Lenox committee weighs whether to back beach renovation project
LENOX — The Community Preservation Committee has begun considering whether to support a proposed town beach renovation project.
Town Manager Christopher Ketchen and Town Planner Gwen Miller presented the application for a Lenox Beach renovation on Monday evening to the committee, which evaluates and votes on whether to recommend Community Preservation Act projects to annual town meeting voters in May.
The Selectboard had approved the $169,290 proposal at its most recent meeting. The beach upgrade qualifies for a portion of CPA funding reserved for open space purchases and recreational initiatives.
"There isn't any question in my mind that this is a perfect candidate for CPA funds," said Chairman Edward Lane.
"This isn't a matter of us just frivolously deciding we want a better beach house," added Selectman Channing Gibson. "I think this is a great opportunity for us, I can't imagine leaving this on the table. The beach needs it and it's the right thing to do to upgrade that facility, especially for access."
The Select Board unanimously approved sending the application to the Community Preservation Committee. Members urged a swift design study, using already authorized town funds, to get a firm handle on the cost of the upgrade.
The total cost of the plan to upgrade beach facilities and make the Laurel Lake recreation area handicapped-compliant is $313,000.
At last May's annual town meeting, voters authorized $100,000 for the project. Then, at a special town meeting in September, voters approved an additional $44,000 from "free cash" if the town won a matching state grant to cover the remaining $169,290.
The town applied for but did not win the state match, Miller told committee members. Even though the state considered the application "strong," other communities with greater needs among 44 applicants won the competition for the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation parkland improvement grants, Ketchen said.
Since the committee decided last month on a one-year hiatus from actively soliciting applications for CPA funding as it undertakes a review and potential update of its mission statement, the town request for funding to replace the rejected state grant is the only proposal up for action this winter.
If approved by the CPC and then by town voters, the beach upgrade work would be scheduled for fall 2017, Ketchen said.
The project is designed to reconstruct the dilapidated beach house and grade the steeply sloping entrance to the beach, adding new walkways and other improvements to make it fully accessible and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
During the Monday night CPC meeting, member Thomas Delasco described the Lee town beach on Laurel Lake at the end of a farm field as "far superior" to the Lenox site "on a cliff." He asked whether any thought had been given to cost-sharing possibilities.
Chairman Frederick Keator said that "with less amenities, [Lee] has a superior product. ... They keep lifeguards there until dark and provide nice barbecue areas in a picnic setting. It seems to be maintained on a regular basis."
"This is all good and I don't have any serious issues with the money and the project," he declared. "But what's the plan for further use?"
He noted parking problems at the Lenox beach because of many out-of-state vehicles, "which is great, you want to have that amenity for visitors to the town, but not to the detriment of people who live in the town who then can't use the beach."
Ketchen responded that a possible "residents only" policy had been discussed at Town Hall, augmented by passes distributed to local lodging establishments for use by visitors. "It's hard to know until you do it what the outcome will be," he said.
In response to CPC member queries about maintenance of the town beach, Selectman Channing Gibson pointed out that there is a beach maintenance plan, and that the police are responsible for locking the gates after hours.
"I think that this is a very noble cause and it's the kind of thing we should be doing," said CPC member Albert Harper. He called for expedited action on the beach project application.
The CPA involves a surcharge on residential property taxes, exempting the first $100,000 of assessed value. For commercial property owners, there is no exemption on assessed value.
Funds raised locally are matched by the state at 50 percent.
Other project categories eligible for funding include historic preservation and affordable housing. Available Community Preservation funds in Lenox totaled $1,331,523.50 as of Tuesday.
The Community Preservation Committee will resume discussion of the beach upgrade project at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 8.
The newly elected leaders of the committee are Chairman Anthony Patella of the Lenox Community Center board and Vice Chairman Thomas Delasco, a mechanical engineer with the EDM architectural and engineering firm.
How CPA funds are collected ...
Lenox residents pay a surcharge based on the assessed value of their property, minus $100,000. Commercial property owners pay the surcharge based on the full assessed value of their property.
To calculate the annual surcharge, a resident would multiply the home value (minus the $100,000 exemption) by the current tax rate of $12.16 and then multiply that figure by 3 percent.
For example: The owner of a home assessed at $357,900 would pay $94.08 to fund the Community Preservation Act. The state offers a 50 percent match for the total amount collected locally.
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