on the warrant sparked more discussion. The committee heard from a state expert in community preservation spending on Jan. 24, had a public hearing on Feb. 7, and ultimately decided on Feb. 16 to divide its available money for historic preservation projects equally between the two applicants.
The Provincetown Art Association and Museum had requested $100,000 to help replace a roof at the museum, and the Schooner Hindu was seeking $144,580 to pay for the replanking of the deck of the historic vessel, part of a half-million-dollar rebuild of the boat that is currently taking place in Maine. (This reporter was a part-time deckhand on the Schooner Hindu from 2015 to 2019.)
The committee forwarded each project to town meeting voters with a recommended grant of $73,500.
PAAM has received grant money from town meeting voters before. In 2020, $60,000 went to a restoration of the museum. The Schooner Hindu has applied before, in 2021, but the committee voted its application down before it reached town meeting voters.
At that time, committee members said that a for-profit company should not receive funds; that the vessel was not properly validated as historic; and that the boat could leave for another port, such as Newport, R.I. or Madagascar, and the town would be out its money.
In the two years since then, the owners of the boat moved to address the committee’s concerns, said Erin Desmond, who is now the president of the nonprofit organization that will receive ownership of the boat.
The Hindu is being transferred from Desmond’s husband, Capt. Josh Rowan, and his father, William Rowan, to the nonprofit Sail As You Are. That transfer should be complete by town meeting on April 3, Desmond told the Independent this week.
Provincetown’s historical commission (distinct from the historic district commission) also made a first-ever determination last fall that the Schooner Hindu had “local historic value” and should be designated a historic vessel.
Desmond told the community preservation committee that she could accept various kinds of conditions on the grant funding, including a “claw-back clause” that would refund the money if the boat were to sail away and not return. The expert presentation on Jan. 24 had included a discussion of such restrictions.
Committee Chair Hatch said on Feb. 16 that “much to my surprise, I am sold on this as a historic asset.”
Committee members were initially divided, but eventually voted 7-0, with one abstention, to approve $73,500 for the Hindu with various conditions included.
All six grants will now come to a vote at town meeting. They are currently set to be voted on as a group as Article 8, but should a voter request it, they could be considered and voted on separately.