HARVARD — One of the outstanding issues resolved at the recent Special Town Meeting, whether the Board of Selectmen or Park and Recreation Commission has authority to allow organized, nonresident use of the town beach, carried the weight of controversy.
Specifically, the two entities didn’t see eye to eye on it.
When the matter came up in the context of preparing the STM warrant, the selectmen said their aim in forwarding Article 10 was to clear up a legal point, not to wrest control from Park & Rec., which manages the beach and operates the town swimming program.
A commissioner at that meeting, however, objected to the bylaw amendment sought in the article, which added selectmen to the approval process. The existing bylaw delegated that responsibility solely to Park & Rec. The proposed change would make the process cumbersome, he said, envisioning the need for the commissioners to come before the selectmen every time they plan an event at the beach.
The bylaw, Chapter 13, Section 13-2, states that access to the town beach and beach parking lot is restricted to residents or taxpayers and their guests “and other groups authorized by the Harvard Park & Recreation Commission.” The amended bylaw adds “with the approval of the Harvard Board of Selectmen.”
“This is not about Bromfield rowing,” Selectman Leo Blair said when he introduced the article. Nor was it about who controls the town beach, he said. But it did address ownership.
According to Blair’s Real Estate sketch, the chain of title for the parcel in question shows title was granted to the selectmen in 1947, “unlike other parcels under the care and custody of Park & Rec.,” such as the Town Common. So it’s a legal move for the two entities to act together in this instance, he concluded.
Park & Rec, for its part, asked voters to reject the article, which was not brought to the commissioners for input. They suggested a sit-down with selectmen to resolve the issue rather than changing the bylaw, which would affect nonresident use of the beach.
But Blair disagreed. “While that’s partly true, legal custody of the property resides with the selectmen,” he said. So Park & Rec couldn’t enter into a legal agreement involving organized activities with guests, such as a fishing derby or boating event. The bylaw change would not affect residents and their guests or the swimming program, he said.
Park & Rec’s response was that after 50 years under its management, it couldn’t hurt to spend another couple of months working out a “formal agreement” with selectmen.
Resident Billy Salter suggested a “friendly amendment” to avoid a bylaw change, but it didn’t fly.
“Of course, it could be deferred,” Blair conceded.
But it was not. The motion passed.