For decades, the Home Port restaurant in Menemsha has been the epitome of a traditional Yankee seaside restaurant, with its lobster dinners and stunning sunset views.
On Monday night, Chilmark voters will decide whether to set aside another Yankee tradition - frugality - and buy the Home Port from owners Will Holtham and Madeline Moore for $3.9 million.
The proposed purchase is the only article on the warrant for the special town meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Chilmark Community Center. Moderator Everett Poole will preside over the session.
"There are plenty of good reasons for the town to buy the Home Port," declared a report released this week by a study committee appointed by the Chilmark selectmen. "The question is whether these reasons are worth $3.9 million. The voters, not this committee, must answer this question."
The $3.9 million price tag is $300,000 higher than a recent independent appraisal commissioned by the town. If it is approved, the purchase would effectively double the town's debt.
"If the town wants to create a public space in the heart of Menemsha, then the Home Port property is a good place for it," the study committee concluded. But the committee also said not enough time is available before the sale deadline of Nov. 30 to draft a definitive plan for the use of the property.
Possible uses of the property include converting it to a park; the sale of part of the property for a private home while preserving public access to Menemsha Pond; creation of a shellfish hatchery or fish processing plant; and leasing the property for continued use as a restaurant.
All of these topics are expected to be fodder for debate on the town meeting floor.
Proponents and opponents squared off on the issue at the Tuesday evening selectmen's meeting this week. The board itself is split on the issue, with selectman J.B. Riggs Parker favoring the purchase and Warren Doty opposing it. The third selectman, Frank Fenner, owns the Galley restaurant across the street and recused himself from the discussion.
"I think we will regret it if we do not acquire this property," Mr. Parker said. "There are many examples on this Island of pieces of land that got away."
Mr. Doty disagreed. "I think $3.9 [million] is too high," he countered. "I've personally spent a lot of time and effort as a selectman controlling the town finances. Since that's been one of my duties, it would be irresponsible for me to recommend buying an overpriced property."
Later that evening, the town finance committee voted unanimously to recommend the purchase, although not before a soul-searching debate.
Marshall Carroll, who owns Menemsha Texaco, described himself as solidly on the fence.
"If you're going to make the argument that it's for our kids and grandkids, you could take $4 million and do a lot of other things around town," Mr. Carroll said.
Committee member William Randol, who agreed with Mr. Doty that the parcel is overpriced, also complained about the "take it or leave it" situation presented by Mr. Holtham.
"I resent the fact that the owner has a gun to our head and we have to make a decision by Nov. 30," he said.
But Mr. Carroll said the town should not get hung up on the price.
"The question is: do we want to own it or not?" he said. "Do we want to add to our stock?"
Committee member Katie Upson questioned who the purchase would really benefit.
"If it is predominantly a summer-related-activity park, is that really a benefit to the Chilmark population, or the general public?" she said.
Douglas Sederholm, who is a member of the finance committee and also chairman of the study committee, said: "Personally, I probably won't change my habit of never going to Menemsha in the summer."
"I won't either," Ms. Upson said.
Despite their misgivings, the committee ultimately backed the Home Port proposal.
The committee also urged the town to explore ways to lessen the financial burden on the taxpayers by means such as using Community Preservation Act open space funds, seeking grants, and possibly selling off a portion of the property.
The article requires a two-thirds vote for approval; if it passes on the town meeting floor, voters must also approve a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exemption ballot question at a special election on Dec. 7.
The purchase would increase the tax bill on a median household by about $111 a year for the next 20 years.
Assessed by the town at $2.72 million, the Home Port property is made up of several lots, some small and oddly shaped and not all contiguous, plus a dock on Menemsha Pond. A West Tisbury resident named Robert Carlson has deeded lifetime rights for the use of the dock.
Appraiser Kevin Spellman of Edgartown said the property, which includes the largest commercial use site in the fishing village of Menemsha, is worth $3.6 million. An earlier appraisal by Mr. Spellman put the price at $3.3 million, but he later amended his work to reflect a piece of beachfront that is in fact two lots, not one.
Chilmark already owns about 60 per cent of Menemsha.
At the selectmen's meeting this week, debate centered on the current market worth of the property versus its possible future benefits to Chilmark.
"We can't evaluate this as a strict market transaction," Mr. Sederholm said. "If you were to evaluate it that way, I don't think it would be defensible. You have to look at what it's worth to the town in intangible ways."
Committee member Leonard Jason Jr. agreed, but in less neutral tones. "I think we can argue about whether it is market price forever," he said. "If the town turns it down, then the market will determine the price. And then we've lost it forever. But it's also a gain forever. This is forever if we get it - and that's priceless."
Mr. Doty, however, said he believed the appraisal overvalued the waterfront lots.
"I just don't think at this time in the real estate business on Martha's Vineyard that properties in the $4 million range are selling," he said, adding:"We're in a period of real estate correction. I think it's a million too much. If it was $2.9 [million], I'd be on board."
Later during the meeting, in response to specific questions, Mr. Doty said, "I think that it's overpriced by somewhere between $500,000 and $1.5 million. If I recommended this, I would be saying: ‘Big deal, Chilmark can afford it.' I can't say that. We've worked too hard to control our finances."
Resident Robert Dietz questioned the fiscal impact of the purchase to the town over the long haul, when other capital projects are needed.
"If we don't buy it, then yes, it's forever," Mr. Dietz said. "But tax increases are for forever too."
In 1999, the Home Port was placed on the market for $6.5 million, but failed to sell. Mr. Holtham has said that he plans to put the property on the market for $5 million if the town decides against the purchase.
Mr. Parker said he tried without success to renegotiate the $3.9 million figure
"This offer was presented to us - and we can take it or leave it," he said.
Mr. Parker also said he thought the price tag was within the range of real estate on the Vineyard: "I don't think it's reasonable, but it's realistic," he said.