ROCKPORT — Voting unanimously Feb. 9, the Rockport Select Board denied a request from Rockport citizen David Berry to place a question before Rockport voters in June that would have asked: “To see if the Town will vote that any reconstruction, expansion, improvement, renovation or replacement of the Rockport Public Library be limited to its current location at 1 Limerock Street.” The proposal was characterized as potentially causing more unessessary friction in a town that has seen much recent acrimony over the future of the library’s location.
A brief discussion about the proposed warrant article followed an update before the board by Library Committee Chairman Kathleen Meil, who said the study by Steve Podgajny of the Rockport Library programs and space is underway. Likewise, the town will be spending $7,000 to $10,000 on an engineering study of the library’s existing Limerock Street home to determine how much expansion can take place there, and what the conditions are.
“This just isn't necessary,” said Rockport Select Board member Charlton Ames, about Berry’s proposed referendum question. “We are looking at site as hard as we can. We've heard from Library Committee that the program content is going to be looked at it.”
He added: “It will generate unnecessary friction in the community. I am not going to vote to approve it.”
Berry stood before the board and said the warrant article should be on the ballot, referencing the Nov. 4 town vote. Representing the Friends of Rockport, a loose group of residents who have worked since last summer to keep the library at its current location, had requested its placement on June ballot.
The ballot article was labeled on the Select Board agenda as a “nonbinding referendum.” Berry, however, said the referendum was not intended to be “nonbinding.”
At the November polls, Rockport citizens voted down two measures pertaining to the library. They voted 989 to 867 against developing a plan for a new library. And they voted 1,065 to 786 to primarily consider the RES site as a location for a new library.
Since then, the Select Board agreed to have the current site analyzed by a engineering firm, and the Library Committee agreed to spend $4,000 on assessing its programs and spaces.
There remains concern by some residents, however, that the Select Board and Library Committee will consider moving the library to another spot in town.
Berry said the Select Board, “is not prepared to accept what voters say.”
With “one more vote, and maybe you will agree with them, finally,” he said.
Ames responded: “When a vote is taken, it is the will of the people. We understand that RES is not on the table. We will make every effort to use Limerock. This vote is unnessessary and potentially harmful.”
Berry responded: “It's very straightforward. We can do anything, as long as it on that [1 Limerock Street] site.”
Select Board member Geoffrey Parker said the referendum could unnecessarily limit the library’s future with unforeseen consequences, particularly if another nearby site is suitable.
Parker said a whole new conversation about the future of the library has commenced, with a new tone, new opportunity for input and a new level of civility.
He advised Berry to go through that process.
Select Board member Ken McKinley said he would not support the referendum.
“Studies are underway,” he said. “I don't want to leave us limited in any way.”
Board member Tracy Murphy agreed, and the board members raised their hands to deny the request for the warrant inclusion.
However, Berry still has the opportunity to get the question on the ballot, if he chooses to collect a requisite number signatures on a citizen petition.
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