Chilmark selectmen signed an agreement Tuesday to purchase the Home Port restaurant, along with two neighboring waterfront lots, for a dramatically reduced price of $2 million.
The agreement, negotiated by selectman J.B. Riggs Parker on behalf of the board of selectmen with owners Will and Madeline Holtham, is almost half the price of a $3.9 million sale agreement rejected by Chilmark voters in 2005, though it does not include a lot with a dock currently used for restaurant parking.
Voters will decide on the purchase at a fall special town meeting scheduled for Sept. 22.
Mr. Parker, who has consistently pressed for the town to buy the property, praised the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Holtham.
“It is a great act and a real public service,” said Mr. Parker. “It’s a very attractive proposition for the town and it would be very unfortunate if we didn’t proceed.”
The Home Port restaurant was opened in 1931. Mr. Holtham bought the property in 1967 after working for 10 years under the ownership of Chet and Esther Cummens. It has long been a popular summer spot, known among other things for its fresh, simply prepared seafood and dining inside and out — a back-door dinner service offers take-out literally from the restaurant’s back door. The property has been on market periodically for the past decade. Mr. Holtham said yesterday the restaurant has been extremely busy this summer.
A statement issued Wednesday by Chilmark executive secretary Tim Carroll details a plan to remove the restaurant building and to build public bathroom facilities on the site.
“There’s an enormous demand for bathrooms in Menemsha,” said Mr. Parker, adding that the restaurant septic system is a valuable asset on the waterfront. According to the release the purchase also would be made to add to town parking, to preserve views of Menemsha Creek and the harbor, and to give public access to the water for kayaks and small boats.
“There’s very little water access in Menemsha even though we’re practically surrounded by water. It’s a gathering place to enjoy what will be marvelous views,” said Mr. Parker. “This serves the town over the long term.”
Board chairman Frank Fenner, who owns the Galley restaurant across the road from the Home Port and abstained from Tuesday’s vote, described the property as an opportunity of a lifetime for the town in 2005. Selectman Warren Doty signed Tuesday’s agreement with Mr. Parker despite having been firmly against the purchase in 2005.
“We’ve saved $1.9 million. It’s the right price now,” said Mr. Doty. An appraisal commissioned by the town in 2005 priced the original property parcel at $3.6 million. As for whether the acquisition is good thing for the town in principle, Mr. Doty said: “My attitude is let’s wait and see what the voters think.” Referring to the removal of the dock lot from the offer, he said: “There’s still access to the waterfront with the two lots; that’s a good piece.” Mr. Holtham confirmed yesterday that an offer for the dock lot is being made to another party.
The agreement, which was signed in executive session, followed an annual open summer meeting for seasonal residents, at which property was a hot topic.
Held in the Chilmark Community Center the meeting was attended by around 25 residents and various town board representatives.
Chief of police Timothy Rich stressed the need for more fire department property and Mr. Doty made a general call to anyone who knew of property in the vicinity of Beetlebung Corner that may be for sale to make contact. (Speaking yesterday executive secretary Mr. Carroll said the traffic in and out of Menemsha makes the Home Port site impractical for a fire station.)
And town assessor Pam Bunker had good news: “We’re not feeling the devastating effects of the global housing slump,” she said, “but there have been ups and downs. Waterfont property is still selling above assessment values. Beach lots are down from around $350,000 to $300,000 and there’s lots of sale activity.”
Mr. Doty gave seasonal residents an update on two ongoing affordable housing projects at Middle Line and Nab’s Corner. The two projects will bring Chilmark affordable housing units and youth lots to 40. The state recommends towns seek 10 per cent of total housing in affordable housing units which, for Chilmark, is 150. Asked why more programs aren’t in the pipeline, Mr. Doty replied simply: “We don’t have the property.”
Seasonal resident Gordon Gossage expressed concerns about the development of Chilmark, inquiring about lowering the annual cap on building, which selectmen said was unlikely to be allowed at the state level.
“There is forestland out there all divided into three-acre lots ready to be developed,” said Mr. Gossage after the meeting, adding that an economic slump is the time to impose restrictive measures. “It’s a lot harder to cut back when already up at 30 new properties a year,” he said.
Janet Weiner, chairman of the town planning board, went through a survey due to go out to Chilmark households and registered voters in August. She said responses will help shape a five-year update of the Chilmark master plan, which she described as a snapshot of the town.
“They’re timely topics that we need answers to so please complete the survey,” she said.
In other town news Jessica Bradlee will officially start as Chilmark town clerk today. She replaces Margaret Orlando.