I think we all can agree that Sophie’s Choice was a great movie, but no one wants to be Sophie. At Provincetown’s upcoming special town meeting, however, the year-round community will experience something like it. Housing has been a long-standing priority as the town attempts to address the crisis, while the fire department has long had the support of the community. Now we are asked to choose between them.
The process of developing the town parcel on Jerome Smith Road has been long and somewhat torturous. Public projects are complex and time-consuming. Each effort takes several years, even when there is consensus. If a community changes course, usually because there is no perfect answer and compromise is a dirty word, this alters the path forward and extends the time, money, and effort to get anything accomplished.
The proposal before this town meeting raises questions that are unlikely to be answered before Dec. 2. At the same time, it should be clear to everyone that changing course now will thwart the development of needed housing at the former VFW and start the clock on a new and complicated process that will take years to resolve.
The fire department has everyone’s admiration, in both its members and its leadership. I think we all, to a fair degree, agree on that. But questions that should have been raised back in June when the board of fire engineers sent its request to the select board to change course were not raised. The select board has now met with fire engineers. But that was on Oct. 25, four months after the letter was sent, and after the petition for a special town meeting was submitted. I can’t fault the board of fire engineers for raising issues and working, initially, through the proper channels. But it’s clear town leaders have not worked together, and as a result a stark choice has been forced upon town meeting.
A new police station is estimated to cost around $12 million today. How does everyone feel about a potential $25 million public safety complex with a new fire station and a new police station? Without a study, we can’t make an accurate estimate of the actual cost, and we are only guessing at the scale and scope of the proposed project.
A study could also review a range of options to determine if this is the most cost-effective solution to the two long-range concerns raised by the fire chief: the need for ambulance space and the need for a bigger bunkhouse. If what’s needed is space for an extra ambulance bay or two, why not look at an addition to the existing station? Surely that would be less costly. If bunkhouse space is needed, would acquiring Dr. O’Malley’s former office across the street be cheaper than replicating a whole new station? A flawed cost estimate proved to be fatal for the last police station plan; the town can’t afford to go down that dead-end road again.
There are, as well, broader questions. If the need is for more ambulances, what actually is the plan for Lower Cape Ambulance? Are we considering eliminating one of the few regional services by bringing it in house, and at what cost? Then there is the question of a new fire training facility. I believe town meeting will want an update from and the opinion of the county manager on the work being done to locate the facility at Joint Base Cape Cod, which the town, through the town manager’s office and the fire department, helped to sponsor. Is the fire chief’s idea to relocate the not small, not insignificant Cape Cod regional fire training facility to the rear of the VFW parcel a dream or a practical reality?
This to me feels like a fight that does not need to happen. My concern is that forcing folks to pick sides means everyone will lose. Done this way, this effort creates more questions than it answers and will not bring the town closer together but will drive people further apart.
Votes have social consequences and create long memories in this community. If there is serious and sufficient interest in the proposed article, then it should be submitted for study and the idea brought back with answers to a later town meeting. Otherwise the plan to create two dozen or more housing units on Jerome Smith Road should immediately proceed.
The question before this town meeting affects all of us: abutters, home owners, and renters. I encourage everyone to attend if they are able.