Friday, May 19, 2006

Preserving King Philip's Rocks - a report from Fred Martin

This is a late report on the really major historic preservation events in Sharon, where on May 8 the town meeting voted a $600,000 bond issue to buy land at King Philip's Rocks. I have been occupied with a proposal deadline and have not had a chance to recount what went on. Kurt Buermann's 10-taxpayer article was set for the frst item of business on the third day of the town meeting, and took up something like two hours of debate. The finance committee announced a surprise 8-1-1 vote for indefinite postponement of the motion. This recommendation was debated for about half an hour, and finally defeated by voice vote. Immediately an amendment to require $500,000 voluntary non-taxpayer donations within one year was introduced by the opponents, and finally defeated by about 10 votes. Then an amendment was made to authorize only negotiations to determine a price for appropriation at the next town meeting, again defeated by a voice vote. Finally the original motion was voted, and passed by about 65 to 31, greater than the necessary 2/3 vote for a bond issue.
This vote will preserve the integrity of a site eligible for the National Register on traditional and cultural grounds. The land in question is about 4 acres due east of the archaeological center of the site, a hill where the equinox sun rises directly at its summit, where the solstice sunrises occur at either end, and where skyline stones exist. Doug Harris of the Narragansetts made an eloquent speech about Native American religion, and the need to preserve land so that children could see the same world that their ancestors did. The vote carried mainly on the issue of religious tolerance, with some really eloquent speeches made. For example, with 8 synagogues and 7 churches, why couldn't Sharon have a place of importance to Native Americans? The voters on the floor were for religion and culture, and the town officials voting on the stage were unifomly for schools, housing, and libraries. Ted Timrek's film on preservation of New England stoneworks shown a week before the town meeting undoubtedly helped in getting people to the meeting who were of the first persuasion. They also stayed until the third day of the meeting, when voters interested in the schools, housing, and libraries had settled their issues and were no longer interested in attending. Sharon town meeting has no quorum, and very small groups have been known to settle rather large issues.
One person said this was the only time in living memory that a taxpayer-introduced issue involving land had ever passed the town meeting. Perhaps this shows that the 10-taxpayer article is a powerful tool for historic preservation, which is a grass roots issue that is popular with voters -- the governor of New Jersey won on this issue, I was told. Ted Ballard thinks that a presentation on how to save land should be made at the next NEARA ( meeting, and perhaps Buermann, Timrek, and I can do so, narrating a DVD with film clips from the community TV coverage of these events.

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