Yarmouth council tentatively backs nonprofit art center, delays pathway decision

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YARMOUTH — A proposal to house a nonprofit, community art center at the Winslow Fire Station on Center Street has some town councilors and neighbors concerned about parking and neighborhood compatibility.

The Town Council voted 5-2 on July 21 to allow Town Manager Nat Tupper to work on the terms of a lease and a draft agreement with the art group.

The decision is not an endorsement of the project, but Councilors Carl Winslow, the namesake of the Winslow Station, and Erv Bickford were opposed to even the first step of the process.

According to their business plan, the mission of Firehouse Arts at Winslow Station is to “sponsor, provide and coordinate affordable or free programs in diverse forms of arts for the greater Yarmouth community.” The group would provide a space for workshops, classes and meetings,  for films and lectures and a small gallery.

The idea for an educational art program started last year with members of Yarmouth Arts, a volunteer organization that has supported the arts in the community for about 10 years. Two initiatives grew out of the conversations: an artists’ co-op dedicated to helping local artists sell their work, and Firehouse Arts at Winslow Station, an educational center for the community.

David Leith of Mast Lane, a member of the Firehouse Arts board of directors, said the goal of the project is to create an art center in the heart of the village. He said there would be classes for preschool children and their parents, residents of Bay Square and Bartlett Circle, and special needs and at-risk students.

He said classes would provide instruction in classic arts such as painting and drawing, but also photography, creative writing, boat building, fly tying and quilting.

But a few neighbors expressed concern about parking issues and congestion.

Barry Godowsky of 330 Main St. said it is a good project, but not for that location. He said he wary about night classes, parking shortages and the intensity of use within the neighborhood. 

Councilor Randy Bates, however, said the plan is very well done.

“This is exactly what I want to see happen in this town,” he said. “… I wanted the Yarmouth village to be more active, to promote something that is Yarmouth. An art center in the heart of the village is a terrific idea, in theory. We have a dormant public building that has been used for storage for nine years. We can turn that around by approving this and having all these Yarmouth volunteers to add vitality and add that much more to the community.”

Councilors Andy Kittredge and Leslie Hyde both agreed to have Tupper work on the agreement, though Hyde wanted the neighbors to participate in the negotiations and encouraged them to work with police on parking problems on their street. 

Janice Cooper, a Firehouse Arts board member, agreed that parking is a concern on the street, where there are no sidewalks, but said it is an existing problem not caused by the organization.

“We want to use this project to improve this situation,” she said. “There are a lot of frustration out there but haven’t gone to the town asking for changes in parking regulations or traffic patterns on the situation. We want to make Center Street a pedestrian-friendly, kid-friendly area. We are trying to make it better.”

Bickford said the firehouse does not lend itself to this type of use.

“There are other opportunities out there that would be better than that,” he said. “I don’t think that the Winslow station fits your needs very well.”

Winslow said he is not pleased about subsidizing another program in town and said the educational art program is not similar to the 317 Main Street Music Center.

“317 Main Street is a purchased piece of property, run as a commercial enterprise. It is a purchased building not donated by taxpayers,” he said. “This proposal looks to me like another subsidized program for the taxpayer of Yarmouth. We already subsidize Community Services, we subsidize Royal River Park, we subsidize Pratts Brook, we subsidize a lot of things in Yarmouth. This is just another subsidized program.”

He said there will be no tax income from the property, and the lease amount proposed – $1 for the first year, $3,000 for years two through four and $5,000 for the fifth year – is minimal.

He said many organizations are looking for funding assistance and in a time when Yarmouth may have to go to bond for town facilities and a turf field, it is no time for the town to take on another subsidized program.

Winslow also said while the space is not an active building, it houses historical fire equipment.

Council Chairman Steve Woods supported the proposal and said while he respects residents’ concerns about parking, he is also respectful of the need and opportunity this project represents.

“This is first step in the process,” he said. “I think another reality to consider is that the building has not been active as a fire station other than storage and some historical fire artifacts for about nine years. Giving a local group an opportunity to get a program up and running could result with them raising the money to purchase the property, to improve the appearance of the property and put it in a positive use for the neighborhood. This is not just a good idea it is important to the town of Yarmouth.”

Tupper will work with Bates on the details of the proposal. They will discuss the lease proposal, the option to purchase the property and the potential for town financing. Tupper will also speak with the fire chief, will evaluate storage opportunities and will have lease details by the next council meeting.

Condon Pathway

In other business, the council tabled a decision to fund the planning and engineering phase of the Beth Condon Pathway extension from Hannaford Plaza to East Main Street ramp. The town would have to pay 20 percent of the total project – about $5,000 for the engineering plan – and about $100,000 in total costs.

Councilors mostly supported the proposal to complete the quarter-mile portion of the path, but expressed concern about vehicle traffic and pedestrian lanes under the Main Street overpass.

Tupper told the council that the decision to fund the project could be held off until the Aug. 18 council meeting and said the funds would not be allocated in the current fiscal year. Councilors would have time to budget for the project in the 2012-13 budget, he said.

Members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee spoke in support of the extension and Bill Richards of 3 Penny Royal Court offered to contribute $1,000 for the project. 

 “That’s how much I believe in it,” Richards said.

But councilors decided to consider alternative paths to traveling under the Main Street overpass. They also want to see how Route 1 will be altered by a pathway in that area.

The council will meet in a workshop Thursday, Aug. 4, as the Operations Committee on Monday, Aug. 8, and will hold a regular council meeting on Thursday, Aug. 18.

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