Edgartown protects special ways
Edgartown voters at a special town meeting Thursday night approved new zoning regulations for designated special ways and agreed to fund two county departments.
A total of 246 voters attended the meeting in the Old Whaling Church on March 6.
Voters also rejected additional funding for the county engineer, but approved money to keep the county rodent control department, and health programs. The town meeting also voted in favor of a non-binding article opposing further funding for the Iraq war.
The town meeting overwhelmingly approved a set of new zoning regulations intended to limit development, restrict cutting of trees and limit motorized vehicles along six "ancient ways," former cart paths and roadways that date back hundreds of years.
Benjamin Hall Jr. and members of the Hall family, owners of property along several of the designated ancient ways, objected strenuously to the new regulations.
Mr. Hall offered a motion to indefinitely postpone the zoning articles, but that was defeated on a voice vote. He also offered a series of amendments to change the wording of the articles, which were all defeated on voice votes.
With a two-thirds vote needed the first zoning article passed by a vote of 199-47. A second article passed on a voice vote.
The issue came to a head this past fall, when neighbors complained to police that Mr. Hall cut trees on property along Middle Line Path that he did not own. Mr. Hall said he had a right to maintain access to property his parents own.
Discussion over the article was tense, emotional, and combative.
After planning board chairman Roger Becker summarized the two articles and outlined the process of four public hearings on the issue, Therese Hall lashed out tearfully at backers of the articles to restrict further development, charging that the articles targeted her family.
"These terrible people who do these terrible things," said Ms. Hall. "Don't they understand what fascism is? You cannot go on like Hitler. Who is the enemy here? Who is the most impacted? You know who. I think it's cruel beyond cruelty."
Her son, Benjamin Hall Jr., a lawyer, then parsed parts of the articles phrase by phrase.
"We feel very singled out," said Mr. Hall. "It's a very complicated bylaw that tries to sound like it's doing one thing and preserving byways, but it's actually doing far more, and it's doing so in a manner that sets up a virtual dictatorship in the planning board to tell you whether or not you can drive to your land any more.
"This is about railroading a series of special permit regulations down the throat of my family so that we will have our rights to drive to our properties extinguished.
They're stepping on our necks with iron boots," said Mr. Hall.
Susan Sellers, who said she is a 20-year resident of Pennywise Path in Edgartown, responded angrily.
"I am so offended by the scare tactics used by the Hall family," said Ms. Sellers. "This is a way for these beautiful paths to be preserved. You're not the center of the universe, believe it or not," she said directly to members of the family seated a few pews away.
Mr. Hall, and his father, Benjamin Hall, Sr., both predicted that the issue would be the subject of further litigation against the town.
"It's wonderful to be part of the mob," said Benjaman Hall Sr. "because you're not the one who's being lynched."
Voters agreed to help fund the county's rodent control and health services departments but rejected picking up a share of the cost of a county engineer. Edgartown's share is $14,346.
One voter objected to consideration of budget articles at a special town meeting, before the annual town meeting, where the entire budget can be evaluated. A motion to indefinitely postpone the first of the county articles was overwhelmingly defeated.
Harbormaster Charles Blair spoke forcefully in favor of the rodent control program, crediting the county department with eradicating a rat problem on North Wharf, where visiting boats drop off garbage.
"I handle visitors garbage, and I handle it by the ton," said Mr. Blair. "They solved my rat problem. We haven't had a rat problem for two years."
Sarah Kuh, director of the Vineyard Health Care Access Program, offered information about county health programs. The program serves about 2,000 clients each year, and about 400 of those are Edgartown residents, she said.
"We have become a safety net," said Ms. Kuh. "There is nowhere else on the island for people to get these services."
Edgartown's payment is contingent on approval by the five other Island towns.
A nonbinding resolution on the Iraq war which called on Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator John Kerry, and Representative William Delahunt to vote against additional "Iraq occupation funds, and to approve only those funds necessary for the safe and rapid withdrawal of all our troops" failed on a voice vote in the judgment of town moderator Phillip "Jeff" Norton. But at the request of voters Mr. Norton called for a standing count and the article passed 106-85.
With characteristic good humor, Mr. Norton drew chuckles with his reaction to the misjudged voice vote. "I think I was wrong," said Mr. Norton. "First time. I better give this up."