The only project on Saturday’s special town meeting agenda will go before voters without support from the town’s Planning Board.
CHATHAM — The only project on Saturday’s special town meeting agenda will go before voters without support from the town’s Planning Board.
After more than three hours of debate Monday, board members voted unanimously with one abstention not to recommend a rezoning plan to create a Main Street Theater Overlay District that would allow Newton-based Alexandra Properties to build 24 1,400-square-foot condominiums as part of its plan to renovate Monomoy Theatre and related buildings.
The decision came after multiple board members and members of the public — through letters and comment at the remote-only meeting — expressed concern that the language in the bylaw amendment did not specifically guarantee a theater would ever operate again on the historic property.
Landowner/developer Greg Clark and his attorney, Michael Ford, said that was always Clark’s intention, and that wording had been included to clearly tie the theater into plans for the condo development. They expressed willingness to immediately rework the language with the town attorney, though, to include more assurances.
Town officials Monday stated support for a theater-centric plan and discussed a variety of options — including more negotiations this week and pushing back the town meeting date — to be able to bring a rezoning plan with newly amended language before voters.
But with less than five days before the special town meeting, which was called through a citizen’s petition from Clark and 200 signed-on Chatham voters, Planning Board members finally decided Monday they were simply out of time.
The Board of Selectmen is due to vote on its own recommendation to voters tonight, and the town meeting article is the only agenda item for the Finance Committee on Wednesday.
There would be too little notice for voters if officials were to change the bylaw’s wording as late as Friday night, some members of the Planning Board and public objected. And weather could get colder for a later town meeting that must be held outside because of the pandemic.
So Chatham voters on Saturday — at a special meeting officials have estimated will cost the town $11,000 — are due to decide on a plan that no one besides Clark and Ford supported at Monday’s public hearing.
Sentiment was different last fall and winter, when the Planning Board supported Clark’s idea of restoring and updating the theater buildings. Monomoy Theatre closed after the 2018 season when the previous property owners and the University of Hartford, which was renting the building, couldn’t agree on who should pay to address health violations found in the theater’s living quarters.
Planning Board members made it clear Monday there was initial enthusiasm behind saving the beloved theater. But objections have grown louder in recent weeks, both about the lack of details from Clark on plans for the theater and the condominium part of the project, which Clark has said is needed to finance the theater restoration and operation.
Concerns voiced Monday included the 30-foot height of the six apartment buildings next to Veterans Field, the cost for the two-bedroom condos that is rumored to cost close to $1 million, how the dense project could change downtown, whether there could be different owners for the residential and theater sections of the properties and the amount of affordable housing associated with the project.
Opponents worried that Clark could make millions on sales of real estate that could change the area’s character and leave an empty, unusable theater behind.
In an email blast to Monomoy supporters Sept. 25, former artistic director Alan Rust said voters need to realize that plans Clark has shown so far for the theater restoration could not support a college-training program like the one that existed there for decades, because the plan did not include living, rehearsal, theater-creation space and parking required for a resident summer company.
Clark expressed frustration Monday at the mistrust and said he had every intention of making the theater a vital, year-round town cultural center — though not necessarily with a college-associated summer program. Clark said he has been consulting with an existing equity theater that would include students in a summer program, and there would be no rental cost because the money from the condos would pay for the reconstruction.
He noted that his family has lived part-time in Chatham for 20 years. He noted that his son is an actor with experience in a variety of troupes, and that his development company has previously worked on three performing-arts centers.
Follow Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll on Twitter: @KathiSDCCT.