WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington Board of Selectmen and Town Manager may have found a way to hold a carnival at the Swain School site as part of the town’s Fun on the Fourth activities this July.
At Monday’s Board of Selectmen Meeting, during a nearly 3-hour discussion, member Mike Newhouse put forward a solution that seemed to catch his colleagues, Town Manager Jeff Hull, and Wilmington Fourth of July Committee members in the audience off guard.
Newhouse recommended that the Town of Wilmington — NOT the Fourth of July Committee — file an application with the Wilmington Board of Appeals for a special permit to hold the carnival. The application would only take “a couple of days” to prepare. In an attempt to expedite the process, Newhouse suggested the Wilmington Board of Appeals be encouraged to call a special meeting to hear the permit request in late March, rather than wait for their regularly scheduled April 13 meeting.
Simultaneously, Newhouse recommended Town Manager Hull issue a request for proposals (RFP) from any and all carnival operators interested in running Wilmington’s “Fun on the Fourth” carnival.
Newhouse was quick to explain his strategy.
“The reality is – if we put out an RFP now and submit an application to the Board of Appeals to hear a case from the Town of Wilmington to get a special permit, [Board of Appeals member] Ed Loud does haven’t his conflict anymore,” said Newhouse.
Loud had to recuse himself from the Fourth of July Committee’s special permit request because the carnival operator selected by the Committee — Fiesta Shows — received generators from his employer. Had Loud not had to recuse himself, he would have voted in favor of the request, delivering the deciding vote to allow the carnival.
“You have THREE people (Boyle, Siragusa, and Barletta) who voted for it two weeks ago, and you have ONE guy (Loud) who has said publicly, if he had heard the case he would have voted for it, so there’s your FOUR votes,” said Newhouse.
A special permit request for a carnival needs at least four votes to pass.
If the Board of Appeals were to hear a special permit request from the town, neither the town or the board would know the identity of the carnival operator at the time of the hearing as one wouldn’t have been selected yet, so Loud’s conflict would disappear. Even if Fiesta Shows was ultimately selected to run the carnival, Loud’s vote would still stand.
“By changing the applicant, and not being under contract with a specific operator, I think the Board of Appeals membership is free to entertain that application because any operator in the world could wind up getting the job,” argued Newhouse.
“If the town is the applicant, I believe the Board of Appeals will have a full complement of five-board membership,” stressed Newhouse. “Rather than changing the board’s process, or changing the board’s membership, for a situation that’s fairly rare, and given the time constraints, let’s just change the applicant.”
Newhouse notes that his solution is more practical than some of the other proposed solutions, such as amending the zoning bylaws to take the issuing of carnival permits away from the Board of Appeals, or adding associate members to the Board of Appeals. Newhouse pointed out that neither of those more long-term solutions would actually solve the short-term problem of no carnival THIS July.
“If people are interested in solving the problem for July 1-4, 2016, I think we owe it to the community to try the RFP process and to try the application before the Board of Appeals, recognizing that’s a lot of work for the Town Administration,” said Newhouse. “It’s a tall order, but [Selectmen] are being asked to do our part, so I guess that’s all we can do.”
“Mr. Newhouse has opened up an avenue here that’s worth exploring,” said Selectmen Chair Mike Champoux. “Thank you Mike for offering a creative solution. It may not be
perfect, but we’re trying to move the ball forward.”
Selectmen voted 4-0-1 to “authorize the Town Manager to formulate a prospective Request For Proposals to enable the town to sponsor a carnival at the Swain School location and to provide a fireworks display for a period in July.”
The RFP would be issued “in the next couple of weeks.”
How a town-sponsored “Fun on the Fourth” would run compared to a Fourth of July Committee-sponsored “Fun on the Fourth” was not discussed in depth, but Selectmen Newhouse noted that to any extent the Committee was able to continue to help would be “most appreciated.”
Wilmington Fourth of July Committee Scott Garrant did not want to speak on behalf of his Committee in supporting or opposing any proposals, but did stress the urgency of the situation, noting he’s receiving daily calls from Fiesta Shows who are being courted by other communities for Fourth of July festivities.
Selectman Lou Cimaglia, who also serves on the Wilmington Fourth of July Committee, recused himself from the discussion and vote.
Another Solution Being Explored
Wilmington Board of Appeals member Dan Veerman was willing to approve the Fourth of July Committee’s special permit request for a carnival, but only if his condition was met of establishing a $20,000 fund to cover third-party damage done to direct abutters’ properties and cover any increase in direct abutters’ home insurance rates.
Veerman’s request, at the time, was thoroughly researched and, ultimately, denied over liability concerns. Veerman, as a result, would not support the project.
“The challenge such a fund poses is that no one wants to assume liability,” Hull reminded the board. “The town looked into it. Town Cousel looked into it. We talked to our insurance folks. We, as the town, don’t want to be tied to potential liability from property owners who feel aggrieved because they don’t feel they’ve been paid an appropriate amount of money for damage that may have been done to their homes… The Fourth of July Committee has similar concerns.”
On Monday night, however, Hull signaled a strong interest in exploring the possibility of creating a fund that insulated both the town and the Fourth of July Committee from liability.
“Is there an opportunity here to create a third option [where neither the town or committee is liable]? I think there might be… That would be the best case scenario.”
If the town found itself in a position to meet Veerman’s condition of a $20,000 fund, Veerman would then vote in favor of the carnival permit and the matter would be resolved in a manner even quicker than Newhouse’s initial strategy.
“Let’s travel two tracks to solve this problem,” responded Newhouse. “Sure, it puts a strain on the Manager’s resources, but I’m not hearing Mr. Hull say that this can’t be done. I believe [Town Hall] is up to it. I don’t think we should give up the alternative of creating a fund. Let’s work on both [the fund and the RFP process.]”
Watch the nearly 3-hour discussion below, beginning around the 1-hour, 10-minute mark and basically runs for the rest of the meeting. Video is courtesy of Wilmington Community Television:
Wilmington Apple will keep up on this issue. The blog should have another story from this discussion in the coming days, focused on Fourth of July Committee Chair Scott Garrant’s request to have Town Meeting voters decide whether to place the carnival permit process with an entity (e.g., Town Manager, Selectmen, Building Inspector) other than the Board of Appeals. The story will also include discussion over whether or not to add alternate members to the Board of Appeals. Finally, it will include several Selectmen speaking out against individuals who have unfairly criticized members involved in the process.
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