Church entertainment license seen by some as neighborhood nuisance


HARVARD — For the third consecutive year, Elm Street resident Billy Salter, irked by alleged insouciance of the Unitarian Universalist Church relative to its neighbors, brought his complaints to the selectmen Tuesday night.

Although his rhetoric was aimed at the church’s attitude and not its good works, he said, the rub that has became a cause for him is street side parking during events held at the parish hall, such as the annual Harvard Schools Trust Gala.

Paging through a thick reference folder sectored off with tabs, Salter cited incidents he has documented to show the church’s lack of response to neighbor’s concerns and complaints about event parking and the town’s seemingly laissez faire attitude about it.

During parish hall events in the past, people have parked all over Elm Street, on both sides of the narrow road and in front of resident’s homes. But apparently it’s more than vehicular clutter and traffic-related inconvenience that concerns him.

In at least one instance a vehicle blocked his driveway, Salter told the board. But when he called the police, the officer who responded, while commiserating with his situation, explained there was nothing he could do about it. Police couldn’t tow the vehicle unless there was an emergency, he said.

During a craft fair held at the church hall last year, a no parking sign was “nailed into my lawn,” he said, and he was surprised to come home and find it there, since he had not been consulted. One more item in a litany of insulting incidents, in his view.

Speaking during the public comment period, Salter also called the board to task for taking up the UU Church entertainment license application out of order, and suggested they did so deliberately to take the wind out of his sails.

Listed as the eighth item on the agenda, Chairman Lucy Wallace suggested discussing the entertainment license earlier instead, moving it up to move things along. The board did so and made its decision, agreeing to bypass the formal public hearing process, per its new policy. Instead, it was announced that the issue would be discussed at the Feb. 5 meeting.

The New Rule

In doing so, the board satisfied its relatively new policy regarding repeat issuance of entertainment licenses. Although the original policy requires a full-blown public hearing before a one-day entertainment license is issued, under the new rule it’s up to the board’s discretion whether or not to do so for repeat applications, basing its decision to grant or deny the application on past performance and the police chief’s recommendations.

In this case, they decided not to hold a public hearing, which includes notification of abutters and other specifics. In lieu of a formal hearing, according to the new policy, the public is given advance notice via the meeting process that the issue will be taken up at a time certain, in this case the next session. The board agreed there would be a mechanism for public input, although they did not say how, exactly, that would happen.

The license will be on the Feb. 5 agenda, the board agreed.

In the meantime, it was decided that Town Administrator Tim Bragan and Police Chief Edward Denmark would sit down with church representatives to set parameters for the gala, coming up in March, including parking on one side of the street only, with signage, and a designated contact person to call if there’s a problem.

All of that was over and done with before Salter showed up, and he saw it as strategic avoidance, since he had called the selectmen’s office that day to say he was coming to the meeting. “I was shocked and dismayed that you addressed this early…knowing I’d be here later,” he said.

“I appreciate your concern for the public process!” Salter snidely commented, questioning the selectmen’s commitment to proper procedure and accusing them of violating their own policy.

Selectman Bill Johnson posited that Salter’s take on the procedural gap was due to out of date information on the board’s web site and he thanked him for bringing it up.

But Salter was not to be mollified. “I think there should be a public hearing,” he said. In fact, he said it more than once.

Salter stalked off after Wallace denied him the option of popping back up to the microphone once the public comment period was over. At that point, the discussion was limited to the selectmen’s table, she said, and it was time to end it.

Paul Morris, of Lovers Lane, which branches off from Elm Street, said he shared Salter’s concerns. “An opportunity for public comment would be greatly appreciated,” he said.

The UU Church entertainment license application will come up again at the Feb. 5 meeting.