Sheriff’s Meadow, Quansoo beach group agree on gate location

Sheriff’s Meadow, Quansoo beach group agree on gate location

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A looming court battle over the location of a gate, maintained and staffed by the private Quansoo Beach Association with an attendant on Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation (SMF) property, is on hold. The gate and the attendant controlled access to a dirt road leading to an exclusive stretch of South Shore barrier beach owned by association members.

Lawyers for Sheriff’s Meadow and the leadership of the (QBA) agreed to move the gate temporarily to a new location further down the road closer to the private beach. The agreement, which will remain in effect until October 2011, includes a provision that the gate be open as it has been traditionally during the annual fall Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, now entering its 65th year.

Lawyers for both organizations filed a joint motion to stay a lawsuit Sheriff’s Meadow filed on June 4 against the QBA in Dukes County Superior Court.

Adam Moore, SMF executive director, said both sides would monitor the effects of relocating the gate. If it works out, Mr. Moore said, they would negotiate a permanent agreement. “It seems to be working well so far,” Mr. Moore told The Times. “So far, so good.”

Landbank concerns

The decision to file a lawsuit followed two years of often difficult negotiations. Sheriff’s Meadow asked the QBA to move the gate closer to the beach it is intended to protect. But those close to the issue said that a series of exhaustive behind-the-scenes negotiations and discussions with James White, QBA president, led to no resolution (June 24, “SMF files lawsuit to move Quansoo gate“).

At issue is access along winding Quansoo Road, a one-lane dirt road, approximately two miles long, that provides access from South Road and leads to a private QBA beach parking lot and the sandy beach that divides Tisbury Great Pond from the Atlantic Ocean.

The road also provides access to houses in the Quansoo neighborhood, the 145-acre Sheriff’s Meadow’s Quansoo Farm, and the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank’s 5.8-acre Quansoo Preserve, open only for parking in the off-season.

Jim White, QBA president, owns a house and guesthouse off Quansoo Road that was formerly located behind the gate. He did not return a message left Tuesday on his answering machine.

Until it was moved, the QBA’s heavy steel gate was on Sheriff’s Meadow property, approximately one mile up the dirt road from the beach it is meant to protect. A QBA attendant staffs the locked gate during the summer months.

Only key holders, or guests, or workers cleared by key holders, are allowed to pass through the gate. A deed to a sliver of Quansoo beach comes with a coveted key to the gate’s lock. The lots have sold for $300,000 or more. The gate traditionally has been left open during the off-season, from Sept. 15 to June 15.

In an 11-page lawsuit now on hold, Ronald Rappaport of Reynolds, Rappaport, Kaplan and Hackney law firm in Edgartown, said the “QBA, an association of private beach rights owners, has no legal right to maintain a locked gate, which blocks a single-lane road and impedes access to a newly opened, 145-acre Sheriff’s Meadow preserve situated on the south shore of Martha’s Vineyard.”

The lawsuit said that QBA has refused to remove the gate, claiming prescriptive rights, meaning access rights that can be established with constant use over time.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Emily Bramhall, SMF president, said her organization was very disappointed that court action had become necessary.

Ms. Bramhall said Sheriff’s Meadow moved trails and constructed a new road designed to lessen any impact from visitors to its farm’s walking trails. She said the lawsuit was definitely the last resort.

Lawrence P. Heffernan of the Boston law firm of Robinson and Cole represents the QBA and its 135-family membership. Mr. Heffernan did not return a telephone call to his office Tuesday.

OBA has expressed concern that if the gate were moved the public could attempt to reach the beach through the Land Bank property that sits further down the road past Quansoo Farm.

In a letter dated June 2, 2009, addressed to Mr. Rappaport (available at mvtimes.com), Mr. Heffernan asked how the Land Bank would “prevent unauthorized use of the Quansoo Road extension by its employees and visitors.”

Mr. Heffernan said increased vehicle or foot traffic resulting from public use “may make the QBA’s use of its easement rights less convenient — for example, pedestrians or bicyclists may impermissibly impede lawful vehicular travel over Quansoo Road and create a nuisance.”