Vigorous environmental protection, in the form of a revised bylaw, was approved for five ancient ways by a throng of voters in Edgartown’s Old Whaling Church last night.
The popular vote was not swayed by the impassioned and sustained pleas of several members of the Hall family, whose 74 acres of property is crossed by several of the paths. Voters approved the bylaw by a margin of 199 to 47.
Other decisions at the meeting included the shouldering of the town’s share of costs for two programs previously funded by financially embattled Dukes County and approval of funds for the Edgartown public library clean-up operation, following a puff-back incident last December.
Therese Hall, one of the Hall family members present at the meeting, invoked the Third Reich in her description of the special ways bylaw.
“The type of people who wrote this don’t understand what fascism is, what happened in Germany. This is cruel beyond cruelty,” she said.
The bylaw is the final substantive step in a three-year battle to protect the ways from development by including them in the Island Roads district of critical planning concern (DCPC).
The bylaw nominates portions of Ben Tom’s Road, Middle Line Path, Pennywise Path, Tar Kin Path and Watcha Path for inclusion in the Island Roads DCPC. A sixth byway, the Dr. Fisher Road, which has been under DCPC protection since 2000, will also be covered in the revised by-law.
The regulation puts strict limits on developments to the paths and provides a setback of 20 feet on either side. It includes several clauses aimed at preserving the character of the ways, and would prohibit removal of vegetation within the special way zone. It includes rules against building fences, fills, walls and other structures on or around the paths.
It also sets boundaries on vehicle access. These will be the first Island ways with sections of regular vehicular use to be given this special environmental protection.
Mrs. Hall’s sentiment was echoed by her son, Benjamin Hall Jr., an attorney and Edgartown resident who spoke at some length on perceived inequities and linguistic inadequacies within the bylaw.
“I think you are smart enough to know a bunch of malarkey when you hear it,” Mr. Hall said. “This will lead to a dictatorship within the planning board. This is not about reasonable regulations to protect trails, it’s about ramming a series of special permits down the throats of our family so we can’t drive to our homes.”
Mr. Hall argued that the 20-foot set-back regulation would rule out 17 acres of their land for development. He made a motion — which was not carried — to indefinitely postpone a vote on the issue. Mr. Hall further proposed various amendments to language within the article, which also were not carried.
Susan Sellers, a long-time resident of Pennywise Path, urged voters attending the meeting to vote to approve the article.
“I have been waiting for this legislation for 20 years,” Ms. Sellers said. “Mr. Hall talks about the measure devaluating property but it will make the paths safe, traversable and will preserve them. It’s measures such as this that are the reason we want to own property on Martha’s Vineyard.” Her remarks were greeted with loud applause.
Benjamin Hall Sr. then spoke against the bylaw, calling it heavy-handed, and adding that a request made by the family to the planning board to subdivide their lots was denied on the grounds that the paths did not provide sufficient access for emergency services. Mr. Hall argued that the bylaw would permanently derail such development plans.
“We pay taxes like everyone else — we want emergency services to get to our property,” he said.
Voter Sarah Nevin appealed for a member of the planning board to address the concerns of the Hall family. But board member Roger Becker demurred.
“We’ve been through this,” Mr. Becker said. “Mr. Hall has done the same thing at every meeting and I am not going to go through it all unless 50 people or more in the audience want to hear it again.”
Fifty people did not. Moderator Philip J. Norton Jr. then called a vote on the article, which required a two-thirds majority to pass, and which was secured in the night’s only written ballot vote.
In other action at the meeting, Edgartown became the first town to vote on three articles submitted by the county commissioners who feel the county no longer is able to pay for the programs itself.
“They have been paid by the county for many years, but they can’t be afforded anymore,” selectman Arthur Smadbeck said. “The commission took on the non-mandated programs but made no provision for continuing them.”
The request for Edgartown’s share of costs for an Islandwide engineering program was denied, while $9,000 in costs for the pest control program was carried and a $15,000 share toward a Vineyard health care access program, which helps 2,000 low-income Vineyarders deal with health claims each year, was unanimously approved.
The library’s request to spend $130,000 on repairs to its North Water street building, detailed in the warrant’s final two articles, was approved without fanfare.
The money will come from a mixture of free cash and an insurance reserve fund to repair damage caused by a furnace puff-back in early December. Much of the library was covered in an oily vapor, causing potential damage to artwork, computers, books and upholstery.
With the bulk of the money already received by insurers, both town administrator Pamela Dolby and library director Felicia Cheney reassured voters that the remainder of the funds would be eventually covered by the claim.
“This is so they can go in and get the job done — otherwise they might have to stop halfway through while they wait for the insurance agency,” Ms. Dolby said.
Also approved at the meeting was a further $30,000 to continue renovation of the gymnasium at the old Edgartown school and a resolution to end funding on the Iraq war.
In a professed career first, Mr. Norton misjudged the shouts of voters over an article calling for the town to sponsor a resolution calling for an end to Iraq war funding.
The moderator called a standing vote on the issue after his verdict on the shouted vote was met by calls of “I doubt it.” A total of 106 standing votes were counted in favor of the resolution versus 85 nays.
“I could have been wrong, for the very first time,” Mr. Norton muttered into the microphone, as the votes were counted.