Jamestown, R.I., might have gotten a new town council two weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean old issues have gone away, particularly the controversy over the campground at Fort Getty.
The issue over the RV park resurfaced Dec. 3 as Councilor Mary Meagher offered a lengthy proposal that would reduce the park by as many as three dozen seasonal campsites. Her plan also called for fewer tent sites and slots for boat storage, along with increases in the seasonal costs for both, the Jamestown Press reported
Intending her plan for “immediate implementation,” Meagher wanted the council to vote on changes at its Dec. 17 meeting. But, following a call from council member Blake Dickinson for more information, the council agreed to a special meeting on Dec. 10 when decisions could be made.
The schedule sent resident Maurice Laflamme to the public microphone to voice a range of complaints and to accuse Meagher of taking a “rush-rush” approach. Another resident, Paul Sprague, who ran for the town council in November’s election, also advised a slower approach. Dickinson agreed, saying the pace of change in Meagher’s proposal was “not realistic.”
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser opened by noting that the previous council voted in August to relocate 16 seasonal campsites from the north end of the campground “to create more of a sense of open space.” It was also done to ensure that the campground wasn’t fully dominating the Fort Getty landscape. The sites were to be reset at the center of the campground, in an area traditionally reserved for transient campers staying no more than a few days.
Meagher’s proposal – an attempt, she said, “to lessen the crowded and haphazard character of the park” – would remove only seven of the 16 seasonal sites on the north end and move them to the transient area. It also would eliminate all of the 15 seasonal sites along Fort Getty Road. In addition, it would reduce the total number of sites in the transient area by redrawing boundaries there to create fewer but larger sites.
Meagher said some sites in the transient area measure “only 30 feet wide by 48 to 50 feet deep.” Those sites, she added, should be reconfigured to provide at least 2,000 square feet. “What are now three sites become two, or two sites become one,” said Meagher.
She suggested that the town’s staff should review all campsites to ensure that none measures less than 1,800 square feet. In the end, said Meagher, the total number of RV campsites should be reduced “by no less than 23, perhaps as many as 35.”
She also proposed limiting the number of boats stored on trailers along Fort Getty Road to only boats of returning seasonal campers – “or a maximum of 26 who stored boats in 2012,” she said. According to Bill Piva, director of the Recreation Department, 32 to 40 boats are stored in a typical summer. Meagher said the plan would help reduce congestion along Fort Getty Road and in the areas adjacent to the boat ramp, outhauls and beach.
Meagher’s plan would reduce from 15 to 12 the number of tent-camping sites at the top of the hill adjacent to the RV park, but she suggested new tent sites might be developed in the area near the campground’s gatehouse.
To make the changes “revenue neutral,” Meagher proposed raising fees, setting the seasonal rate for RV camping at $4,500 instead of the current $3,700 price. She also proposed increasing the fee for boat storage from $450 to $720.
Keiser said the fees were fair, noting that the rate at the seasonal campground operated by the town of Middletown at Sachuest Beach is $4,700. Middletown’s park is different in several ways from the one at Fort Getty, said Keiser, but it is sufficiently comparable to serve as a model for rates in Jamestown.
Meagher also proposed that the town hire a landscape architect “to design parking, amenities and landscaping at the pavilion.” She called the pavilion a lovely building that deserves a greater level of attention and creativity that a professional designer could bring. She suggested that such an architect should be on board no later than January.
While Meagher called her proposals “a small reorganization,” Laflamme countered. “It’s really a big adjustment,” he said, adding that she was “trying to rush through.”
He complained that her plan was news to him. “This is the first time this plan has come up. Do you really think it should be voted on in a week?” He repeatedly urged the council to consider the issue at a more deliberate pace.
“This doesn’t have to change for next year,” said Laflamme. “There should be a comprehensive plan.”
Meagher said the deadline is near for sending notices out to campers and those on waiting lists about the availability of sites and their costs. “If there are changes, they need to be made by the end of this month,” said Meagher.
Sprague sided with Laflamme, saying he was skeptical about the council’s ability to make big decisions about Fort Getty in its opening days as a council.
“I don’t think you can implement [substantial changes] in the short term,” he said. Sprague suggested making modest adjustments and then leaving the issue alone for another six to eight months.
“Don’t waste your whole term working on Fort Getty,” Sprague advised, adding that it’s not entirely certain that large changes need to be made.
“If you talk to the campers, you’ll find they like it just the way it is,” he said.
For his part, Dickinson, the board’s lone Republican, said he needed to know more about the issue before voting for major changes. He noted, for example, that though the campground is administered by the rec department, “I have never once heard this department make a presentation on the subject.”
Not only did Dickinson want to see such a presentation, he said it should be thorough. Piva agreed, saying he would have a presentation ready for the council for the Dec. 10 meeting.