WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington Fourth of July Committee’s request to obtain a special permit to hold a carnival in the Fourth of July Building’s parking lot as part of this summer’s ‘Fun on the Fourth’ celebration fell ONE vote short at last night’s Board of Appeals meeting in the Town Hall Auditorium.
The request needed the support of four members of the five-member board.
Members Charles Boyle, Anthony Barletta, and Thomas Siracusa voted in favor.
Member Ed Loud, who was supportive of the request, recused himself from the discussion and vote due to a perceived conflict of interest as his company sells generators to Fiesta Shows, which operates the Wilmington carnival.
Member Dan Veerman voted against the request, demanding the condition that a $20,000 escrow fund be established to cover any potential incidental property damage to direct abutters done by third parties during the celebration and to cover any potential increases in home insurance costs to direct abutters.
(Veerman would have had to recuse himself as he is an abutter – although not a direct 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 hear the matter. Veerman is quick to note that he would not benefit from the financial safety net he is trying attain for some of his neighbors who directly abut the site.)
As a result, the Fourth of July Committee’s request was denied — 3 in favor, 1 opposed.
Veerman also offered a motion of his own — to grant the request with his condition attached — but it failed to receive a second from any of his colleagues.
During his remarks to the board, Wilmington Fourth of July Committee Chair Scott Garrant explained why Veerman’s condition could not be met.
Garrant reported that based on the advice of independent legal counsel, the Fourth of July Committee unanimously decided not to establish or contribute to any sort of escrow fund to cover potential damages to abutters. Garrant said the consensus of received legal opinions suggested that by establishing such a fund, the committee would be assuming liability.
Garrant reported that Fiesta Shows, after consulting with its own legal counsel and insurer, also decided not to participate in such a fund.
At is January 25th meeting, the Wilmington Board of Selectmen also passed on having the town participate in such a fund per legal counsel advice.
Garrant stressed that such a condition like Veerman’s was never imposed by the Board of Appeals as it relates to Abundant Life, which abutted the old carnival location, nor the North Reading residencies that were located next to the carnival over the past two years.
Garrant noted, in fact, that such a condition was never imposed by the Board of Appeals on any applicant that’s ever been in front of it.
Garrant provided the Board with Google Earth images of 25 locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire where Fiesta Shows runs carnivals abutting residential or commercial buildings. Garrant noted Fiesta Shows has NEVER been confronted with such a condition.
Garrant also noted that the Fourth of July Committee was willing to fund two additional police details dedicated to covering the School Street and Drury Lane area around 8pm to mdinight during each night of the celebration.
Assistant Town Manager Kendra Amaral assured the board that the Town and its Public Safety Department would work with the Fourth of July Committee to ensure a safe event.
Chairman Charles Boyle spoke out against Veerman’s condition, calling it “an unfair burden to put an applicant.”
Member Thomas Siracusa said it was a “shame” that an agreement couldn’t be reached.
Member Anthony Barletta stressed how every town department who has seen the Fourth of July Committee’s plans have supported them.
After the meeting, Veerman explained his decision, in detail, to Wilmington Apple:
“I take my role on the board of appeals very seriously. I have been on that board for over eight years and have been faced with many difficult decisions. I always try to do what’s right given the facts of each individual situation, regardless of external pressure.
I understand the town’s position of not wanting to use the new high school and it’s grounds to entertain a carnival. This decision has led the [Fun on the Fourth] committee to select a small residential parking lot to host the carnival. I have to assess the appropriateness of this site based on the facts before me and not emotion.
The proposed site for the carnival is not appropriate without some modest safeguards for the residents. I have no issue with the proposed law enforcement plans to keep the celebration safe. I was concerned and continue to be concerned about reasonably foreseeable property damage that may result from a carnival squeezed into a very small and limited residential location. I stated that concern and voted against the proposal three years ago.
Because the applicant had made some adjustments and given the board an opportunity to vet the proposal more fully, I decided that I could support the application with what I consider to be a modest condition to accommodate the stated concerns of those most directly affected.
I do not agree with the applicant that the escrow fund could not be established or would expose anyone, especially a nonprofit, to liability depending on how the agreement was worded. But that is up to the applicant. I approved the carnival with what I consider to be a reasonable condition. The Board of Appeals takes similar action with any number of special permits.
I’m disappointed the Board and the applicant chose not to support my repeated efforts and motions approving the carnival with the condition. Perhaps next year the applicant can present a proposal that addresses the concerns of a number of folks in the neighborhood.
In the meantime, I’m sure the town will celebrate the Fourth of July in a fun and safe manner, with fireworks and community spirit. Wilmington Fourth of July is not just about a carnival.”
After the meeting, Garrant told Wilmington Apple that the Fourth of July Committee was disappointed.
“A great deal of time and effort was put in by the Committee and Town Officials to present a plan that we believe worked well and addressed any grounded concerns.”
When asked about what this summer’s “Fun on the Fourth” celebration might look like without a carnival, Garrant responded,” We will meet as a Committee in the coming days and discuss our options. Without the carnival, we do not have the resources at this time to fund the event or (fixed, 2/11, 8:45am) fireworks.”
With the carnival eliminated, a potential replacement funding source for the celebration could come from the town. In his proposed FY17 budget, Town Manager Jeff Hull is recommending passage of a warrant article in the amount of $25,000 to help fund this year’s Fun on the Fourth. Residents would vote on the article at the Annual Town Meeting on Saturday, April 30.
“For the past 35 years, Wilmington residents have enjoyed a proud tradition of celebrating our nation’s independence,” noted Hull. “In recognition of the strong desire of many Wilmington residents to ensure that the tradition continues, the budget provides for up to $25,000 to support efforts for a July 4th celebration.”
At last night’s Board of Appeals meeting, the public comments section was kept brief, with Chairman Boyle asking speakers to only make remarks on indemnification and/or the proposed escrow fund.
A few speakers, nonetheless, went off script.
Residents Fred Bent and Peter Janes suggested this year’s Fun on the Fourth celebration be dedicated to the late Frank Kelley.
“We lost Frank Kelley this year and I would hate to lose the Fourth of July too,” noted Bent.
Resident Jeff Bradford was dumbfounded, arguing “We can’t cancel something we’ve been holding for 35 years because something *might* happen!”
A follow-up article with reaction from residents will run on Wilmington Apple in the next day or two. Got a strong feeling on this issue? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and I may run your response!
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