More Explanation Needed
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
The following letter was sent to the Chilmark selectmen:
Congratulations on negotiating for the purchase of the Home Port property. I had intended to vote enthusiastically for this purchase at next week’s meeting. However, the alternative offer to continue the operation of a restaurant on the site from the Nixons, owners of the Beach Plum Inn and the Menemsha Inn, has made the decision a little more difficult. While I favor the acquisition by the town, it would be helpful to me, and I believe to others, to address some questions regarding the two alternatives.
As I understand it, the advantages of a town purchase and conversion of the property for public use are to ensure that the property, with its exceptional views, will be available to all and not be privately developed. In addition, the proposal calls for a new comfort station, some park land, water access for launching kayaks and other small boats, and additional parking. On the other side of the ledger there will be some increase in our taxes, and — with the demolition of the restaurant — some loss of employment (while most of the employees are from off-Island, there are some year-round residents working there, as well as those working for suppliers, plumbers and other maintenance personnel). Also, there will be some loss of business for local growers and fishermen.
If the restaurant were to continue under new private ownership, these negative impacts would not occur. However, the downside of continuing private ownership would be that the property is not preserved for the town and might be developed at some later date for use other than a restaurant. Also, there would be no new comfort station, public water access for small boats, or additional parking. (In fact, the parking for the new restaurant would be reduced from that available at the Home Port, because the property used for staff parking is no longer available).
There may be ways to address some of these issues with a new restaurant operator — for instance, if the Nixons would agree that in any future sale the town would have the right of first refusal. In addition, if they would agree that the waterfront would be available to the public for launching small boats. Even better, the deal could have the town purchase the waterfront property, which is not needed for the restaurant operation. If these proposals were feasible, the town would be assured that they could get the property if the restaurant were no longer in business and public water access would be available while the restaurant operated.
While the additional parking that is envisioned in the current plan would not be available with the restaurant continuing to operate, the extent of this additional parking would probably be minimal with a park and a comfort station taking up a portion of the site. If additional comfort station capacity is required, the existing facility might be expanded.
Another possibility might be for the town to purchase the site and rent all but the waterfront piece to the Nixons for the restaurant operation.
Even if these alternatives were feasible, I am not sure that I know which way I will vote at next Monday’s special town meeting without some issues being addressed, such as:
• What is the total capital cost of the current proposal? The figures presented include only the purchase price. There will be substantial costs in demolition and in the development of the site with a park, comfort station, and parking.
• What are the annual costs with the current proposal? There will be loss of tax revenues and additional maintenance costs.
• How much additional parking will there be, other than just short term spaces for the comfort station? This can be determined relatively easily by developing a sketch plan for the site.
• Are the Nixons amenable to a town’s right of first refusal for any future sale?
• Are the Nixons amenable to either having a town acquire the waterfront access or allowing the public to use it if they own the property?
• And finally, is there a possibility that the town could acquire the entire property and rent it to Nixons for a limited period (say five years)? This option would allow the town some time to analyze more fully the potential long-term use of the site, either as a restaurant or as a park/parking lot.
I fully support the town’s efforts for preserving this important site for public use. But I do think some more information would be very helpful in making such an important decision.
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
The proposal put forth by the Chilmark selectmen to destroy the landmark business the Home Port is in my opinion shortsighted and narrow of focus. To say that the preservation of a vista, the creation of a place to sit (that is not a beach) and a place to drop in a few kayaks is more valuable than the largest employer and anchor tenant of the village is a plan where the loss far outweighs the gain, a plan without much merit.
The Home Port is a landmark in Menemsha. It has been serving hungry people for more than 70 years. Many people come to Menemsha exclusively to go there as it is one of the two or three real destinations of the village, a pillar of the Menemsha community. In addition to bringing in a lot of people to its restaurant (more than any other), the Home Port draw attracts shoppers of all kinds. The trickle effect is real — many other businesses benefit. It is perhaps the first or second largest employer in Chilmark with over 20 employees per shift. People who work there also spend money in town. As it only serves dinner currently, there is already a place to sit and enjoy the vista, eat some food, read a book or chat during the day.
Mr. Holtham has worked tirelessly for years to offer a family-oriented experience and it is one of the few types of restaurants around that does it. It also has huge untapped potential to expand its services and only requires a new team with fresh ideas to grow the business. If the expanded services included breakfasts or jazz brunches for instance, there would be many more people to shop in town at a time when the town is relatively quiet. More people in town means more revenues for many local businesses.
As an avid kayaker, I agree the pond access would be great and remember the days of the Dogfish Kayak Company using that access. Either way with the town or the Nixons owning the Home Port, the kayak access will be opened up. Perhaps the Nixons could be encouraged to create a comfort station there too?
The only way I would support the town’s purchase of the Home Port is if we agree to keep it as a restaurant and lease it to an Island entrepreneur looking for an opportunity. Putting out some feelers, I know there is a huge demand for this type of opportunity and the income from a long-term lease could work well to offset debt taken on by the town and not just dumped on the taxpayers.
Preserving the Home Port is really about preserving Menemsha.
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
It’s not that I really love the Home Port. The food is unimaginative and overpriced. Yet I have a deeply rooted emotional attachment to it. I have memories dating back to the mid-1950s when I’d go there with my family and their entertaining coterie of friends and colleagues.
In recent years, the current owner’s heart has clearly been elsewhere. The season has shortened and various revisions and potential renovations have been neglected. And still the Home Port remains a big draw, no doubt due to the Menemsha sunset at the bight, along with the picturesque harbor and hodgepodge array of eateries and quaint commercial establishments. The Home Port is a nice focal point and comforting gathering place.
I never liked the idea of the town acquiring it — not at the exorbitant price two years ago, and not now either. A public parking lot and additional rest rooms just doesn’t seem to add to the rustic, romantic charm of the village. As a hedge against some insensitive summer person looking for a misplaced trophy home, I could see that as a better alternative. But now that we have a bona fide offer from two people who have only aided and abetted the commercial viability of Menemsha in the past decade, my vote next Monday night seems like a no-brainer.
I have personally known Sarah and Bob Nixon for many years. They are wonderful human beings — loyal and conscientious, politically, socially and ecologically correct on all levels, and have the best interests of up-Island at heart. No matter what J.B. Riggs Parker’s ultimate Chilmark and Menemsha vision may be, he shouldn’t be allowed to succeed in his effort to force-feed this particular purchase down our throats. Personally, I don’t know what I would do on certain unplanned nights when the take-out window proves a logistical savior.
Chilmarkers have been historically quite frugal. And I seriously question whether a two-thirds majority would have approved this acquisition even before the Nixons’ offer became public. Here’s hoping that the Home Port is saved, and in the hands of the right people, eventually morphs into a truly wonderful and fulfilling dining experience.
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
Caroline and I have owned our house on South Road in Chilmark for almost 20 years. The parts of our life that we live here — and especially the place that it provides for my grandchildren, Jack and Grace — make Menemsha a cherished part of my life. As a property owner in town, and as a professional landscape architect who works from New York and Cambridge, I think there are better uses for tax dollars than purchasing the Home Port property. And I certainly think that a so-called park here is not a good idea.
From my professional perspective of designing parks all over the world, Chilmarkers might be misguided to spend this money if they believe that they will be gaining a park in the process. The big parking lot planned for this half-acre site could leave room for a green strip at the edge, but this can hardly be considered a park. It’s more like those rest stops along the highways that we fortunately have none of on the Island.
To borrow an analogy from this year’s election, Sarah Palin may call herself a reformer, and there may be some aspects of reform that she represents, but we all need to look closely at the full extent of her record before we accept this idea at face value. Similarly, one could call the site of the former Home Port a park, and there may be elements of park as part of the proposed plan, but the results will be little more than a big parking lot with some greenery and stonework at the edge. The rendering being circulated doesn’t show the parking lot at all, which makes it more than a little risky in assessing the character of the proposed green space.
Even so, the park described in the drawing looks experientially bland — and why would anyone want to use it? But more to the point, who thinks a park on this site is a better idea than finding a buyer to continue this much-liked restaurant and treasured up-Island summer amenity? Chilmark is hardly desperate for green space in quite the same way as, say a town or a city, and thus we should be a little discerning about the kinds of sites that we are willing to fund as parkland. With all the beautiful views that surround us in Menemsha, who wants to sit on the edge of a new parking lot, and feel and hear the presence of 30 cars?
What Chilmark and Menemsha need more than anything is a buyer for the Home Port who is willing to keep it a good family-friendly place through pricing, and marine-friendly by selling seafood. Since I hear this option is now in the wings, I can’t imagine why the town would spend precious dollars by purchasing the Home Port and building a parking lot. These couple dozen parking spots — which, by the way, are already usable much of the summer, anyway, hardly do anything to significantly alleviate the admittedly serious parking condition.
A larger parking lot with green at the edges contributes precious little to solving the highly volatile parking problem in Menemsha. My hope is that my grandchildren inhabit a future with a real family seafood restaurant like the Home Port has always been, and that the idea of a park goes away as quietly as every summer ends.
Michael Van Valkenburgh