TOWNSEND -- Representatives of nonprofit organizations who hold events on the Townsend common crowded into the Cemetery and Parks Department office to discuss last month's policy changes.
On Feb. 11, the Cemetery and Parks Commission voted to prohibit trucks and cars from driving on the common during band concerts and weekend events.
Until the change was made, the agreement between event sponsors and the town was that vehicles could enter the common, unload what was needed for the event and then vacate the common. Several problems developed. Vehicles damaged light poles and the fence, cars were left on the common for the day and the grass was getting beaten down by the traffic, Commissioner John Barrett said at the March 11 meeting.
On Thursday nights, the common hosts band concerts while local nonprofit groups host a lawn party. On the weekend, nonprofit groups hold fairs and bazaars. The sponsoring groups raise money by charging vendors a fee for table space.
Marcia MacMaster, who helps to coordinate the fair run by the Townsend Methodist Church, said many of her vendors would not attend if they could not drive to their tables.
The Townsend Historical Society also feared the changes. "We have several people who cannot walk 12 feet. It's a hardship. We're going to lose these people," said Claire Kauppi, of the society.
"Meet us halfway. What can we do to correct it?" Barrett said.
"I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place," Rick Oakley III said. He has cooked for more than 50 fundraising events on the common and has seen the damage done by cars. He once investigated a broken light post.
A car hit the post, the driver got out of the vehicle and straightened the post and drove off, according to what he was told. "No one would say who did it," he said, "I was livid."
Oakley suggested that sponsors put down a damage fee before using the town park. "If there's any problem, you don't get it back," he said.
A fee would not address the entire problem. The damage caused by vehicles can be expensive and impossible to repair, said Superintendent Roger Rapoza. "If you can't replicate these things then you're going to have an oddball light post. That's my major concern because the common's beautiful area. Before you know it, we have a mish-mash on the common," he said.
The commission currently asks for a $50 donation from groups using the common, but groups do not always contribute. The account has accrued a little over $200 in the past two years, he said. Because the common is a town-owned park, the town cannot charge a user fee.
The St. John the Evangelist church holds a bazaar on the common every year. Susan Tocci, from the parish, suggested making a form that holds the sponsor of the event responsible for any damage to the common. In turn, that responsibility can be turned over to the vendors, the ones actually driving on the common, she said.
Charging a flat fee or a sliding fee based on the revenue generated was also discussed. "We don't want to have a cumbersome system," Barrett said, "I'd say forget about the deposit." The sponsoring group could be responsible for any damage to the town property.
He drafted a motion to suspend the prohibition of cars on the common and to create a form for all users stating the name of the group, the responsible person and the contact person. The form would include an encouragement for users to reduce the amount of traffic on the common and a notification that the group would be held responsible for damage.
The motion passed 2-1, with Commissioner Ray Boyes voting against it.
"You love that common. It's a part of all of us," Commissioner Tubby Boucher said.