WHITMAN — After approving participation in the Community Preservation Act at this year’s Town Meeting, residents might ask, “What’s next?”
The received some answers recently as the Whitman Preservation Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 20 held an informational meeting on the Community Preservation Act, approved in 2000 and adopted by Whitman at this year’s annual Town Meeting.
“On the one hand, our job is to, obviously, look at these applications and make recommendations at Town Meeting about the use of Community Preservation funds, but I also think this is a good opportunity to find out what the community wants,” Chair Ryan Tressel said. “I’m very excited about the possibilities that this act and this law brings to Whitman and the ability that we’ll have to hopefully fund some really terrific projects to help preserve our community.”
The law requires such an informational session and review of the way the board is set up.
Five of the nine members are from town committees, as required by the state law – Elaine Bergeron of the Historical Commission, Jake Dodge of the Conservation Commission, Brandon Griffin of the Planning Board, Michelle LaMattina of the Recreation commission and Patricia McKay of the Housing Authority. At-large citizens on the commission are Tressel, Vice Chair John Goldrosen, Melissa Lothrop and Richard Rosen.
“Part of the purpose of this meeting … is to inform the people of Whitman about the CPA (Community Preservation Act), especially because our application for CPA projects has been released and is on the town website,” Tressel said. The review also covered what is and is not allowed and the application process.
The CPA was inspired by a Nantucket group that created a system for buying up open-space land for preservation, which interested a lot of other communities around the state that wanted to do the same thing.
Projects must fall under any of four categories: Open space; Historic Preservation; Recreation and Affordable housing.
The program is funded by a 1-percent surcharge on real estate property taxes for both residential and business properties which goes into a CPA fund. Of those funds, 10 percent has to go toward each of the open space, housing and historic preservation categories each year, matched by the state. Town Meeting can vote to invest more, but the 10 percent is required. Five percent of funds may be retained for administrative expenses.
“This year, the [state] match was 35 percent, but it varies every year,” Tressel said. Much of the variation depands on revenue raised by the state.
“The law is very complex and there’s no governing body on the law in this state,” he said. “It’s not run by or overseen by anything, so a lot of the restrictions that are put on community preservation projects have come from courts as citizens in various towns have raised lawsuits against certain community preservation projects, so it is a little tricky to get through them.”
For example, Town Meeting can approve measures to acquire, create or preserve open space, but funds cannot be used to support, rehabilitate or restore open space. Applicants will, therefore be asked about additional funding sources for projects.
Likewise, while historic places can be acquired or preseerved, but not created or supported. CPC funds cannot support recreation spaces, either, but can be created, acquired, rehabilitated, restored and preserved. Housing has the least amount of restrictions on it.
“We will be giving recommendations to Town Meeting and Town Meeting will appropriate the money,” Tressel said. “We are not a body that will oversee these projects.”
Applicants and relevant town committees will be charged with oversight.
Looking to the procedures of other towns, Whitman has set up a two-step application process: pre-application outlining project basics and a timeline, advancing to the application process if projects are deemed allowable under state law. Sponsoring parties and estimated costs and the amount sought from the CPC would also be covered in the pre-application process.
“We felt the two-step [application] made the most sense from our end [and applicants’],” he said.