My first job out of college was working for Ernie Keating with Doug Karson at the Public Affairs office for the 102nd Fighter Wing on Otis. Part of my job was to field complaints and concerns from citizens. Many times, I would answer a call from an angry resident wondering why the jets were flying so low near their home. When I asked if they knew that an F-15 fighter unit was next to their neighborhood when they bought the house, the most common reply was something like, "yes, but they still shouldn't fly over my house?
What an insult for one citizen to tag visitors as "riffraff," a description dripping with the disdain these folks have for those they deem to be outsiders."
Watching the display from some attendees at the Selectmen's meetings for the last couple of weeks, I get the feeling that some of the residents of Falmouth Heights have that next-to-the-runway syndrome, where they bought a house knowing it was near a resort area, but want complete tranquility anyway.
It was just about this time last year when the same parade of bulldozing killjoys masked as concerned citizens bemoaned a half-hour extension for the license at the Casino Wharf FX, citing certain collapse of the Heights as we know it if the extension was granted. It was, and the Heights is still intact as one of the most attractive and visited villages on the Cape.
The fear of these perhaps well-intentioned but certainly sorely mistaken naysayers is based in the Falmouth Heights of generations ago. The memories and images are legendary in Falmouth lore. Hundreds - no thousands - of beer-soaked patrons left the two mainstays of the Falmouth Heights night scene at closing time - The Casino and the Brothers Four - sprinkling laughs, smiles, and plenty else on the neighborhood. Putting up with the revelers was seen as an annual cost of doing business, a raison d'etre for the tourism industry in Falmouth. My, how that has changed. Today, two restaurants that serve alcohol but feature a full menu adorn the bottom of heartbreak hill and by most accounts add character and vitality to the village. Rather than offer support for the jobs they provide and the visitors they attract, though, the neighbors continue to rail against any pro-visitor initiative, using fear and intimidation to get their way. The $100,000 donated by Casino Wharf developer Frank Messina to build a public loo still sits in the bank, waiting for the residents to okay a comfort station in their village.
This week, that bad behavior was on display once again, as the Selectmen responded to an enthusiastic but bullying crowd of Falmouth Heights residents wanting to put an end to the 11PM closing of the Heights Beach parking lot. They offered the same tired refrain from the same complainers who have been longing to turn Falmouth Heights into West Falmouth Harbor for twenty years. What an insult for one citizen to tag visitors as "riffraff," a description dripping with the disdain these folks have for those they deem to be outsiders. Things got even worse when two well respected and generally well behaved public servants, Selectman Carey Murphy and Finance Committee member Andy Dufrense engaged in a disappointing and dispirited exchange which resulted in Dufresne, the aggressor and unofficial Heights spokesperson, almost being tossed out of the game by Board Chairman and umpire Pat Flynn.
Then came the voice of reason. Heights resident Bill Frawley correctly asserted that there is no appreciable link between noise, bad behavior and the beach remaining open or the restaurants in the area. This reminded me of last year, when Selectman Mustafa challenged Heights residents to present "articulable facts" on why the Casino Wharf FX should not be granted a license extension. I heard the crickets chirping then and now. Repeating a baseless argument, no matter how loudly and angrily, does not make it right.
We live in a resort community. Our local economy depends on visitors enjoying our surroundings, including commercial establishments, enough to come again and again and to spend again and again. The Selectmen didn't offer a ringing endorsement for that concept, as a tie vote with only four Selectmen present means a stalemate on this issue for now. Let's just hope that when and if the naysayers come back for another round of bullying, they have the articulable facts sought by Selectman Mustafa last year. Without them, the beach parking lot should stay open for the public - all of the public - to enjoy.
This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.