Chilmark voters rejected the much-discussed public-private improvement project at Squibnocket beach by a slim margin at the annual town meeting Monday night, deciding instead to study alternatives under a newly appointed committee.

The vote followed six months of heated debate at public forums this winter and spring over a restoration plan for the beach which was badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy a year and a half ago.

A total of 167 voters attended the meeting in the Chilmark Community Center, moving swiftly through the first 27 articles that included an $8.7 million operating budget, a home rule petition to have the town regulate pesticide use in Squibnocket Pond, and several large Community Preservation Act funding requests. A $52,000 contribution to the restoration and relocation of the Gay Head Light and $100,000 for the restoration of the Mayhew-Hancock Mitchell House at Quansoo Farm were both approved.

Coastal scientist Jim O'Connell answered questions. — Peter Simon

But as expected, the major debate of the evening centered on article 28: the restoration plan for Squibnocket.

Under discussion since last fall, the plan was the result of months of negotiations among the town, the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation. The plan called for removing a stone revetment, building a new raised roadway into the private subdivision, relocating the parking lot for the public beach and adding 1,000 feet of new beachfront to town holdings. The plan has been the subject of bitter disagreement between homeowners at Squibnocket Farm and residents of Blacksmith Valley, who presented an alternative plan a few weeks ago.

On Monday night the Chilmark selectmen asked voters to support the plan; the article was written to seek only general backing from voters.

“We’re going to ask you tonight to vote on this proposal and see if we should continue with it,” said board chairman Warren Doty who used a slide show to portray the plan and its history. “It’s up to the town meeting to decide how you want to go on this,” he said.

“Beach and pond access is an important issue for most residents and this is an opportunity to restore Squibnocket to its natural state,” said selectman Bill Rossi. “Experts have said that this is a possible model for other coastal towns to achieve a win-win for the municipality and homeowners.”

But discussion turned quickly to an amendment to the article that had been planned ahead by opponents. The amendment called for more study under a new committee, to be appointed by town moderator Everett Poole.

Everett Poole and town counsel Ronald Rappaport share a moment. — Peter Simon

Opinions were sharply divided.

Thomas Bena, a backer of the amendment, criticized the selectmen for what he said was a closed process to develop the plan. “I’m really disappointed that you haven’t had an open process . . . not all options have been explored,” he said. “This is a community that cares. Take a deep breath everyone and let’s find the best solution.”

David Damroth, a Blacksmith Valley resident, agreed. “I have gone to many hearings to try and learn new information, and I’ve always been told to sit down, not interested,” he said. “We need to do this openly and transparently, not negotiate deals where nobody knows what’s being said or agreed to. For me all we’re asking for is fairness in this process . . . this amendment includes everybody.”

Joan Malkin took a more moderate view and said she supported the amendment because it gave the town the option to proceed with the proposal while considering other possibilities.

“It leaves the door open for consideration for the proposal, it could turn out to be the best one,” she said. “It doesn’t force us to vote against the current proposal.”

But Mr. Rossi defended the work that had gone into the plan.

“To say it’s not been an open process is nonsense. We have been honest with our plans from the get go,” he said. And he reminded voters that the Squibnocket Farm homeowners planned to build a road, with or without town involvement. “They have a severe need to take care of the access problem,” Mr. Rossi said.

David Damroth criticized the selectmen and backed an amendment calling for more study. — Peter Simon

Conservation commission member Pamela Goff said voters should trust the selectmen to make decisions on behalf of the town.

“We elect our selectmen to their position, which is the executive position in our town, they’re the only ones who can negotiate deals for us,” she said. “My suggestion is if you don’t like it, vote it down and say you don’t want to proceed . . . but you might be throwing out the good in pursuing the perfect.”

J. B. Riggs Parker underscored the difficulty of negotiations involving multiple parties, and commended the selectmen for their work.

“For those of you who have participated in your prior or current lives in negotiations . . . it doesn’t come easy,” Mr. Parker said. “These selectmen have worked at this project; it doesn’t mean they’re not going to work at it some more. All they are asking for is for us to say, go forward, take the next steps and come back to us.”

Steve Lewenberg agreed.

“I’d like not to throw out the baby with the bath water here,” he said. “The selectmen have done a tremendous amount of work, some of which is well thought out — maybe other suggestions from homeowners in the area are needed.”

In the end the amendment carried 83-81 following a handwritten Australian ballot. And the main article as amended was approved in a voice vote.

In other town meeting business, voters agreed to spend $10,000 on a new shellfish experiment in Chilmark Pond using oysters and ribbed mussels to reduce nitrogen levels in the pond.

Selectman Bill Rossi defended the work of town leaders in brokering the plan for Squibnocket beach. — Peter Simon

They also agreed to back a set of Islandwide fertilizer regulations under a proposed district of critical planning concern, and concluded the night by passing a nonbinding resolution urging Gov. Deval Patrick to close the nuclear power plant in Plymouth. The petition was presented by Zee Gamson.

Mr. Poole said the boards of health are offering a free distribution of potassium iodine on Friday, a drug that protects the thyroid “in case of a nuclear mishap.”

“I’m hoping we won’t need to use that,” said Ms. Gamson.

The meeting concluded just before 11 p.m.

Discussion about Squibnocket lingered well after the meeting. Reached by telephone on Wednesday, Mr. Rossi said he felt that the debate had turned personal in recent months.

“I think that’s unfortunate and I don’t think there’s any place for it in town politics. You should be able to disagree and put your opinion out there and not make it personal,” the selectman said. “They had a group calling people on the phone and sending mailers and embellished pictures of the bridge that were Armageddon-like,” he said. “It’s hard to combat that and I don’t feel good about it.”

Meanwhile, the president of Squibnocket Farm said homeowners have no choice but to move ahead with building a new road into the subdivision. “We are on a timeline imposed by nature and not by the deliberative process,” said Lawrence Lasser. At the same time he did not rule out continued discussions with the town. “We are going to participate if offered the chance in improving on the plan,” he said.