Less than six months after beginning their search, Chilmark officials have zeroed in on a possible site for a new public safety building. The selectmen said this week that the town hopes to purchase the Santander Bank building on South Road.
The bank announced last week that they will close the branch on May 29 and put the building on the market.
The property across from the Chilmark Community Center is assessed at $576,800. If the town is successful, the site would eventually house the Chilmark fire department as well as the Tri-Town Ambulance Service, which is now headquartered in West Tisbury.
Chilmark’s current fire station, just down the road from the bank property, has been expanded twice since the 1930s and firefighters have long struggled with the building’s lack of space. Meanwhile, Tri-Town ambulance, which serves West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah, has been seeking a more central location. Chilmark already handles the service’s payroll and other financial matters.
Selectmen met privately with town counsel on Tuesday to discuss the potential acquisition. Selectman Bill Rossi, who serves on the town’s public safety building study committee, said there already seemed to be “wide interest” in the property. “We will know by the end of March what is going to happen with it,” he said. The selectmen plan to submit a letter of intent this week.
Last year the committee recommended the center of town as the best location, since it would allow quicker access to main roads. Mr. Rossi said the new building would require up to 10,000 square feet, and could hopefully be expanded to accommodate the police department if necessary.
Chilmark voters will be asked at the annual town meeting to approve $30,000 for an architectural engineering study and $10,000 to hire an owner-project manager, as required by the state for projects expected to cost more than $1.5 million. Mr. Rossi said the project as a whole would cost between $3.1 and $3.7 million. In other business Tuesday, the selectmen unanimously approved a 38-article warrant for the annual town meeting which will be held April 27.
Among other things, voters will also be asked whether to approve a zoning bylaw amendment aimed partly at addressing the needs of the Island’s aging population. Property owners who obtain a special permit would be allowed to have one accessory apartment of up to 800 square feet, or 400 square feet if the property is not suitable for a guest house. The apartments could be rented as affordable housing, or otherwise rented or provided free of charge to family members or caregivers.
A public hearing on the amendment will be held April 9 at the Chilmark library.
Also on Tuesday, town assessor Pamela Bunker reported a proposed tax rate of $2.63 for fiscal year 2015, up from last year’s rate of $2.48. The town’s total assessed value for the fiscal year was $3,114,795,690, down about $24 million from last year. The average home assessment was just more than $1.37 million, down $8,000 from last year.
Ms. Bunker said changing viewsheds and other factors had been discovered during the town’s first comprehensive field investigation in 10 years, resulting in some major fluctuations in property values. Some properties with better views than previously reported shot up in value.
“A substantial water view, they jumped a good $300,000, because that’s what the sales were telling us,” Ms. Bunker said. In other cases, the views had become smaller and those properties lost value.
In some of those cases, Ms. Bunker said, trees on a neighboring property may have grown and obscured the view. Few structures had been replaced or improved, she added, but residential water views were the main factor in the changing values.
Ms. Bunker expected to submit the tax rate to the Department of Revenue this week.