PROVINCETOWN — Three candidates running for two select board seats in the June 18 election were onstage at town hall last week to answer questions from the Banner and the public.
Moderated by attorney Bruce Bierhans, the forum featured select board chair Cheryl Andrews, 59, recently elected select board member John Golden, 63, and current planning board chair David Abramson, 51. While comity prevailed as the candidates outlined their visions and complimented each other, real differences emerged on matters of policy, focus and priorities.
One of the clearest differences emerged early on, when the candidates were asked what their main priority or goal would be on the select board. Abramson began by saying, “The town needs to assess what’s the best path forward with Harbor Hill. [The] town voted overwhelmingly for it. At town meeting I voted against it. Now we own it. ... I think we need to vote for the money being asked for at town meeting and find out what is going to be the subsidy to run that property. And if it isn’t something we’re willing to take on for a long-term commitment, figure out what is the exit strategy.”
When a later question returned to Harbor Hill, Abramson elaborated that the town will need to
“make a decision: is that subsidy something the town wants, to have housing like that as part of the trust, or will we exercise the exit strategy and try to sell units? What selling units looks like, I don’t know. It may not be that easy to sell just one or two units in a building.”
Andrews had a very different position on Harbor Hill.
“My understanding is it’s actually rather simple,” she said. “They weren’t able to get tenants in there as quickly as they’d planned. There are good answers for why certain things have taken longer than projected. Let’s get this project to be the success we all want it to be. There’s a potential in a year or two, or three or four, that the town turns around, throws up its hands and says we cannot do this. I get that. But let’s give it a fair shot.”
Golden staked out a middle ground on Harbor Hill. He said he had voted for the purchase at town meeting, but that he thought the Year-Round Rental Housing Trust had originally been set up to purchase smaller properties.
“To take on this huge project right out the gate is probably not the best way to go with this, but that’s what we have,” he said. “I’m sort of torn about selling, not selling, all that stuff.” He concluded that the project needs to be kept afloat financially while the town weighs its options.
Another area of clear disagreement was the proposed police station at Jerome Smith Road, which will also be on the ballot Tuesday, and is on the warrant for a vote at town meeting on June 24. Golden and Abramson both support the proposal and voted for it as members of the planning board; Andrews was the sole vote against the station on the current select board.
“There was a time when PAAM was being built that everyone hated the building,” Golden said. “Now you go down the street and barely even notice it. For me, we need a police station, and I understand, I work in the construction business, costs go up. These are the kind of things that happen.
“Until we figure out what we’re doing about a police station,” Golden continued, “we can’t really figure out what’s going to happen with the VFW parcel. We have approved looking into putting housing at the VFW spot, but there’s still a question of where everybody wants the police station situated, and until we figure that out, we can’t move forward.”
Abramson said that he supported and still supports the proposed station. “For me, at the spring town meeting, the issue was only the additional money,” he said. “When we found out last year that it was way off of what the original estimate was, I was rather alarmed.”
But after further study, Abramson said, “when you look at what it would cost to go back and start over, for the design fees we’ve already spent, if say maybe you went to buy Dr. O’Malley’s office and move the police station somewhere else temporarily [to build a bigger station on Shank Painter Road], we’re already back up to the additional funding that’s being requested [for the Jerome Smith location].” Abramson added that public outreach should have been more vigorous during the design of the building, and that building committee meetings should be taped for public viewing.
Andrews has received a lot of attention for her “no” vote on the police station, and at the forum a voter asked her to be as specific as possible about the grounds for her opposition. Andrews responded, “There were a number of issues: The financing — absolutely the craziest idea I’ve seen in a long time, to finance that kind of borrowing with free cash. It shouldn’t have gone forward that way. The second thing is the total cost of the project. Third was the size of the building and the design, and the fourth was the location.”
Asked what she envisions, Andrews said, “I’d like to see something that addresses at least some of that. If I’m being asked to pay for something that expensive, I would like it to be something that fits our town. Someone compared this building to PAAM — I don’t see any comparison at all. PAAM is a third the size of what this is going to be, if not a fourth. PAAM is also downtown and surrounded by trees. This will not be…That building never represented what I think of when I think of Provincetown.”
She said the budget has no money for landscaping, when in fact there is $162,000 for “lawn, shrubs, maples, perennials and goundcovers,” in Flansburgh Associates Inc. budget.
The voter then asked what location Andrews preferred. She answered, “There are two, maybe three other locations that were looked at in the first iteration. I’d like to revisit them. Because some of them were put in front of the select board, and then later when it came time to sell it at town meeting, the message was, this is the only place in town we can put this. That’s what does not engender trust.”
The candidates described the experience, temperament and values they would bring to the board.
“The top issues are hiring a new town manager, finding a good path forward with Harbor Hill, having a coordinated response to climate change and really working on civic engagement and getting people more involved in town government,” Abramson said. “Currently I’m the chair of the planning board. I’ve been on that board since 2016, and being on that board has showed me how to work as a group and try to come to consensus working on decisions. I’m the controller for a construction company. I do the finances and the marketing and the H.R. for that company. I’ve worked in some other large companies, and those years of experience have taught me how to work in diverse work teams, how to work together in building consensus and be respectful in working with others.”
Golden said, “I have lived in town 25 years. I rent an apartment. I’m very fortunate — I’ve been in the same apartment 25 years, which doesn’t happen very often — but I’m also in the same position that many people are in, that once that ends, I’m going to be looking. One of the things that’s important to me is housing. When I first moved here it was a pretty vibrant winter community, enough to keep the clubs open.”
“The big picture goal is that we set policy and projects that work towards supporting us having a year-round town, that we’re not closed for four or five months every winter, almost like we are now,” Andrews said. “Here’s the problem: the mixed income that we have always known and loved, where you can have people that have almost no money living on your street, and Pulitzer Prize winners living on your street. That’s the Provincetown I moved to, and I’d like to keep that mix, but if we keep enacting policies that raise the cost of living here, we risk that.”