Vineyard Haven Boch Property Is Centerpiece of Future Plan
By JAMES KINSELLA
Nearly two decades ago, the late Ernest J. Boch Sr. paid $600,000 for what he called "a nice little spot" on Vineyard Haven harbor.
Today, despite the property's current scruffy appearance, members of the Tisbury planning board could not agree more.
Board members recently unveiled a master plan for the waterfront and downtown area that identified the parcel, known as Boch Park, as a crucial element.
Tisbury officials hope to resolve the long-running conflicts between the town and the Boch family that have stymied productive use of the parcel, which covers just under an acre off Beach Road. As of January 2005, the town assessed the value of the parcel at a little over $2 million.
Raymond LaPorte, chairman of the Tisbury selectmen, confirmed that the board has held executive session discussions with representatives of the Boch family. Selectman Tristan Israel said Ernest Boch Jr., the son of the late Mr. Boch and the head of the family's extensive business holdings, has participated in the talks.
But Mr. LaPorte said the discussions have a long way to go before the selectmen can bring anything concrete to the town. No warrant article is planned for this spring's annual town meeting, he said.
"We've had conversations," Mr. LaPorte said. "I wouldn't call them negotiations. They've shown an interest in it being more than its dormant state."
Mr. Boch could not be reached for comment.
Under the master plan, Beach street extension would be turned into a one-way street and extended through the Boch parcel to provide a new access onto Beach Road. The move would be designed to turn Vineyard Haven's notorious Five Corners into four corners and ease the congestion that plagues that intersection.
The plan also envisions turning the waterfront portion of the property into a park, and a stopping point on a harborfront walkway.
The master plan also advocates allowing part of the parcel to be used for parking - a prior use that the town fought in the courts and shut down. A parking lot could accommodate about 60 cars, according to the plan.
The plan also envisions the lot as a multi-use space that could include an outdoor market area.
Planning board chairman L. Anthony Peak said recently the board understands a number of hurdles stand between the conceptual place of Boch Park in the plan and the realization of the vision.
Even if the town already owned the parcel, Mr. Peak said, another piece of privately owned land between the parcel and Beach street extension stands in the way of the proposed driveway.
Mr. Peak said the board included Boch Park in the plan as a way to encourage people to look at the waterfront area as a single unit. In the best of all worlds, he said, the parcel could function as a welcoming area for people arriving on the Vineyard, with the building on the site converted to a community use such as a marine history building.
Board member Henry Stephenson said: "From the planning board's point of view, we very much want to establish a public waterfront. The leading edge of all those properties, we hope, would be a public space."
The Boch parcel became a bone of contention between the town and the late Mr. Boch soon after he bought the land in 1987. Four buildings stood on the site, which had housed Hancock Hardware and Builders Inc.
The late Mr. Boch, the proprietor of an extensive automobile sales business based in Norwood, initially suggested that he might use the parcel for a Subaru dealership. Over the coming years, he proposed a number of other uses, including an inflatable boat sales center, a storage facility, and a rental car business.
But the recurring proposal was to use the property for a parking lot, a plan that plunged the town and the late Mr. Boch into a lengthy, complicated legal tussle.
The battle started in 1993, when the Tisbury planning board denied the late Mr. Boch a special permit to operate a valet parking lot at the parcel. The late Mr. Boch appealed the issue to land court, leading to several reversals for the planning board.
The businessman then took a different tack, receiving permission from the town to demolish three of the four buildings on the site and renovate the remaining building into an office.
In May 1999, the late Mr. Boch opened a 99-space commercial parking lot at the property. The Tisbury building inspector, Kenneth Barwick, issued a cease-and-desist order.
The lot remained open as the late Mr. Boch filed a series of appeals. Then, in August 2000, a land court judge ruled for the town.
But the town's fight against the parking lot was not universally popular.
"The thing most needed in Vineyard Haven is parking," a pair of Chilmark residents wrote in a letter to the Gazette soon after the ruling was announced. "Boch Park was convenient to the ferry and many downtown businesses and restaurants, and reasonably priced and attended by an attendant."
The property has since passed into a kind of limbo. In October 2004, Ernest Boch Jr., who had taken over the Boch businesses from his father, said in published comments that he was interested in selling off real estate holdings and concentrating on the family's automotive and radio businesses. In particular, he said developers were interested in putting condominiums on the former parking lot as well as on a nearby marina, Martha's Vineyard Haven Marina, then owned by the Boch family.
In December 2004, the Boch interests sold the marina property for $2.45 million to Tisbury Marina LLC, which is controlled by the owner of Falmouth Marine and the Pied Piper ferry shuttle service. The late Mr. Boch had bought the property at foreclosure auction in 1997 for $875,000.
Meanwhile, Mr. LaPorte and Mr. Israel said the selectmen's discussions with Boch representatives are not tied directly to the planning board waterfront proposal.
"The planning board identified it purely as part of a conceptual vision of the waterfront area," Mr. Israel said of the parcel. "They are laying out a vision."