Yarmouth council moves deliberately on art center proposal

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YARMOUTH — While creators of Firehouse Arts would like the Town Council to make a quick decision on whether the nonprofit group can use Winslow Station on Center Street as a community art center, they will have to wait until November for a final vote.

At an Operations Committee meeting – a committee of the whole council – on Monday, most councilors said they prefer to hold two public votes on the matter, one on Thursday and one in November.

According to Town Manager Nat Tupper, the proposal has been in the works since March, but it will be detailed on Oct. 20 to allow public comment. The council is expected to consider the comments and take a final vote in November.

The Winslow Arts group is proposing to create a community art center that would be a place for free or affordable public art programs. If the council agrees to lease the fire station to the group, the building would be used for meetings, workshops, classrooms and a gallery.

Tupper provided the council with a draft lease that would offer the arts group a five-year lease with an option to buy after three years. It would pay $1 rent for years one and two, and $5,000 rent for years three through five.

If the group makes improvements to the building, the costs may count toward future rent. The town will insure the building against loss and the group will insure its contents, operations and liability.

The lease would also have the group pay for utilities, repairs and improvements, with town assistance for plowing and maintenance of driveway and parking areas used by the public.

Hours of operations are proposed to be 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday and possibly Friday. Saturday hours would be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday and holidays would be 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. There would be a maximum of six special events per year for larger gatherings and exceptions could be made by the council.

Councilor Carl Winslow, the namesake of Winslow Station, said he has financial concerns about the project. And Councilor Erv Bickford said he would like to know where the firefighting equipment that has been stored in Winslow Station will be kept before he agrees to the lease terms.

Tupper said there are zoning conditions that have to be addressed, too.

He said the lot could be moved into the Village 1 District by amendment or by contract zoning, art centers could be added to the Medium Density Residential zone to make it a permitted use, or the definition of municipal uses and buildings could be expanded to civic uses and allowed in the MDR and other zones.

The changes would have to go to the Planning Board for review and the council would have to hold a public hearing on the changes when approved.

Tupper also said the council has to agree on a purchase price if the group is interested in buying the property. He suggested 70 percent of appraisal, and added the appraised value includes the value of improvements.

Councilor Tim Sanders said he is “pretty much in favor” of the proposal, but said he would like to set a minimum cap on the price of the building.

“I understand this a lot better than I did last week, and think the public needs to be updated as well,” Sanders said.

Although the council agreed to hold two more meetings on the issue, Janice Cooper, a Winslow Arts board members, said Monday night that the decision to discuss the issue for an additional month feels like a delaying tactic by people who oppose the proposal. She said neighbors and residents have had ample time to ask questions, research the project and talk to those involved.

“If we keep going on and on like this,” Cooper said, “we are going to lose momentum.”

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.