The oldest fishing shack in Menemsha is now under the stewardship of the town of Aquinnah, at least for the short term.
The Aquinnah selectmen voted 2-1 Tuesday night to take possession of what is known as the Alfred Vanderhoop shack.
The 240-square-foot shack was built around 1865 and sits at the head of the harbor on Boathouse Road. It is believed to be the only remaining structure to have survived the historic Hurricane of 1938 in Menemsha. The shack and nearby dock are leased out to commercial fishermen under the Menemsha Creek leases granted by Chilmark and Aquinnah.
The taking marks the end of a year of intense and, at times, emotional discussion over property rights and lease arrangements for the old shack. The shack was formerly owned by the late Mr. Vanderhoop’s partner Camille Rose. Ms. Rose later sold the building to Wendy Swolinsky, who has been using the shack for her charter boat business for several years. Ms. Swolinsky holds a lease with the town on the abutting lot. A separate dispute is pending in Dukes County probate court between the Vanderhoop family and Ms. Rose over the sale of the shack.
Meanwhile, the land beneath the shack and dock area are owned by the town, and over the summer the selectmen assigned a four-year lease for the Vanderhoop shack lot to Vernon Welch. Mr. Welch was one of two applicants on a lengthy waiting list who were awarded leases. This was the first time in the 10-year history of the leasing that the lots became available.
It all added up to much confusion over who had the rights to what. Both Ms. Swolinsky and Mr. Welch claimed ownership to the shack and the dock space.
Finally this week the selectmen said they felt it was time to act.
“This has dragged on for months and months and it has gotten nowhere,” said selectman Jim Newman. “We have to stop it and move forward.”
Mr. Newman made a motion to reconfirm Mr. Welch’s right to his lease and that the building will become town-owned property.
Board chairman Beverly Wright concurred.
“The shack on the lot is the town’s and then we have to decide what we’re going to do with it,” she said. “The town is taking it, that’s it. If Camille and Wendy and the [Vanderhoop family] trust have an issue, then we will hear from them.”
Selectman Spencer Booker cast the dissenting vote, saying he felt Ms. Swolinsky should have time to respond.
The selectmen took no action on how to manage the property and said they would take the matter up at a later date.
Mr. Welch attended the meeting; Ms. Swolinsky arrived after the vote was taken.
“So you just take my property?” Ms. Swolinsky said. “You’ll be hearing from my attorney.”