Sycamore Island
Meeting Minutes

November 14, 2007

Due to our extended high temperatures this fall, the November meeting was held on the Island. It was called to order at 8:00 p.m. by President Jeff Komarow.

Gerald Barton, Richard Bertaut, Ann Marie Cunningham, Jim Drew, Tove Elfström, Peter Fuchs, Ned Goddard, Chris Grant, Rosemary Hart, Jeff Komarow, Sandi Komarow, John Kress, Star Mitchell, John Noble, Sherry Pettie, Chuck Pill, Mary Ann Stein, Tryon Wells, Dave Winer, Jane Winer, and Peter Winkler

The October Minutes were approved without changes.

Treasurer’s Report
Alan Gelb’s report was read in his absence. The main points were that expenses were higher than projected due to rising utilities and county taxes. Alan expects that a dues increase of about $25 will cover these higher costs in 2008. A question was asked on whether dues cover expenses. The answer was that they do not; the Club relies on interest paid on its financial reserves.

Jeff remarked that this is why he scheduled the vote on the construction project now – so that the costs can be incorporated in the regular end-of-year financial decisions, which will be presented and voted on at the December meeting.

Preparations for the Workfest were discussed. Gerry Barton commented on the beautiful design by Dave Winer for the ferry steps platform. Tryon said that this year the Captain’s Float would be left out over the winter.

The Vote Debate
After waiting for the ferry to bring over the last of the late arrivals, Jeff opened discussion of the main business of the meeting. He announced that we were here for a debate about and then a vote on whether or not to approve the construction project and financing.

A Revised Proposal
Jeff started by saying that his own concern had been with the high bids for the project. $250,000 seemed too burdensome for the Club. But a new contractor had been found who bid only $150,000 – Carlos Hernandez, who has been in business for 20 years. Though his English is not good, Chuck Pill speaks Spanish. The Committee interviewed Carlos twice at the Island, his references checked out favorably, and Carlos spent quite a bit of time at the Island preparing his estimates. The Building Committee feels confident in accepting his bid.

Jeff concluded by summarizing the revised resolution to be voted on. Due to the vastly lower bid from Carlos Hernandez, the lower costs presented in the revised resolution are as follows: (1) that the construction costs are not to exceed $150,000; (2) that the Club raise up to $75,000 through loans from members; (3) that each member pay a one-time building assessment of $200; and that members pay an annual fee of $75 until the principal and interest on the loans from members are fully paid (expected to be less than the 10 years presented in the first proposal). Here Jeff opened the floor to questions and comments.

Chris Grant asked who the designer was, and whether there are fully articulated construction drawings. Tryon replied that the design and construction drawings were prepared by architect Lynne Iadarola of Archeus Studio in Chevy Chase. Chuck Pill replied that all plans are done, except for the heat pump. The committee has not yet decided on what HVAC system to go with, pending final bids from subcontractors. Chris said he had two concerns: one, that he didn’t understand how the bid could be final when HVAC is so very costly, and the second was that parallel prime contracting does not work. Ann Marie Cunningham responded that Carlos will include HVAC in his final bid, so there will only be one contract.

Richard Bertaut had questions about opening the membership to waitlisters, and why the projections showed only 20 new members. Jeff replied that this was his estimate of net new members, based on his assumption that some waitlisters might prefer to remain on the list, and that some current members will decide that their use of the Island isn’t worth the increased costs and give up their membership. Richard asked if the Committee was confident that we’ll raise $75,000 on notes from the membership, and Jeff replied yes.

David Winer at this point commented that the proposal we all held in our hands represented an outstanding piece of very professional work by our president. This comment elicited a round of applause.

Mary Ann Stein asked if the new building will bring increased utility costs. Chuck Pill responded that the utilities may be higher, but will be balanced by better insulation. He reminded the group that we'll be remodeling inside the current footprint, which means there is no new square footage being added.

At this point, Jeff announced that it was 9:00 p.m. and suggested a maximum of 1 hour for debate, and then to hold the vote. When members expressed concerns about the late hour, he revised that to trying for 30 minutes of debate.

Chuck Pill asked for comment on the ‘list serve’ message sent out today, and Jeff responded that in future we should limit list serve emails to information only.

Jeff then asked for comment first from someone in favor of the proposal.

Comment in Favor of the Proposal Tryon Wells said the design is a compromise. No one is completely satisfied with it. But the idea that any new construction on the ground level will be permanently ruined by high water is unrealistic. From his experience, flood waters usually last only a few hours and leave only a light film of mud that is easy to clean up. He also commented that the contractor has given us a very good price.

Tove Elfström asked Tryon, "What was the biggest compromise for you?" Tryon responded that he grudgingly gave up membership territory for caretaker quarters, which he thinks should be small.

John Stapko said that this is a lot of money to spend building in a flood plain, especially considering that we’re overdue for a 100-year flood. He passed around a book about the Johnstown flood and asked members to look at the photos. John said he was in favor of spending money to make the clubhouse flood proof.

A discussion followed with contributions from several members on the hydrology of floodwaters on the Island. The concept of removable walls was introduced, to allow flow-through of flood waters.

Tryon asked to speak on hydrology. He said that flood waters would do more damage to a building raised on posts than to fixed walls at ground level. He asked us to think about an individual post which would be slammed into with the full force of large objects in the flood, as compared to a large rock in the river which creates a shield of water pressure that helps divert objects around it. But Tryon went on to say that although the current plan calls for the two bedrooms at ground level to each have a window facing upstream, he would be open to changing the windows to doors, which could be opened in a flood to allow water to flow unimpeded through the bedrooms.

John Stapko said another objection is that we won't be able to rebuild if everything is washed away in a 100-year flood. Ann Marie responded that under Montgomery County building codes, and considering our 'nonconforming' zoning status, if the clubhouse is more than 50% damaged, we cannot rebuild. But if the Island were declared a historical place, that would increase our chances of being allowed to rebuild.

Comment Opposed to the Proposal
Jim Drew referred to his article in the last newsletter, and said that articulating an opposing view is done with hesitancy because the club is not a place for conflict and advocacy. But as a member you’re compelled to express your views. He said that in 1936 when the current clubhouse was built, he’s certain that the members did not look around and say “This is an okay clubhouse”, but rather “This is a beautiful clubhouse.” He urged that we vote no on this proposal so we can develop a more visionary plan.

Here several members took objection to Jim's use of the word "visionary." They said the plan has been worked on for 8 years and it's unrealistic to think that someone will come along with a better plan. It just doesn’t work to move the caretaker above flood waters. The choice is this plan or nothing.

Tove Elfstrom had two comments. One was that, in his opinion, we need to move the caretaker out of the flood zone, and any impediments raised to this idea, such as soundproofing common walls, are mere technological issues which are easily solved. He then expressed concern about increased dues. He said his salary would require that he leave the Club if dues go too high.

Jeff Komarow responded to these two points. First, to remind Tove that the alternate plan he favored was voted down, and, second, that in his letter in the November Islander, Jeff made a commitment that any members who use the Island will not have to leave over money. He will find a way to keep them as members.

Jane Winer commented that at the meeting where the current plan was selected, Holly Syrrakos (a former caretaker’s wife) was asked which plan she would want and she said she preferred the current plan.

Richard Bertaut said that he was formerly a member of the Building Committee, and his strong feeling had been that the quarters should have been raised, and that he was concerned about flow through. He said that he had come tonight prepared to vote no, but he changed his mind. He has faith in the people guiding this project and will vote in favor. He now thinks we should build something upstream to protect the clubhouse from floods in the future.

Peter Winkler agreed. He said he read what everyone had written in the October Islander, and it all made sense. However, since he’s cheap about money, he would tend to be opposed to the project. But these people have spent thousands of hours. If we don’t do this plan, we’ll do nothing.

Another Comment in Favor
Ann Marie Cunningham said she wanted to point out that any benefits of the plan's design have not been brought out yet. For one, right now the ground-level floor in the caretaker quarters is a hazard. One benefit of this plan is that it will improve this floor, making it more stable and flood friendly.

Richard Bertaut said that the financing plan is masterful. The pain to members is much lower than expected.

Ned Goddard urged members to vote for the plan because the caretaker quarters are in desperate need of improvement, and costs will only go up in the future.

At 10:00 p.m., Jeff announced that it was time to vote. Ballots were collected in a ballot box, and held to be counted until the end of the voting period, which was 2:00 p.m. at the Workfest the following Sunday. This process was designed to allow more members the opportunity to participate in this important decision.

-- Sherry Pettie, Recording Secretary