PROVINCETOWN — The most consequential vote at Tuesday’s select board meeting came after most of the audience had left: a unanimous decision not to recommend Fire Chief Mike Trovato’s petitioned article at the Dec. 2 special town meeting.
The board members’ statements against the proposal were wide-ranging and emphatic. They came at the end of a long session that included a dialogue with the Pier Corp. about finances and harbormasters and another long conversation with Provincetown resident Patrick Patrick about his plan to build a dormitory for seasonal workers on his family’s land on Route 6.
Trovato’s petition, signed by 203 residents, would designate the 1.3-acre VFW parcel at 3 Jerome Smith Road for a police station, a fire and EMS substation, and an outdoor training facility for firefighters. Town meeting had voted in April 2018 to begin the process of developing affordable housing on that parcel, and to site a police station across the street at 16 Jerome Smith Road. When the cost of that station went up almost 50 percent, it had to go back to town meeting, however, and in April 2019 and again in June 2019 the extra allocation was rejected. Where and how the police station should be built has been unclear ever since.
Trovato’s proposal revives an earlier plan to build the police station on the VFW site, adding a fire substation, an EMS facility, and an outdoor training center. The fire and EMS facilities have never been assessed, budgeted, or even studied, however, and that is what drew the most heated objections from the select board.
Board member Bobby Anthony spoke first, and at length.
“There isn’t anybody in Provincetown who doesn’t respect and support public safety,” he said. “I was an auxiliary fireman when I was 14, a regular fireman, a rescue squad member, plus 32 years as a policeman, and 10 years as chief of police.
“Going forward without a need assessment, without any numbers, without an engineering plan, we are missing the mark as to what we are here for. It would be just like if another department head came in and asked for a building and said we will get 200 names and we’ll have a special election.
“If the fire chief is thinking about doing his own EMS, five ambulances is $1.75 million. That’s not counting personnel, not counting benefits,” Anthony added. “Public safety has been my life, and I support public safety, but I also support the people who elected me to sit here and make hard decisions, decisions for the whole community. Housing has always been number one in terms of the goal for the selectmen for as long as I’ve been sitting here.”
Board member Lise King said, “Without housing, there is no community. If we are having the number of year-round residents continue to dwindle, then we are talking about building infrastructure for people who are here only for summer. Last winter, the postal service tells me, the number of active postal addresses was under 700.”
“We do have a site for a new police facility, if we ever get there,” Anthony added. “The address is 16 Jerome Smith Road. That’s been voted at town meeting.”
Board member Louise Venden said, “My understanding is that the fire engineers did not collaborate with the police department or the building department, who have spent many years working on this.
“There is a process that departments go through,” she continued. “This is an attempt to go straight around this process, and in my opinion it is not appropriate.”
Board members John Golden and Dave Abramson agreed with their colleagues.
“Probably the smallest part of this is the new police station,” said Golden. “I don’t think this would get us there. I think this process would just hold things up for longer.”
Harbormasters and Dormitories
The earlier part of the meeting also featured two unanimous votes. After an intensive discussion of the budget that supports the harbormaster’s department, which is currently paid from the town to the Pier Corp., and which has been the subject of much recent contention, the board voted on a motion by Venden that had not been on the agenda: to direct the Pier Corp. and the harbor committee to sit town, attempt to work together, and see if they can devise a common framework for how the three new maritime staff positions — pier manager, harbormaster, and marine coordinator — could work together.
Venden’s motion passed unanimously, but Acting Town Manager David Gardner had a word of warning: “What has been missing from this presentation [by the Pier Corp.] is the marine coordinator. I am looking for more of a discussion with the two boards for a collaboration of all three positions — not just the two that they like.”
The proposal from Provincetown resident Patrick Patrick to build 28 rooms of seasonal dormitory-style housing and 15 year-round apartments on land he owns along Route 6 was met with applause from board member John Golden, and commendations and thanks from the other board members.
The project involves no town funding, but does require approvals for 9,150 gallons of sewer allocation — nearly all of the allocation for housing that is currently available. This provoked some conversation about how long it would take until more gallons became available — a sewer expansion program is already in the works — and whether that timeline for more gallons would pose a problem for a potential housing development at the VFW.
A colloquy between King and Gardner established that both housing at VFW and sewer expansion projects would likely take three years at a minimum, and that allocating gallons to Patrick now would not undermine plans to develop housing at the VFW along the slower, taxpayer-funded timeline of affordable housing projects. With that established, and after more accolades for Patrick, the gallons were allocated on a 5-0 vote.