Letter: Conservancy played on emotions of public
The recent Wetlands Board hearing which resulted in a second unanimous decision to approve the building of an enlarged boathouse at Williams Wharf was a repeat of the last meeting, using the same tactics of intimidation:
—A rowing crew employed to stand during the entire proceedings.
—A favorable crowd packed into the room in response to a large ad placed by the Conservancy in the previous week’s Gazette-Journal.
The range of emotions of the speakers in favor went from tears to vitriol while extolling the hard work, tremendous educational benefits, crew successes and college opportunities provided by the program.
But the problem is this hearing was not about the programs at the wharf. No one is opposed to the crew program or to a boathouse to accommodate the crew. The real issue of the hearing should have been about the enlargement of the boathouse to 19,224 square feet, with 3,900 square feet of wraparound decks to cover over 7,000 square feet of wetlands and the opposition spoke to this point.
The opposition is to the commercial use of the boathouse for parties, weddings and other functions that have resulted in the boathouse enlargement over what was initially proposed. To encroach over tidal wetlands, the project must be "water dependent and reasonable" (VMRC). A recent example of commercial activity is the Conservancy notice in last week’s paper about a party at the wharf for $5 per person featuring a cash bar.
The success of the rowing program, the rewards in college scholarships and opportunities and the educational opportunities are already happening without the addition of a huge boathouse. Using a comparison, Gloucester, which has a large rowing program, has a modest metal boathouse on the Severn River. Other points were made about the sacrificing of wetlands for the convenience of a parking lot, when alternative plans are available. Since the mission of the Conservancy is "Preserving and protecting the natural resources of Mathews," how does a parking lot have a higher priority over tidal wetlands? A question was posed about why the development of that site should not be limited to the same guidelines that other developers and property owners have to follow.
The entire project scope at the wharf has morphed from a simple boathouse serving rowing and non-motorized boats, to include commercial activities that have affected the quiet country environment and safety that the people of Williams Wharf enjoy. The addition of a monolithic boathouse only promises more of the same. These comments all addressed the boathouse issue.
It is clear that the Mathews Land Conservancy played on the emotions of the public and attempted to discredit the opposition. The objective of the intimidation was an attempt to silence everybody and have everybody go along to get along.
The people who oppose the project, especially the adjacent neighbors of Williams Wharf, not only have a right to be heard, and to be heard with respect, but to have their opinions considered. To anyone who attended the hearing, from the beginning, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
Susan B. Eley