A petition to have the Town of Bourne withdraw from the Cape Cod Commission was discussed at length at Monday night’s joint meeting of the Bourne Finance Committee and the Bourne Board of Selectmen. The petition for withdrawal is contained in Article 19 on the warrant for next month’s Annual Town Meeting. Committee members and selectmen were divided in their opinions on the article.
Finance committee member Judith A. Conron asked that there be a discussion of the article since she will be the one presenting the article to voters next month. Ms. Conron expressed her personal satisfaction with the commission and the work it does. She was complimentary of the expertise that planners with the commission offer towns when it comes to local, state and federal rules and regulations.
She pointed out that the Bourne Transportation Advisory Committee has turned to the commission for help in solving some of the town’s major traffic issues, and planners have also helped in efforts to revitalize downtown Buzzards Bay.
“It is a long and hard project and we need professionals, and we get them free of charge,” she said.
Ms. Conron amended herself, admitting that it does cost each household $16 a year for the town to belong to the Cape Cod Commission. She noted that if Bourne were to withdraw from the commission, the town would not get that money.
“So if you think, ‘I don’t want to belong to the Cape Cod Commission, we could do great things with that money in the town,’ you won’t see that money,” she said.
Ms. Conron said that she was pleased when the commission’s regulators did not give their approval for the CanalSide Commons project because otherwise it would have meant increased traffic at the Bourne Bridge Rotary. She noted that some people were upset at the actions of the commission, but “that’s part of a regulatory agency, you are going to have some judgments you won’t like.”
“You don’t get to be a better town by withdrawing from one of the places that can actually give you what you need to be a better town,” she said.
Committee member Jeffrey C. Perry spoke out in direct opposition to Ms. Conron. Mr. Perry said that, in his opinion, the commission has treated Bourne “like a doormat.”
“Because they realize that anyone shopping in Bourne is going to take dollars away from businesses farther down the Cape,” he said.
He said the stringent regulations imposed by the commission have put severe limitations on the size of businesses in Bourne. The A&P in Monument Beach, he said, was forced to cut back on 40,000 square feet of its space because of the commission’s ruling. He charged that whenever a business wants to operate in Bourne, it is the commission, not the Bourne Planning Board or the building department, that puts up roadblocks.
“I’ve been waiting for this day to come along when we get a chance to get out of it and maybe make advancements in this town,” he said.
Selectman Donald E. (Jerry) Ellis sided with Mr. Perry.
“We pay $175,000 a year to the Cape Cod Commission, but we are not getting our money’s worth—ever,” Mr. Ellis said.
A longtime critic of the commission, Mr. Ellis said the agency does have value in providing technical assistance, but on the regulation side, “they drop the ball.” He said that to avoid the commission, many businesses build to 9,999 square feet, one foot shy of the 10,000 square feet minimum that results in automatic commission review.
He was also highly critical of Bourne’s representative to the commission, Michael A. Blanton. Mr. Ellis said that in the nearly one year he has served on the board of selectmen, Mr. Blanton has not once appeared before them with any kind of update.
“The only way you find out is if you read it in the paper. I take issue with that, and I’m going to give serious consideration to reappointment of that gentleman,” he said.
Committee member Kathleen M. Legacy advised that the issue of membership in the Cape Cod Commission needs study. She said that she believes the commission, in theory, is not a bad thing, but it has not always done the best thing for the people of Cape Cod or its communities.
“Like any large organization, there are good and bad points. As a finance committee, we need to keep an open mind,” she said.
Committee vice chairman Mary Jane Mastrangelo agreed that more information, more research into the issue is needed.
“This is a huge issue, not something we can decide in one night or with a few facts,” she said.
Ms. Mastrangelo said that she has been to recent presentations by the commission and agrees with Ms. Conron that they offer members a good amount of resources. She also noted that the commission appears to have realized that the way it has regulated in the past has caused issues, and changes are being made.
“We have to stay abreast of what they’re doing, not what they did 10 years ago,” she said.
She responded to Mr. Ellis’s criticism of Mr. Blanton not keeping the board of selectmen informed about commission matters. She suggested that having the Bourne representative to the commission appear before the board should be a regular thing on the agenda. Ultimately, however, she believes that “there are pluses and minuses to the Cape Cod Commission, but they’re moving in the right direction as far as regulation.”
Committee member John E. Redman asked if it was even possible for the town to leave the commission. Town administrator Thomas M. Guerino said that it would take an act of the state Legislature.
“The town cannot of its own volition without the endorsement or approval of the legislature,” he said.
The committee chairman Michele P. Ford asked the committee if they wanted to take a position to approve the article, which would mean that they support the notion presented in it, or if they preferred to indefinitely postpone any decision until the night of Town Meeting. Indefinite postponement would allow the petitioner to present the article and allow Town Moderator Robert W. Parady to entertain debate on the issue.
Committee members voted unanimously to indefinitely postpone.