Chilmark Casts Its Votes


In a meeting which ended minutes before midnight, Chilmark voters gave the go-ahead to the library renovation and expansion project, increased traffic control in Menemsha, and a slew of zoning bylaw changes.

These decisions took place at the Monday evening annual town meeting where 32 per cent of the town's registered voters - 243 people - filled the Chilmark Community Center to capacity.

It took close to five hours to review the 42 warrant articles and the budget. The $4,270,991 budget passed with almost no discussion.

The evening opened with a special town meeting in which voters overwhelmingly decided to buy a part of the Silva property on Middle Road.

The town will purchase the 50-acre parcel with the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank. The land bank will buy the bulk of the land, while the town will spend $250,000 for the farmstead and three surrounding acres. A life estate for the current resident, Bobby Silva, is built into the agreement.

The bulk of the evening's discussion - well over an hour - centered around the library expansion project.

While some voters debated the project, many appeared confused about the exact meaning of the warrant article, which asked for permission to allow the library to apply for and accept state funds, and also asked voters "to approve the renovation and expansion."

"The public library today is a center of lifelong learning for everyone in the community," said Norman Freed, chairman of the library board of trustees. "We must provide access to the expanding world of communication."

The expansion would more than double the size of the library by adding a high-tech meeting room, increasing staff space and expanding and relocating the children's area. Library officials hope a state grant would fund up to 60 per cent of the $1.8 million project.

"We paid for the [1993 library addition] because the state rejected our application for being too small to merit state reimbursement," Susan Murphy said, speaking in support of the project. "This is the heart and soul of where we live. It is very, very important for all of you to think about."

Selectman Alex Preston was the first to oppose the expansion, noting that he had reservations about the scale of the building and possible hidden financial costs. "But I guess what's most important to me . . . I believe we have a community center and to repeat it next door is counterproductive," he said.

Others worried over the 7,200 square-foot-scale of the building. "There's another issue for a lot of people who are sitting here now and that is another large building in the center of Chilmark," Rodney Bunker said. "I really think the town should consider maybe making a smaller addition to the library."

His suggestion was met with scattered applause, but library officials warned that voting down the article would do more than send them back to the drawing board. "If you do not pass this, we automatically will be disqualified from the grant," Mr. Freed said.

Others wondered whether the town had already approved the project. At a special town meeting last September voters passed an article "to support the library building committee's proposed scope of the library renovation, increasing the square footage from 3,500 to approximately 7,200."

"The thing that concerns me is what I'm referring to as approval creep. In the special town meeting we supported the library. Now we're being asked to approve the renovation and expansion," Robert Deitz said.

Mr. Deitz offered an amendment to strike the words about approving the project, leaving those that gave the trustees permission to apply for and accept the grant.

But library officials assured voters that, amendment or not, this wouldn't be the last time they brought the project to town meeting floor. "We would be back, there's no way we won't be back," said library director Catherine Thompson. "We can't spend the money that belongs to the town without coming back to you another day."

Mr. Deitz withdrew his amendment, drawing applause.

A secret ballot followed; voters approved the article 139 to 66.

Other discussion came over a plan to provide better traffic control in Menemsha and keep the area clean.

Six separate articles dealt with these two issues, but most of the discussion came over the first, which asked for $39,500 to pay for cleaning services and trash pickup. Tim Carroll, the executive secretary, immediately offered an amendment, which eventually passed, to use some of these funds to post better signs in Menemsha.

While no one spoke against providing better services in the area, some voters wondered if the article asked for too large a sum or if some of the money had already been appropriated in the budget. "I do think this number could be reduced somewhat," said Chilmark treasurer Judith M. Jardin. "I have that double-billing kind of feeling."

Mr. Carroll noted that money which had been appropriated in the budget for cleaning services would also fund maintenance at Lucy Vincent Beach and Squibnocket.

"Alex has worked hard on the idea that we need to do a much better job of cleaning Menemsha," said selectman Warren Doty. "This is not just going down and emptying a dumpster . . . sometimes there are as many as 200 people an hour that use the bathroom."

Mr. Doty did offer an amendment to reduce the amount to $35,000. The amendment eventually failed.

Before the article came to a vote, Jay John Lagemann suggested another change. "I think that we should reserve at least a quarter of these parking places for Chilmark residents," he said, eventually proposing an amendment.

"Menemsha is very crowded; we have to work on developing places for parking. We have to emphasize public transportation," Mr. Doty said. "But we have several areas in Chilmark that are only open to Chilmark residents and I think it's nice that we have one area that's open to the public."

"Twenty-five per cent is 25 per cent. It's not like everything," Mr. Lagemann replied. "Nobody's saying you can't go to Menemsha, it's just giving Chilmark residents a little bit of a chance to go to Menemsha beach."

Others argued that this change would lead to policing problems and complicated sticker programs. "There are so many issues speaking against this that if we really want to do it it's going to require more study," said Chilmark resident Mary Murphy Boyd.

Mr. Lagemann withdrew his amendment but it came to a vote anyway since the person who had seconded it would not withdraw their second. The amendment failed, but the article passed.

Voters quickly passed the five remaining Menemsha-related articles, which will pay for two additional traffic officers during the summer and also begin a towing program.

In other business, voters agreed to put $25,000 into the stabilization fund to be used to replace fire engines. They also gave the fire department $200,000 to replace its Brushbreaker.

Voters also passed a slew of zoning articles that, among other things, will allow people to rent guest houses to Islanders who qualify for affordable housing. Other zoning changes will ensure that porches covered by roofs count in the total size of dwellings and that special permits will only be issued for structures which don't burden the water supply of the area.

Citizens defeated a zoning bylaw revision which dealt with construction. As it is now, the bylaw requires home owners to obtain permission from abutters, if they plan to build a structure within 100 feet of the abutter's property. The proposed revision would have eliminated this requirement.

"It has worked perfectly well since 1976. I don't see why we need to change now," said building inspector Leonard Jason Jr.

An article that would have curbed construction of fixed piers in Menemsha, Nashaquitsa and Stonewall Ponds was postponed indefinitely at the request of its petitioners.

Voters also approved funds to pay for someone to proof the town zoning bylaws against those that had been enacted at town meetings. They amended the article to increase the funds by almost $3,000, pushing them up to $6,000 to hire two people to complete the job.

In other business, voters also appropriated the following funds:

* $34,031.14 from State-Aid highways to repair town roads.

* $13,000 to buy photocopiers for the town hall.

* $31,500 to paint town buildings including the Coast Guard Station, the Cross Road Fire Station and the bell tower of the old school.

* $3,500 for Chilmark's share of the Island skate park.

* $26,000 for a new police sedan.