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New start for a Comprehensive Plan gains support

If the reconstituted Comprehensive Plan Advisory Board meeting last week started with a challenge to its leaders, harmony and optimism reigned by the end of the more than hour-long session.

Ten members who served on the Advisory Board prior to its dissolution last spring were invited back by Task Force members — Councilwomen BJ Ianfolla and Meg Larsen, along with Planning Board member and Building Inspector Reed Karen.

Gone — at least for now — are professional consultants who came in for their share of criticism. Advisory Board members said they didn’t welcome a lot of guidance that the Massachusetts-based consultants had brought to the process because it didn’t reflect the views of Islanders, and dissolved into politics, member Lily Hoffman said.

She had started the meeting questioning the lack of deep planning experience of task force members. But by the meeting’s end, Ms. Hoffman thanked the Task Force members, congratulating them “on getting us going.”

Advisory Board member Wendy Turgeon said she didn’t recall the previous Advisory Board “being enamored” with the consultants and thought their advice “hit a brick wall” when it came to producing a vision statement for the Town’s future.

Mr. Karen was mostly silent during the discussion, but Ms. Ianfolla said she spoke to town grant writer Jennifer Mesiano Higham about whether money might be found to pay consultants if the group decides there is a need.

She promised the issue of hiring a consultant would be assessed by April, in time to seek grant money if the group believes it would improve the process.

Advisory Board member Sean Clark pointed to the reality that the Town continues to depend on a lot of volunteers and speculated there are probably residents with planning expertise who might offer their assistance “to get us across the finish line.”

Resident Bob Kohn, not a member of the Advisory Board, repeated the old saw that a consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you what time it is.

Michael Shatken, just resigned from the Town Planning Board, and also not a member of the Advisory Board, said a professional consultant can bring some skills to the process, especially dealing with land uses.

In discussing the process, the two Town Board members said they don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Instead, they won agreement to use the 1994 Comprehensive Plan as a base, taking what still fits today and building on it with ideas developed in the past year and new information that needs to be gathered now.

Information that was lacking when the previous Advisory Board was working on a new plan, was current census data. That information has just become available, Ms. Larsen said, noting it shows some earlier projections to be incomplete.

“Our estimates for the number of people on the island for the year 2020 with the pandemic were pretty accurate,” she said. The estimate was 2,745 and the census stated 2731. But there was data lacking on race and ethnicity in those estimates.

More on the census data will appear in a future story.

One thing Task Force leaders and Advisory Board members know is the COVID pandemic has resulted in a booming real estate market and brought a lot of more wealthy people to the Island.

Advisory Board member John Kerr is concerned about a controversial survey conducted in the past year that many thought failed to reflect accurately attitudes of many on the Island. It appeared to conclude there was little need for affordable housing, but followup efforts by Advisory Board members showed that more people were seeing the need for housing for those returning to the Island after college, as well as for volunteer firefighters and EMTs vital to the Island.

The information from the survey can’t be eliminated, but more effort to collect additional information from Islanders needs to be done, Ms. Larsen said.

There also is concern about how information is posted on the Town website page for the Comprehensive Plan.

The Freedom of Information laws require information be made public, Ms. Larsen said.

The group agreed that anything posted should be marked as a draft until it becomes a solid decision .

Members of the Advisory Board will know when something is bring posted even if it’s a draft, Task Force members promised.

They asked Advisory Board members to review the 1994 plan with an eye to identifying what needs updating.

The next meeting is on Monday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m., available to all via the Zoom link that appears on the Town website.