Chilmark officials raise Home Port question

Chilmark selectmen Tuesday said they want to meet with the potential new owners of the Home Port restaurant to discuss three potential concerns related to the operation of the 85-year-old Menemsha landmark eatery.

The board also began its search for a new police chief to replace Timothy S. Rich, who will retire in July.

Selectmen met two hours earlier than the usual 7:30 pm starting time so they could attend the inaugural ball at the Chilmark Community Center. The board moved steadily through a 12-item agenda and adjourned at 6:45 pm.

The selectmen’s main concern about the Home Port’s operations centered on new information that a small part of the restaurant’s septic system may be located on town land, in an area that is a potential parking bottleneck. The board, which issues a common victualer’s license to restaurants, also wants to review hours of operation with the new owners.

Noting that the board was alerted to the alleged septic system issue by the town board of health, selectman Warren Doty was initially nonplussed. “We generally get short two-sentence communications from the board of health. The board of health is responsible for septic issues. They need approval from the board of selectmen? Why are we involved?” he asked.

Selectman J.B. Riggs Parker said that the town might need a letter of indemnification from the owners, if the system is indeed on town land. A review of the Home Port plot plan by the board of health discovered the alleged septic system issue, chairman Frank Fenner said.

Bob and Sarah Nixon, who operate two inns in Menemsha, offered late last summer to buy the Home Port from long-time owner-operator Will Holtham. They did so on the eve of a special town meeting vote to decide if the town should acquire the property for public use.

Voters turned down the town purchase plan. The Nixons and Will Holtham entered negotiations that are expected to be concluded early next month.

Selectmen this week characterized the meeting as a courtesy to the Nixons, before the sale closes. “We don’t want them to be blindsided when they come in for operating permits and find there may be conditions they weren’t expecting,” Mr. Parker said.

“The Nixons are good people. I believe they’ll do a good job here,” added Mr. Fenner, who operates the Menemsha Galley, a takeout restaurant across the road from the Home Port.

The restaurant’s operating permits expired on December 31, executive secretary Tim Carroll noted.

Selectmen asked Mr. Carroll to contact David Zeilinger, general manager of the Nixons’ Menemsha Inn, to schedule the meeting. Mr. Zeilinger is acting general manager of the Home Port for the Nixons, who reside off-season in Washington, D.C.

Selectmen also expressed concern about parking at the Home Port. Noting that a separate lot in front of the restaurant, used in the past for employee and customer parking, has been sold separately, Mr. Fenner said, “I’m concerned about a parking problem. We need to discuss that.”

Turning to the task of replacing Chief Rich, who will retire after 33 years with the department, the board set a March 2 deadline for applications.

The new chief will oversee four full-time officers, three part-time officers and nine summer officers, according to the advertised job description. The posted salary range is $66,000 to $84,000 per year. Chief Rich is paid $84,377 a year. One selectman will participate in the first round of interviews and all three will participate in open meetings with the final candidates.

In other news, the board asked the beach committee for additional detail, on a plan to replace the town shed at Lucy Vincent Beach.

Selectmen also voted to increase the catch limits for commercial bay scallopers from two to three bushels daily. In return for a higher catch limit, fishermen will move some of the abundant seed scallops in Quitsa Pond to Menemsha Pond.

Following discussion, selectmen appointed Bill Bennett, owner of Bennett Electric Co. in West Tisbury, to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Mr. Bennett is well acquainted with the regional permitting body. He spent seven months and a considerable amount of money in an effort to secure a Martha’s Vineyard Commission permit for Cozy Hearth, an Edgartown development designed to provide affordable housing for his employees and friends.

“He’s brought matters before them, and he’ll bring common sense to the position,” Mr. Parker predicted. Tim Lasker and Jeff Herman were the other candidates.