Purchase of 4 Water Street for maritime center dies at Town Meeting

Jun 8, 2016

A highly contested proposal to build a maritime center in Padanaram was essentially killed at Town Meeting on June 7, after a vote that would allow the town to purchase 4 Water Street for $765,000 failed.

The purchase of the property was part of a $1.7 million total proposal to create a recreational park and public boating facility. Town Administrator David Cressman's vision was to increase public access to the water and promote economic development—a vision shared with three members of the Select Board and the town's Parks and Recreation Department.

The $765,000 included costs for the property acquisition, a pavilion area, a passive recreation area, and dock area, noted Dartmouth Director of Development Deborah Melino-Wender in presenting the project to Town Meeting voters.

A grant from the Massachusetts Seaport Economic Council would have covered $1 million of the estimated $1.7 million total cost. Also on the Town Meeting docket was a proposal to use $466,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for the project, which are raised through a 1½ percent property tax surcharge. That measure was withdrawn from the agenda after the authorization to purchase the property failed.

Officials discussed housing offices for the Harbormaster and Parks and Recreation Department at the site, offering kayaking and paddle-boarding opportunities, administering programs for new boaters, building accessible docks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and offering places for transient boaters to tie up.

As the Select Board was split in its support for the project, so was the public and town volunteers. Members of the town's Waterways Management Commission, argued at public hearings that the water is too rough in the area for recreational programs, and suggested the town provide waterway access and recreational programming elsewhere.

On Tuesday, Patty Sweriduk, a member of the ad hoc committee formed to study the project, worried that the town's plan didn't include handicap access to the dock. She also noted that Padanaram’s business sector was in opposition of the project.

"Parking is already at a crisis level. Having a park will only increase competition for parking spots and may drive business away,” she said. Sweriduk suggested putting the water access at the town-owned Dias Landing at Apponagansett Park.

Supporters of the project have expressed concern that substantial changes to the proposal the town wrote in asking for grant funding—such as a change in location—would prompt the state to pass on the project and thus cause the town to lose the grant. Sweriduk insisted she had emails suggesting otherwise.

“They will fund us. They do it all the time. It’s something that’s already been done in other communities,” she said. “If the town spends $800,000-plus, we can do it better, we can do it cheaper.”

Select Board Vice Chairman Frank Gracie denied this: “This grant money cannot be used anywhere else. This money is for 4 Water Street,” he said. “This town does not get a lot of help from the state. This is an opportunity for an investment that we cannot afford to do ourselves.”

Finance Committee Chair David Tatelbaum told voters that authorizing the town to purchase the property didn't mean the town would actually buy the property, but would earmark the necessary funding for that use.

“We don’t have to purchase it," Tatelbaum said. "It allows us to open up all the options."

The purchase needed a favorable majority vote for approval. It failed, 92-111.