HARVARD -- Dan and Michele Page have lived on Fairbanks Street in the center of town for three decades and over that time have not had cause to complain about events held on the Town Common, such as the annual Apple Blossom Festival -- until the increasing number of events that disturb the neighborhood but have "nothing to do with the town ... or with townspeople" moved the couple to take action.
Speaking out during the public comment period of the selectmen's meeting last week, Dan Page referred to a letter addressing the situation that they sent to neighbors and copied to Selectman Leo Blair, who was listed as a contact for others to weigh in.
Michele Page also went door to door. "Michele made the rounds" and talked to neighbors, he said. "They are also concerned."
"We're big fans of the Apple Blossom Festival, plant sales, the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, those are all absolutely great," he said.
Other events, though, not so much. Too much, actually.
From bike races to road races, there have been too many event-related traffic tie-ups in the center of town and too many weekend mornings when folks who live around the common wake up to "blaring music" or voices barking over a loudspeaker, Page said.
Once, the Pages called Selectman Ron Ricci, who was surprised to find that the amplified hubbub from a bike race could be heard "all the way to the police station."
Then there's the Longboarding Festival, now in its third year. Run by a for-profit, out-of-town outfit, the two-day weekend event set for August includes races on designated roads and sign-ups and awards at the General Store, where a "half-pipe" ramp in the parking lot will take up several parking spaces this year. Selectmen approved the Longboarding event and use of the town-owned parking lot at a previous meeting.
"We'd like some consideration," when selectmen give their permission for an event on the common, Page said, suggesting they rule out PA systems or at least tone them down.
Another concern is an upcoming Civil War reenactment sponsored by the Harvard Public Schools that includes an overnight camp-out on the common and staged battles. No question the event will be noisy and it's likely to cause neighborhood headaches, including crowds converging on the center of town, where parking is a problem.
Getting down to specifics, Michele Page cited an incident two years ago as the Longboarding Festival was wrapping up. Road barriers put up during the races were down and she was driving up Littleton Road when a boarder traveling "full-tilt" suddenly appeared, landing on the hood of her vehicle. "Luckily, I was going very slow," she said.
Last year, she was having supper outdoors with family members on Littleton Road when a couple of boarders "exploring the neighborhood" walked by spouting obscenities, she said. "Have people forgotten this is a residential area?" she asked. "Nobody asked us how we feel" about all the events being sanctioned and scheduled on the common these days.
Harvard has a beautiful common, she said, and town-centric activities are "fine" with her, but selectmen should set some guidelines so neighbors don't have to confront visitors who get out of line. "As taxpayers and residents, we deserve respect," she said.
Laura Andrews agreed, calling on boards that approve "these activities" to consider the events in context versus "our quality of life."
Later in the meeting, the board discussed establishing a policy to address the issue.
Blair said he'd received calls from "people on the common" after the board voted four to one in favor of the Longboarding event (he voted against it.) "They'd like more structure, maybe less frequent events," he said, positing that it might make sense to consider the following points:
* What kind of entity is proposing the event, nonprofit versus for-profit, for example.
* Send out notices to neighbors.
* Weigh event "merits" versus the "strain" on the DPW and Police Department.
* Consider limiting the total number of events held on the common each year.
Selectman Lucy Wallace said the existing entertainment licensing set-up covers it. When an application comes in, selectmen announce there will be a hearing at their next meeting. "We do have a process," she said.
But the event that seems to have sparked controversy is the Longboarding Festival, which is, after all, not a "community" event, Wallace said.
Board member Marie Sobalvarro agreed that "scarce resources" should be parceled out carefully. And parking is always a problem on the common. But selectmen don't always say yes. "We did say no to the New England Bike Race," she said.
Ricci said the entertainment licensing process should suffice, with selectmen setting times, considering noise levels and whether the event is indoors or outside. "We have a mechanism to use," he said.
While he did not favor ruling out every out-of-town organization that wants to hold an event in town, "we do have to meter them," he said.
Chairman Stu Sklar agreed. "I heard the residents loud and clear," he said. And he also heard from the DPW director and the police chief about the strain on their departments.