A Chilmark subdivision plan now being considered by the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) represents a golden opportunity, conservation leaders said this week, to create a walking trail connecting key public properties up-Island.
The property owners, Richard and Melanie Coleman, agreed last night to open up their private property for Islanders hiking along the southern side of Middle Road.
A 100-acre sanctuary, owned by Sheriff's Meadow Foundation, runs along the west side of the 30 acres owned by Richard and Melanie Coleman. Just on the other side of their land, North Ridge Road links to Meetinghouse Road, which then stretches to Tea Lane Farm, Tiasquam Bridge Preserve and Middle Ridge Preserve, all properties of the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank. From there, a web of ancient ways and other paths stretches around these properties. Meetinghouse Road association leaders have already expressed a willingness to grant access along North Ridge Road to help complete the link.
Richard Johnson, executive director of Sheriff's Meadow Foundation, along with James Lengyel, land bank executive director, urged the Martha's Vineyard Commission last week to secure a trail easement across the Colemans' land. The MVC is reviewing a request by the Colemans to subdivide almost 16 acres into one 10-acre building lot and two smaller pieces. The smaller lots would be added to two Meetinghouse Road parcels also owned by the Colemans.
Commissioners pressed the Colemans' attorney, Richard Gallogly of Rackman, Sawyer and Brewster in Boston, for a trail easement offer last week, but Mr. Gallogly expressed little hope that his clients would agree.
"All week, I've been cajoling and hitting them over the head with this," he told the commission last night. "Kicking and screaming this week, they finally said yes."
The subdivision request, in itself, is straightforward. The Colemans' property, however, - a total of about 30 acres of wooded Chilmark hills - has been the source of controversy for the Chilmark planning board. This land, planning board chairman William Meegan said, has been before the board four times since 1998.
"Nothing is stopping lot lines from being reconfigured [on this property]," said Mr. Meegan, explaining that the planning board approved a subdivision plan for the Colemans just 18 months ago. In this approval, the property owners offered a covenant against further subdivision, but the plan was never filed with the county registry of deeds.
"I'm not saying they're trying to be devious, but the whole nature of this property has been one of incremental development," said Mr. Meegan.
"If it's going to be a total of 14 houses, we'd like some affordable housing out there," he said. "We wanted our foot in the door because somehow we've got to come up with a way for people to be able to live in our town."
Mr. Gallogly, again last night, refused an affordable housing contribution.
"The Colemans haven't created the [affordable housing] problem, and they can't solve the problem," he said.
"The Colemans are drawing the line somewhere and not rolling over and saying ‘what else do you want,' " Mr. Gallogly added later, noting that the property owners did consent to a trail easement.
The refusal to create a resident homesite lot on the property struck a nerve with some commissioners. Last night, commissioner Jane Greene mumbled, "I hope your client doesn't ever need a lawn mower."
Commissioners, last week, tried to impress upon the attorney the scarcity of affordable housing on the Island.
"The Island is in crisis. We need land so desperately," said commissioner Linda Sibley. "We're not going to solve this problem unless people who own large pieces of land are altruistic. I find it difficult that with a total of 30 acres under the ownership of one family, they can't come up with a piece [for a resident homesite lot]." Mrs. Sibley then offered to introduce the Colemans to a native Islander suffering through the housing crisis.
The Colemans plan to sell the 10 acres as a building lot, along with an adjacent seven-acre lot, said Mr. Gallogly. The Colemans accepted a covenant restricting further subdivision on those two parcels.
Abutter Sheila Muldaur also questioned the ultimate use of the property. Ms. Muldaur sold the Colemans an easement across her land several years ago, creating access from North Ridge Road to their 16 acres. She learned last night that her property grants access to both the 10-acre and seven-acres parcels.
"I was told they wanted their dream house and a farm there," said Ms. Muldaur.
The MVC closed the public hearing last night and will review the project in land use planning committee Feb. 2.