The best way to draw a crowd up-Island? Discuss making changes in Menemsha.

Planning board member Janet Weidner helped lead discussion last Friday on master plan for Menemsha. — Mark Alan Lovewell

It was standing room only in the Chilmark library meeting room Friday for a public forum on architect Bill Brewster’s preliminary improvement plan for the area.

“Do you want people to ask questions as you go?” asked planning board member Janet Weidner, gesturing to a lively crowd of upwards of 50 business owners, planning board members, fishermen, and Menemsha neighbors crowded in for the presentation.

“No, I think if we could, we’ll get through it, and then we’ll back up and answer questions,” Mr. Brewster replied.

The Menemsha corridor project is an early step in Chilmark’s effort to update its master plan. The iconic Island harbor and fishing village still looks almost the same as it did decades ago, but more recently the high volume of summer visitors (and with them their potentially dangerous lack of know-how on navigating the Island) has raised safety concerns. Among problems to address are traffic flow, accessibility, parking capacity and lack of pedestrian walkways along Basin Road to the beachfront.

Pedestrians have historically walked down the middle of Basin Road to get to the beach. (The current method of discouraging that behavior according to one attendee: “It’s called a horn!”)

Mr. Brewster suggested that a crushed shell and stone pedestrian walkway be delineated along the west side of Basin Road, where most businesses are, rather than the east side. That was a controversial notion, since pedestrians would be walking behind parked cars. Mr. Brewster cited the difficulty and expense of cutting into the embankment to create a walkway on the other side of the road as one reason for that suggestion. The walkway would not cross Basin Road until the comfort station.

Several business owners didn’t think that would work.

Architect Bill Brewster presented the plan. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“You’re proposing to have a walking path where people are pulling in and out. And you don’t have just small little smart cars; you have large vehicles like suburbans and trucks,” said Annette Cingle.

“I’m right on your proposed walk, which would mean you’d be taking more of my land,” said Jane Slater, a Menemsha resident and former owner of Over South Antiques. She added: “When it rains, there’s a river that runs right down that side of Basin Road. Shells wash away.”

In the midst of spirited discussion and criticism, Chilmark Chocolates owner Mary Beth Grady stood up.

“I think the work that’s been done is remarkable, and coming here today and seeing a full room of people, it’s very heartening,” she said. “I hope that the spirit or the tenor of the room doesn’t stay in [discussion of the walkway], because I think there’s a lot of good things that have come up.”

She cited Mr. Brewster’s consideration of people with disabilities as an example of one of the triumphs of the plan. He suggested adding a wheelchair-accessible path that extends all the way down to the water. She said the bus turnaround Mr. Brewster suggested near the comfort station was another great idea.

Mr. Brewster, who was commissioned by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, has visited the area several times, and has already waded through a great deal of community comment and suggestions.

Crowd at Chilmark library was standing room only. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“We were handed a lot of very good, solid background work from local people who know this place intimately,” he said. “We took that work and tried to incorporate it as much as we could.”

For better traffic flow, Mr. Brewster said improved signage is necessary at the intersection of North Road and Basin Road to prevent drivers from taking the turn at high speeds, potentially endangering pedestrians walking along Basin Road. He also suggested engineering a turnaround area big enough to accommodate most passenger vehicles at the end of North Road where it meets Boat House Road.

He also designed a bus turnaround near the comfort station with a pedestrian shelter and better signage for newcomers.

For parking, Mr. Brewster suggested a reconfiguration of the parking lot at the end of Basin Road and use of parking signs on elevated posts to delineate parking spots rather than curb stops, which often get shifted by cars. He also suggested repainting parking lines throughout the area to make parking spaces the appropriate size.

Many of the suggestions, including the walkway to the beach, are designed to be seasonal: put out in the summer and stored in the winter.

Mr. Brewster offered the caveat that these are mostly conceptual solutions at this stage, and would require review by surveyors and engineers before they could actually be used.

Now that the public has had an opportunity to review the plan and give suggestions, the next step is choosing priorities. Selectmen will decide which parts to act on first.

At the close of the meeting, Mr. Brewster drew a hearty round of applause.