Provincetown Town Meeting Passes Housing Initiatives

CCB MEDIA PHOTO Provincetown Finance Committee Chairman Michael Canizales speaks in favor of creating a Year-Round Rental Housing Trust.

Provincetown Finance Committee Chairman Michael Canizales speaks in favor of creating a Year-Round Rental Housing Trust.

PROVINCETOWN – Housing was again the focus on the third night of Provincetown’s Town Meeting.

Voters last night passed a number of initiatives designed to increase the town’s stock of year-round rental and affordable housing.

Among those initiatives was to expand the residential property tax exemption to include property owners who rent their units to year-rounders. Towns across the commonwealth have the option by a vote of selectmen or town council to institute a split tax whereby those who live in the town year-round get a break on taxes and seasonal residents pay a higher rate.

Provincetown’s initiative, if approved by the state legislature, would extend the tax break to those who do not live in town year-round but who rent their units to year-rounders.

During the debate, some residents were concerned that people would find a way to trick the system. But town officials behind the initiative said that safeguards would be in place through the state’s Department of Revenue.

Another concern was that by separating property tax payers into different categories it would put year-round residents against seasonal homeowners. The head of a seasonal homeowner association spoke against it. But the article passed as determined by the moderator by a majority in a show of hands.

Another initiative that passed after lengthy debate as the last article of the night was a special act that would create a Year-Round Housing Trust.

Town Attorney John Giorgio said he was not aware of the initiative in any other town in Massachusetts.

“We’re trying to be trail-blazers,” said Provincetown Finance Committee Chairman Michael Canizales.

The trust, under the town, would buy up existing units in town and rent them out at market rates.

Canizales, as a major proponent of the plan, presented the article to town meeting. After the article passed, he spoke about its significance.

“Provincetown has a chronic problem that so much of our housing stock turned from single family homes into seasonal rental condos over the past three decades,” Canizales said. “What this does is Instead of trying to build new units, it’s having the town buy up existing units that are currently seasonal condos and turn them back into year-round rentals. So we’re remixing the stock using our balance sheet toward our chronic problem which is year-round rentals. We have no development risk, because its existing stock. It’s taking the stock that currently exacerbating the problem and turning it on its head and making them solve the problem.”

Town Meeting also passed a zoning article that would allow apartments in the Residential 1 zoning district, which is currently limited to single family homes. Again the debate centered on the worry that the zoning restrictions on the apartments would not be able to be enforced.

But Provincetown Town Planner Gloria McPherson said that with any zoning rules, enforcement is mostly complaint driven and enforcement is through the building department. “Some will scam the system, some won’t,” she said.

Town Meeting voters also passed an article to spend $4.9 million to construct a wave attenuation system at Macmillan Pier meant to protect the pier during large storms. The total cost to the town is expected to be lowered significantly by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration that would pay 75 percent of the cost. The article also requires approval by the voters because the construction would be paid for through a Proposition 2 1/2 tax override. In the final vote, it was approved by the needed two-thirds of voters with 131 in favor and 49 opposed.

An article to purchase a three-quarter acre parcel known as Winslow Farm, located next to the town-owned Veterans of Foreign Wars building, was indefinitely postponed on the second night of Town Meeting. The article was voted Monday night and failed to garner the necessary two-thirds. A petition was made for reconsideration and again it failed to gain the needed two-thirds.

But a mix-up in procedure meant that an amendment and not the actual article had been voted Monday night.

Tuesday night, selectmen decided not to bring the article before Town Meeting for a third vote under the thinking that it had failed to pass twice and bringing it for a third vote would be seen as bad form by Town Meeting.

“We’re moving on,” said Chairman of the Provincetown Board of Selectmen Thomas Dunigan.

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