Paula, on May 8th, 2009

Divided Board Kills Plan to Build Performance Stage at the Cliffs

with permission, MV Gazette

By SAM BUNGEY

Following a last-minute public campaign of staunch opposition, Aquinnah selectmen at a special meeting Monday shelved a proposal to build an outdoor performing arts stage at the Circle, leaving its architects frustrated and the board polarized on the issue.

The proposal is from Ted Cammann, a longtime music producer, and Jim Glavin of Deca Construction, who conceived the plan after organizing last August’s Aquinnah Music festival held at the Circle. The two men are now partners in Circle Productions LLC.

“We put on that festival because we wanted to do a fund-raiser for [local radio station] WVVY and there were no venues. There was nowhere to play,” said Mr. Glavin.

The project has been in the works since early spring, but a torrent of letters and e-mails against the project began pouring into town hall about two weeks ago. At a public hearing on the proposal last Thursday which ran for more than two hours, a group of detractors argued vociferously that the stage would be a blight on the natural beauty of the landscape at the Cliffs.

“There was an organized campaign to stack the deck against us,” Mr. Glavin said this week, “They won over one of the selectmen; it was a classic display of bad faith.”

Discussion at the Monday meeting of the selectmen, called to approve a May 19 special town meeting warrant, centered on a close reading of a March special town meeting article that was approved by voters, and whether or not the proposal from Mr. Glavin and Mr. Cammann met the requirements to be submitted for a second vote.

Mr. Newman argued that the requirements had not been met.

But Mr. Glavin said the selectmen had a responsibility to take the proposal back to the voters.

Mr. Newman said the proposed lease terms submitted by he applicants did not constitute a lease and therefore the article could not go on the warrant.

“You don’t have a lease,” said Mr. Newman.

“You have a proposed lease,” answered Mr. Glavin.

“There’s your mistake,” Mr. Newman shot back. “You’re saying to me that we have a proposal and you’re saying that proposal is a lease.”

“You’re not a lawyer,” said Mr. Glavin.

“I have spoken to a lawyer,” he said.

“Okay, where’s your opinion?” asked Mr. Glavin.

“Excuse me,” said Mr. Newman. “I have a motion on the table.”

“Yes, but now there’s discussion,” selectman Spencer Booker chimed in.

“Well, I’m going to call it in a minute,” said Mr. Newman.

Selectman Camille Rose said the town would be acting in bad faith by not bringing the proposal to the town meeting floor for a vote.

“Given that you’re both on record as opposing the plan do you have the intention to pursue it in good faith?” she asked.

“We can talk about it on a different scale,” answered Mr. Newman.

“But there are 40 town voters [who approved taking the first steps in March] . . . do you have any intention of honoring the vote?” she said.

Mr. Booker said the board’s request for proposals was too vague, did not ask for a business plan and should be republished.

In the end Mr. Newman’s motion to deny the application was approved 2-1, with Ms. Rose casting the dissenting vote.

The whole episode began at a March special town meeting, where voters agreed 40-15 to allow the selectmen to put out a request for proposals for a performing arts stage at the cliffs. Based on a preliminary proposal from Mr. Glavin and Mr. Cammann, the article requested that a lease be drawn up and be presented to the town at the annual town meeting on May 12. The draft article was later changed to a special town meeting for May 19 at the request of the town moderator.

Mr. Glavin and Mr. Cammann were the sole respondents to the request for proposals last month.

They attended an April 21 meeting of the selectmen at which Mr. Booker and Ms. Rose suggested minor changes to the proposal. Ms. Rose suggested that a lawyer acting for Mr. Glavin and Mr. Cammann draw up a lease agreement. The proposal was not referred to town counsel for review.

Mr. Newman did not attend the meeting, but said he would have suggested major changes to the proposal and would have insisted that a draft lease be prepared by town counsel.

“I was out of the country,” he said, “But the [Circle Productions] proposal was totally abhorrent.”

At the Monday meeting Mr. Newman laid blame with the applicants for discussing their proposal so far ahead of the deadline for the special town meeting warrant.

Later in the week though, speaking to the Gazette, Mr. Nemwan relented.

“Okay I take that back. It’s a little unfair. But I personally felt that when Camille suggested minor changes, a red light goes off, we needed great changes. I’m not prepared to go to the town meeting with a lease which I personally feel is not beneficial to the town.”

He added that he felt the proposal should have been referred to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

“This is one of the most important votes I’ve had in my six years as selectman,” he said.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr. Glavin said political considerations had dominated the issue.

“The board was very polarized, with Spencer in the middle,” he said. “I understand why he voted no. I probably would have sitting in his chair.”

He said that Monday’s vote effectively killed the project, for this year at least, but that he and Mr. Cammann have not given up.

“We’re a bit discouraged at the moment, but we’re not dead,” Mr. Glavin said.

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