Thursday, December 12, 2002

Fort Williams master plan moves forward

Published in the Current

A master plan for Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeht is expected to go to the Town Council early in 2003, laying out plans for a new playground near the Southwestern Preserve, an extension to the Cliff Walk, a tree-planting program, reconfiguring the Ship’s Cove parking lot for better safety and improvements to signs around the park.

The object is to offer direction for future park planners to make decisions about maintenance and upkeep of the park’s buildings, roads, walkways and open spaces, according to Paul Phillipps, chairman of the Fort Williams Advisory Commission.

A previous master plan, adopted in 1990, had been followed almost to completion, Phillips said. “Eighty to 90 percent of what was in that plan had been accomplished,” he said.

To guide the future of the park, the commission decided to create another master plan, even if part of the plan was to change very little of the park. “There are areas that should stay just the way it is,” Phillipps said. Unlike the 1990 plan, there will be no new major capital improvements.

“Maintenance really was the big issue when we started looking at things fort-wide,” he said. There was no plan for maintenance and no way to pay for it. The commission created the Fort Williams Foundation to raise money, but the foundation needs a goal to raise money toward, Phillipps said.

The commission also hired Land Use Consultants of Portland about a year ago to create the plan, bringing together issues relating to the fort as a whole and to smaller areas within the park.

A near-final draft of the master plan is being discussed this week by the commission, and depending on the amount of work remaining to complete the plan, the new chair of the commission will present the proposal to the Town Council in either January or February, said Phillipps, whose term as chair expires at the end of the year.

“The look and feel of the park should not change,” he said. Keeping it up will cost money, and the commission is looking for people to donate or bequeath money to fund some of those projects.

Right now there is a budget from the town to keep the fort going, but there isn’t enough to do some of the work being proposed, and even the money to create a master plan has been cobbled together from savings in small projects over time.

Phillipps said the town’s public works department has a big hand in that, because they work quickly and efficiently and have come in under budget on a number of maintenance efforts in the past few years. He also said Cape based private contractors have been able to help the commission save money.

Town Councilor Mary Ann Lynch last month floated a proposal for charging an entry fee into the fort, which has been projected to raise as much as $200,000. Phillipps said he is personally opposed to charging fees. The commission, he said, has historically rejected charging a fee, following a number of studies.

“Every time we look at it, we come down opposing it,” he said.

Phillipps pointed out, though, that the commission is just advisory and a final decision would be up to the Town Council.

The master planning process is designed to allow for public comment
and input into the overall design and specific options for projects, Phillipps said. “We do want the public’s involvement and participation,” he said.

He expects the Town Council to have a workshop on the plan before voting on it at a public meeting, giving citizens a chance to speak at those meetings as well as Planning Board hearings that would also review the plan.