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NW residents pack 7 Islands town hall

By Staff | Feb 19, 2016

Some said the ideal Seven Islands would include single-family homes, a marina, a restaurant and light retail, and would retain much of the charm for which the northwest Cape is known.

Meanwhile, a more vocal group said it would be better left as is, and that very few were given notice of any of the public input meetings, or “charrettes.”

Those were primary sentiments expressed as a standing room only crowd gathered at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School on Wednesday for the second town hall meeting on the Seven Islands.

More than 200 people packed the cafeteria to see and hear about the design options that CPH Engineers came up with as a result of city and public comment and the three-day charrette.

Much of what the city and the engineers heard, however, was a litany of complaints from a vocal group that said they would prefer nothing happen to the land, said the process was far from democratic, and that there was little or no notice given for the town meetings and charrettes.

CPH presented five concepts, lettered A through E, with each concept being of higher density and intensity as you went up the alphabet.

Option A was a plan that totally conformed to current zoning, with plenty of green space, single-family homes fronting Old Burnt Store Road, and a number of between 210 and 670 residential units.

Option B, which was the favorite of both engineers and staff, was also low intensity and combined multi-family housing and commercial nodes, with an increase in building height to five stories.

Option C upped the ante on units, density and building heights, with a maximum of six stories. There would also be improvements on Old Burnt Store and a possible boardwalk.

Option D would have nearly 1,000 units with hotels and other amenities, such as a park and marina, while Option E would include 1,300 units and 70,000 square feet of retail space. Both options would include high rises up to 12 stories.

Javier Omana told the crowd that the concepts were just that – concepts – and that the city council would make the final decision on whatever gets presented, not a developer.

There were many questions that arose. Rich O’Donnell emphasized the case of the Northwest Cape Neighborhood Association, saying highrises are a non-starter with them. Another person said that there needs to be dockage in any option, and that he saw nothing there.

And then there was the group that wanted Option F, which was to do nothing, or Option G, which was to end all discussion because they weren’t given enough notice.

“This democratic process isn’t very democratic. If the city council decides, why are we here?” Gerrie Johnnic said.

“This is a democratic process. The way we imagined this whole procedure was not top down. We hired a consultant, used a democratic process with charrettes to get your input,” City Manager John Szerlag said. “The consultants were tasked with coming up with various options, and there will be at least two more points of public contact.”

“We are not operating in a vacuum. We have not made any decisions. The only contact we’ve had is a half-hour where we exchanged ideas,” Councilmember Rick Williams said. “You will be involved in the process. When we have a meeting, you’ll have public input. You will influence the vote.”

Much of the debate centered around a difference of opinion regarding how much public input has taken place.

Russ Moody gave a lengthy speech about residents not having a chance to engage. He said the city promised a link on its website that never happened, and multiple public input opportunities.

“The city has not involved the public. The public part of the charrettes, minus the consultants, staff and the NWNA, there was a handful of people,” Moody said. “When are you going to follow through on the promise you made to engage the neighborhood?”

Others said the criticism has become personal and is not based on fact.

“You are attacking me. The neighborhood association has been fully engaged; mailers have gone out. I am offended by your comment that we have not engaged the public,” Omana said.

Most of the audience input was constructive.

Jane Bliss, a 27-year resident of the Cape, said she would like to see low density housing and maybe a restaurant.

“Our concerns are when they change zoning, you open the door to crazy things that don’t belong in a residential neighborhood,” Bliss said.

Denis Catalano said many of those who spoke did not represent the feelings of the NWNA, but he understood, as it is an important issue.

“I was disappointed in the reaction of the crowd. The city and consultants have done a reasonable job. If you can’t make a meeting, that’s your problem,” Catalano said. “It was good to have an open forum like this. The council members got the idea we don’t want high rises.”

Vince Cautero, director of the Department of Community Development, was happy with all the input, regardless of the sometimes sharp criticism.

“I was pleased. We had a lot of people here who had a lot of opinions. This is what you need to really get to what the public wants,” Cautero said. “Mr. Catalano believes we’ve done our due diligence and we have.”