Correction/Update: In the original article, I make an assumption that Thomas Siracusa would have likely been a “Yes” vote for the carnival request. I based that, in part, by his 2013 vote to support a similar request, according to this Town Crier article. That article is wrong, however, as the votes of Siracusa and Barletta are inaccurately reported. Siracusa actually voted “No” and Barletta actually voted “Yes.” I should have independently confirmed this. I also made an assumption that Siracusa would have been a “Yes” based on what he did and didn’t say during the board’s deliberation of the matter, at which time he never brought up any concerns with the proposal. Because a vote was never actually taken, however, I’ve updated the article to reflect that Siracusa’s vote is still an unknown.
WILMINGTON, MA – At last night’s Wilmington Board of Appeals meeting, four members of the five-member board may have been in favor of granting the request of the Fourth of July Committee to obtain a special permit to hold a carnival in the Fourth of July Building’s parking lot as part of Wilmington’s 2016 “Fun on the Fourth” festivities. So, that must mean the permit was granted and, as a result, the Committee’s plans to return the entire celebration to the Town Common area are a go! NOT SO FAST.
The discussion, which began shortly after 9pm and ended around 11:30pm, started with an unexpected twist. Due to a perceived conflict of interest, Board of Appeals member Ed Loud recused himself from the discussion and the vote. Loud disclosed that his company sells generators to Fiesta Shows, which operates the Wilmington carnival. Loud left the table, but stayed in the audience – as a member of the public – to listen to the discussion. After the meeting, when questioned what his vote would have been, Loud told Wilmington Apple he would have voted in favor of the request, something he also had conveyed to Wilmington Fourth of July Committee Chair Scott Garrant.
Chairman Charles Boyle, along with member Anthony Barletta, both spoke in favor of the Fourth of July Committee’s request. Member Thomas Siracusa kept his cards close to the vest. Some would say the fact that he offered no criticism of the plans as a signal he’s voting in the affirmative, but his vote is not yet known. (Siracusa had voted against a similar request from the Fourth of July Committee in 2013.)
A special permit can only be issued by the Board of Appeals if at least FOUR members support it. With Loud’s recusal, the vote on this particular special permit needed to be unanimous (4-0). And board member Daniel Veerman was a hold out. (Veerman, interestingly, would have had to rescue himself, as he is an abutter – although not an immediate abutter – to the Fourth of July Building’s parking lot, but he sought and received a special waiver from the Wilmington Board of Selectmen that allowed him to participate in the discussion.)
Ultimately, the Board of Appeals never voted on approving or denying the Fourth of July Committee’s request. Because of Veerman’s insistence he’d vote “no” if forced to vote tonight, none of his colleagues made any motions.
Instead, the Board voted to approve Veerman’s motion to continue the hearing until the next Board of Appeals Meeting on Wednesday, February 10.
“Maybe some miraculous solution will play itself out over the next month,” said a doubtful Boyle.
What Veerman Wants
Veerman passionately argued the the Town of Wilmington, the Fourth of July Committee, and/or Fiesta Shows (the carnival company) should stand liable if an immediate abutter’s property is damaged during the Fun on the Fourth celebration.
According to Garrant, Fiesta Shows carries a general liability of $10 million. The immediate abutters would be named as additional insured under the carnival’s policy. If a carnival ride or carnival employee does damage to an abutter’s property, that homeowner could file a claim with the carnival’s insurer.
Veerman was more concerned, however, in instances where something happened that wasn’t covered under the carnival’s insurance, e.g., a person attending the carnival vandalizes an abutter’s property.
Veerman cautioned that a home insurer could raise rates or cancel coverage all together if they learned that a carnival that attracts up to 10,000 people was happening right next to someone’s home every year.
“I want to vote for this proposal, but I don’t want immediate abutters to have to put in claims,” explained Veerman. “It’s not my intent to kill [the carnival], I just want to make sure there’s [financial] safeguards for the neighbors… I want to be able to sleep at night knowing my neighbors will be adequately protected.”
Garrant responded that third party liability insurance simply isn’t realistic in this case, having been told by insurance agents that the Committee and Town “can’t insure what they don’t have insurable interest in.”
Town Manager Jeff Hull also stated that solutions like extending third party liability insurance to immediate abutters just isn’t feasible.
Hull noted that the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Agency, the largest municipal insurance company in the state, doesn’t even provide insurance for these types of circumstances. He cited large venues like Gilette Stadium in Foxboro, the Topsfield Field in Topsfield, and the Comcast Center Mansfield as examples where cities and towns don’t provide abutters with the insurance coverage requested by Veerman.
“If third party insurance can’t be procured, why can’t the town agree that if abutters sustain damages that raise their insurance premiums, the town will pay for the increase?,” countered Veerman. “Or, if an abutter sends the town a bill for a broken window from a rock thrown by a carnival attendee, could the town pay it it?”
Town Manager Jeff Hull gave a definitive “no.”
Hull was very concerned about the precedent it would set for abutters to the Fun on the Fourth’s carnival to be given indemnification, a promise that the town would cover costs of certain property damage during the 5-day event.
“Where will it end?,” asked Hull rhetorically. “How many more abutters? How many other town events? I’m not prepared to set that precedent.”
Chairman Boyle agreed, saying the Town would be “opening a can of worms.”
“I’m giving you an out,” Veerman said bluntly to Garrant.
“No, you’re not,” replied Garrant, who reinforced that what Veerman was requesting simply couldn’t be attained. “I can’t accept the impossibilities put in front of us.”
Hull actually questioned Veerman’s motives at one point, contending that his insurance argument was a “red herring” and just an excuse to end the carnival.
Veerman disagreed, arguing his request was reasonable. He said he’s willing to overlook the carnival site’s deficiencies if he got concessions on the insurance coverage issues. Veerman said he hopes to use the month in between meetings to further speak with Hull and Garrant to come up with some creative solutions to his insurance concerns. He said he’s “extending the olive branch” and is open to various financial safeguards for the town on the matter, including placing a cap on damages that abutters could collect.
“I’m willing to talk, but I’m not sure I’m even able to compromise [on the insurance],” said a doubtful Garrant.
Veerman also said he intends on speaking with the nine immediate abutters before the next meeting to see if they actually share his concerns regarding their insurance situations. If none of them do, Veerman is willing to drop his opposition to the carnival request.
Tomorrow on Wilmington Apple, learn what the public had to say at the meeting. To say emotions were running high would be an understatement.
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