Board chair urges advance planning
The chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen issued a cautionary note at this week’s board meeting about the prospect of resuming business as usual this summer in light of the persistent coronavirus pandemic.
“Unfortunately, I expect our businesses, particularly restaurants, will be in a similar situation this year as they were last year” as a result of the pandemic, Jennifer Constable said.
She went on to suggest that town officials discuss “well ahead of the summer season” the implementation of accommodations similar to or improved over those that were in place last year “so that restaurants can open up at maximum capacity as soon as possible.”
Last year state COVID-19 regulations allowed, through an expedited process, local licensing authorities (in Hull’s case, the selectmen) to grant permission for restaurants to offer expanded outdoor dining, with accompanying alcohol service, as a way to make up for lost revenue resulting from indoor- dining restrictions and related issues.
Also looking toward summer, at the board’s Feb. 17 meeting there will be a review of the effectiveness of last year’s parking restrictions, and how they impacted Hull residents’ quality of life, and a discussion of what restrictions to put in place for the upcoming season.
Meanwhile, the board is partnering with Cohasset on a Pilot Regional Grant application for funding of up to $250,000 (to be shared by both communities) from the Massachusetts Office of Business Development to support efforts to promote regional recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19.
“The goal of this pilot program is for municipalities and organizations to work together to create solutions for recovery in their specific economies,” Constable said. “We are working through the details of the work to be funded.”
Possible projects could include marketing for local businesses and expanded outdoor seating opportunities for restaurants.
“I envision this grant [if awarded to the town] as being able to help promote different types of events on summer weekends, working with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and business owners,” Town Manager Philip Lemnios said. One possibility might be “to cordon off part of Nantasket Avenue and to allow restaurants to create an open [outdoor] dining area.”
Constable noted that the Economic Development Committee and the director of planning and community development, Chris DiIorio, are assisting with various grant applications.
On another pandemic-related topic, Lemnios reported that the first vaccine clinic took place this week at the Mary Jeanette Murray Bathhouse for residents age 75 and older, who received their first dose of two.
“It went very well. We’ve been saying consistently, and I think residents understand, that we are limited in administering vaccines by the amount given to us by the state on a weekly basis, which is 100,” he said. “I think the vaccination process will begin to broaden, with the state announcing today that it will be using a dozen or so CVS’s across the state as additional vaccine sites.”
Lemnios predicted that within the next four to six weeks residents will have an easier time getting the vaccination, “if that is their wish.”
Moving on to a weather-related subject, Lemnios, on behalf of the board and residents, expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Department of Public Works, Fire Chief Chris Russo, the Sewer Department, and others involved with work that was accomplished during this week’s storm.
“We obviously didn’t get a lot of snow, but there was significant washover in a couple of spots in the Village and marsh-area flooding in some areas, and Gunrock residents were happy with the additional height of the seawall,” he said. “Normally such a storm would have led to quite a bit of flooding in that area, but there was only some puddling.”
Lemnios also acknowledged Light Plant Operations Manager Panos Tokadjian and Assistant Operations Manager Mike Schmitt for standing ready to get the newly leased generators up and running in the event of a National Grid power outage due to high winds or other storm-related issues.
The generators were not needed, but Light Plant staff members handled power-related problems that occurred at a couple of homes. “The Light Plant did a great job and responded quickly when needed,” Lemnios said.
In a preview of upcoming board meetings, Lemnios said state Rep. Joan Meschino of Hull and Sen. Patrick O’Connor will provide a legislative update at the board’s Feb. 10 meeting, and Paragon Boardwalk owner Chris Reale will present an overview of his proposed mixed-use development on an adjacent parcel. The proposed fiscal 2020 town budget will be presented on Feb. 17.
In other business at the meeting:
* During the continuation of an earlier hearing, the selectmen voted 3-2 in favor of granting EZ Smoke Shop owner Bhavesh Patel a new annual wine and malt license but prohibited the store from selling single-serving containers of liquor such as individual cans of beer, wine coolers, and hard lemonade.
Constable and board member Greg Grey voted to deny the application after she expressed concerns of her own and from some residents that there are already other shops in the Kenberma business area that sell liquor. “I question the need for the additional sale of liquor in this district,” Constable said.
At the same time, more than 80 residents signed a letter of support for Patel’s request.
One Phipps Street resident, Dan Sullivan, shared his objections in a letter to the board, related in part to concerns similar to those voiced by Constable.
Patel told the board before the vote that his business, which sells primarily cigars and cigarettes, has suffered from the statewide ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, and that the sale of wine and malt beverages would help replace some of that lost revenue.
Selectman John Reilly said his first inclination was to vote against granting the license because he saw no need for another liquor store in the area. What swayed his opinion, he said, is the fact that Patel recently improved property in town that was in a state of disrepair and that he also plans to open another convenience store in Hull. “You have a good track record for everything you have done in town,” Reilly said.
Selectwoman Donna Pursel said Patel’s investment in the community is “commendable” and noted that the menthol and other restrictions would be a “hard hit” for any business.
Constable also thanked Patel for his investment in the community.
* Greg Grey updated the board on Monday’s Community Preservation Committee votes of approval for projects that will go before town meeting: $15,000, Paragon Carousel wooden railing repairs; $173,000, Hampton Circle Playground; $10,100, Mobi mats (durable, tear-resistant beach access surfacing); $31,000, Council on Aging building repairs; $10,000, identification and wayfinding signage; $40,000, Town Hall entrance restoration work; and $10,000, Fort Revere storyboards.
“I encourage the public to start thinking about what they might like to propose for next year’s [round of Community Preservation Act funding],” Grey said.
* The board entered into executive session after the meeting to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with nonunion personnel.
Town awarded two state grants related to business revitalization
The town of Hull was recently awarded a Shared Streets and Spaces grant from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for the area outside the Mezzo Mare restaurant.
“The purpose of this grant is to assist municipalities in meeting their individual needs for more and safer outdoor recreation, commerce, community activities, and mobility,” Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Jennifer Constable said.
The town also received a Local Rapid Recovery Planning grant from the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative program and Department of Housing and Community Development.
This grant will provide technical assistance by consultant teams with expertise in effective strategies to stabilize business districts.
“This work, which will be completed by June, will aid community and local businesses in economic recovery efforts,” Constable said.
Planning work will include an assessment of baseline data on the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the local economy and will also provide specific action items to address that impact.