The increasingly controversial public-private improvement project for Squibnocket beach is set to come before Chilmark voters at their annual town meeting Monday night.
The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center. Moderator Everett Poole will preside over the session; there are 30 articles on the warrant.
The warrant includes questions about herbicides in Squibnocket Pond, a town property line change and an $8.7 million budget, up more than six per cent over last year, largely due to public education costs and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission assessment.
But the article that has been the talk of the town, much of it heated, is article 28: the improvement plan for the Squibnocket beachfront, which suffered severe damage in Hurricane Sandy a year and a half ago.
Under discussion since last fall, the plan was the result of months of negotiations among the town, the private Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, which created the Squibnocket Farm development more than 20 years ago. The complicated plan calls for removing a stone revetment, building a new raised roadway into the private subdivision, relocating the parking lot for the public beach and adding some 1,000 feet of new beachfront to town holdings. Under a draft agreement, the $3 million causeway would be paid for by Squibnocket Farm homeowners, who want to secure access to their property. The farm association would buy 10.5 acres from VOLF and the town would pay $400,000 for a long-term lease, increasing the public beach from 280 feet to 1,500 feet.
The plan has been discussed at a series of public forums this winter and spring, and is the subject of bitter disagreement between homeowners in Squibnocket Farm and Blacksmith Valley. An alternative plan was presented last week by the Blacksmith Valley residents. An amendment that would substantially change the article and postpone a decision in favor of more study is expected to be introduced on the town meeting floor on Monday night.
In the main article, voters are being asked to approve only the concept. “This article is to assess the town’s interest in pursing this project,” the article reads. “Should the town vote in favor of pursing this project, the selectmen will hold a future special town meeting in October 2014 to vote on the terms of any lease, to appropriate funding, including from Community Preservation Act funds, and to consider any necessary zoning bylaw or other bylaw changes needed to allow the project to proceed.”
Positions are being staked out on all sides.
“It’s fair to say that the folks that are emotionally charged up about this issue and feel that the selectmen have not completely explored the alternatives,” said Chilmark selectman Warren Doty this week. “I feel we have.”
“We’ve discussed a great deal of what to do with Squibnocket Beach and it is my feeling that we need to make changes,” Mr. Doty continued. “I think the selectmen have a good proposal for what kind of changes to make and there’s been a lot of debate about it. We can continue to debate it on the town meeting floor.”
Squibnocket Farm homeowners have said if the article is rejected Monday night, they intend to proceed with plans to rebuild the roadway. “The homeowners will not . . . stand by while the matter is endlessly studied and debated. This would leave us stranded,” wrote farm association president Lawrence Lasser in an op-ed published on the Commentary Page in today’s edition. Reached by telephone this week, Mr. Lasser said the primary interest of the homeowners is maintaining access to their property.
“We care about the beach but our official policy is to be agnostic about it, we care deeply about the causeway because if we do not get it we literally lose our homes,” he said. He said if a new proposal came forward that would ensure homeowner access, give the town its public beach and not cost the association more than $3 million, they would listen. “We’re completely open minded,” Mr. Lasser said. He also described the rancor that has sprung up between the farm association and Blacksmith Valley residents.
“Repugnant,” he said. “I’ve never seen behavior like this. In effect people are saying, my view untouched is more important than the homes of these 12 people.” He added: “I’m self-interested and I’ll be the first to admit that, but it’s quite a side I’ve never seen. It so hurt me about what I thought the Island was. It’s just amazing.”
Blacksmith Valley resident Charlie Parker has proposed alternatives to the town plan. One includes removing the revetment, building up the barrier beach and building a road that hugs Squibnocket Pond. A second alternative would move the raised roadway.
“We don’t favor this bridge [in the plan proposed by the town] at all, it’s an extremely large structure,” Mr. Parker said. “At low tide if you’re standing on the beach with your feet in the water, you’re looking up at something that is over 20 feet up from the ground, that’s two full stories tall.”
“If a bridge is the only environmentally sound solution, then fine, let’s move the bridge and get it in the right spot,” he continued. “I think the town has lost itself in this quest to serve the needs of the people of Squibnocket Point.”
Mr. Parker responded to the notion that residents in Blacksmith Valley, which looks out over the proposed parking lot and raised roadway, are mainly concerned about protecting their views.
“Are we concerned with our views? We’re concerned about the area,” Mr. Parker said. “Every last person on the Vineyard is concerned about views. I will tell you people out [in Squibnocket] are concerned about views too . . . don’t throw stones about wanting to protect their views because you live in a glass house.”
An amendment is expected on the town meeting floor that would effectively replace the existing article with a slower approach. Chilmark resident Thomas Bena said he has been working with Chris Murphy and others on the proposed change.
The amendment would authorize the selectmen to create a committee to examine access for Squibnocket Farm and improve beach access for Chilmark residents. The committee would evaluate the financial, technical and environmental aspects of an improvement project.
“We want to look at other alternatives and do a real planning process rather than push this one option through,” Mr. Bena said. “No one we’re working with is against the bridge if it’s the best solution, it’s not fun to look at but maybe it is the best solution. A committee that would look at both sides in a win-win approach rather than quid pro quo — here’s a beach and a parking lot for a bridge.”
Eric Peters, the chairman of the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, said he believes the plan on the table is favorable for the town.
“What seems to have been lost in the rather vocal opposition is the fact of the matter is that if nothing is done out there, it’s pretty clear no matter which experts you listen to, that little tiny leased beach is going to disappear and it is rapidly losing its usefulness as a public beach,” Mr. Peters said. “It’s in the best interest of the town, so we wholeheartedly support what the town wants to do.”
Mr. Poole the longtime town moderator said this week he intends to give the debate a free rein on Monday night.
“I allow everyone to have their say,” he said. “It’s their only chance, once a year.”
In other town meeting business, voters will be asked to approve a home rule petition to the state legislature that would allow the town to regulate pesticide use around Squibnocket Pond overlay district. The selectmen want to block a group of riparian owners from using Rodeo to remove phragmites in the pond.
Voters will also be asked to approve their part of an Islandwide plan to control fertilizer use through a district of critical planning concern. Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury approved the pending new rules last month.
In Community Preservation Act spending, voters will be asked to contribute $100,000 to the restoration of the Mayhew-Hancock-Mitchell House at Quansoo Farm, $52,000 for the restoration and relocation of the Gay Head Light, $3,500 to restore 35 slate gravestones from the late 1700s at the Abel’s Hill cemetery and $65,000 for the town’s share of an affordable housing project in Vineyard Haven.
And the town line between Chilmark and Aquinnah could change marginally, if voters agree. The selectmen want to alter the town line that runs down Boathouse Road in Menemsha. Several fishing shacks on the harbor are technically located in both towns.
“We just want a nice, simple straightforward line instead of having a diagonal line through the dirt that nobody knows where it is,” said town executive secretary Timothy Carroll this week. “We want to make sure the Menemsha agreement between the towns of Aquinnah and Chilmark is used to manage the properties more effectively.”
The annual town election is Thursday at Chilmark Community Center. There are two override questions on the ballot to pay for school budgets: a $122,000 question for the regional high school and $71,000 question for the up-Island school district. The total education budget is $3.3 million, up 10.5 per cent over last year.
Polls are open from noon to 8 p.m. Selectman Warren Doty is running for reelection. There are no contested races.