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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Charlestown wants more open space

At least some people do
Peeps® love open space. Be sure to enter
Progressive Charlestown First (maybe Last) Peeps Contest
By Will Collette

There were two seemingly unrelated matters that came up at the March 1 Planning Commission meeting that seem to open the door for Charlestown to acquire yet more open space.

One was a long discussion about a consultant’s proposal for a new way to calculate how much open space we already have. The other was a brief but lively discussion about the prospect of the town buying all of the streetlights in town.

Both proposals could lead to an expensive new expansion in open space acquisition for the town.

Before the Planning Commission launched into its agonizing two-hour session on the Dark Sky ordinance, they spent about an hour going over recommendations from the Planning Commission’s paid consultant, the Horsley Witten Group

The consultant’s recommendations came at the request of the Planning Commission. Planning Commissar Ruth Platner has visibly chafed whenever people cite the fact that 42% of Town land is currently untaxed, and that when favorably taxed property, such as land subject to huge tax breaks under the “Farm, Forest and Open Space (FFOS)” program, is included the figure rises to over 50%.

Platner’s need to be able to say that only a small percentage of town land is really and truly open space has been palpable. Thus, it was inevitable that she would command the town’s paid consultant to come up with a way to cook the town's land inventory books.

Platner’s reasoning is that she can sell the town on more open space purchases if she can show that only a teensy weensy bit of C-Town is open space.

I don’t know if the Horsley Witten Group proposal works for Platner or not. However, given Platner’s casual relationship with the truth, I am deeply suspicious. When the town cashes in the remaining $2 million left in Open Space/Recreation Bond authority to consummate the Y-Gate rip-off, that will leave $1.5 million to play with.

One possible use for that $1.5 million might be to buy all the streetlights in Charlestown. Not a joke. Apropos of almost nothing, Town Council President Tom Gentz mentioned during the middle of the dark-sky ordinance discussion that the town was thinking of buying all the streetlights in town.

He said the lights are currently owned by National Grid. He also said there is a financial advantage to the town to buy the lights instead of continuing to pay a monthly fee plus the cost of the electricity. Gentz said the town would recoup the cost of buying the street lights in just a few months. 

Planning Commissioners implement new
dark sky policy
The Planning Commissioners immediately seized on that idea as a great way to darken the town. “Buy them and turn them off,” they said in almost one voice.

Indeed, the town could buy all the streetlights and turn them off. In accident-prone areas, Commissar Platner suggested the town could put up reflectors. After the town buys the streetlights, we could rip out the poles (setting them aside for the next New Year’s Eve bonfire) and plant shrubbery in the postholes. Each former streetlight site could add some more square feet of open space to the town’s supply.

If taking down the streetlight poles disrupts the town’s electricity supply, well, that’s fine with the Planning Commissioners. They said – and I’m not making this up – that the only time Charlestown is truly dark-sky friendly is during extended power outages.

These streetlight postholes could then join the town’s list of “phantom properties” that were thoroughly investigated by Council Vice-President Deputy Dan Slattery last fall.

Let's pull up all those light poles
We haven’t heard a follow-up from Deputy Dan or his posse on this subject. The last time they met was November 9 when they went over the list of big and little parcels of town-owned land scattered all over town.

That meeting ended in somewhat surreal fashion as Deputy Dan and his posse discussed ways the town could survey, mark off and signpost all of its properties to prevent rustlers and poachers. The conservative estimate for the cost of that was pegged at $500,000. 

But since we’re going to be cashing in the $2 million Open Space/Rec Bond anyway, we can afford it all. Including the shrubbery in the streetlight postholes.