Boch lot provides space for weeds, not much else

What’s come to be called the “Boch lot” is about three-quarters of an acre of vacant property on the waterside of Beach Road opposite the Citgo gas station and next to The Times office.

Why a prime piece of Tisbury real estate, currently assessed at $2.2 million, has sat vacant for nearly a decade is not an easy question to answer. The lot that frames a lovely view of Vineyard Haven Harbor is not itself a pretty picture.

A heavy chain bars use of the lot by people looking for a convenient parking spot. A cluster of ancient wooden buildings, the remnants of the long ago Hancock contracting business, provides a dilapidated cornerstone to the lot. Periodically, someone cuts the weeds that grow up through the gravel lot.

Ernie Boch Sr., a seasonal Edgartown resident and successful New England auto dealer before his death in July 2003, purchased the property in 1987 for $600,000 and developed it as a parking lot.

The property is subject to an overlay of zoning regulations. It sits within the town’s waterfront/commercial district and the Vineyard Haven Harbor District designated by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Various permitted uses would include retail, wholesale, service, office, public utility, fish processing, and marinas. A restaurant or outdoor café also could be built on the Boch Park site with a special permit from the planning board. Any use would also require the approval of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

The property could connect to the town’s sewer line as a retail space. Changing the use of the facility would require a decision by the sewer flow review board.

The Tisbury planning board rejected Mr. Boch’s plan to build a 99-car valet parking lot there in 1994, right after the Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved it. Mr. Boch sued the town, and the case went to land court. In 1997, a judge ruled that Mr. Boch should reapply under the town’s old 1991 zoning bylaw (it was revised in 1996) but warned that the 1991 bylaw might be illegal. In a clarification of her decision, the judge said she’d made no decision as to whether the use was permitted or not.

Following entry of the 1997 judgment, Mr. Boch obtained an order of conditions from the Tisbury conservation commission and a permit to demolish several structures on the property. He commenced operation of the parking lot at the site on May 30, 1999.

Five days later, town building inspector Ken Barwick issued his cease and desist order, demanding that Mr. Boch close his business because it did not comply with town zoning ordinances.

In February 2002, a group of Tisbury residents asked that an article be placed on the warrant for the April annual town meeting, requesting voters to take $500,000 from the town’s stabilization fund, and borrow $1,495,000 to acquire the property “for the purpose of creating a pocket park for public use and enjoyment to preserve the vista of the harbor waterfront in perpetuity for the visitors and citizens of Tisbury.”

In January 23, 2003, Kathryn Roessel, then Vineyard Steamship Authority (SSA) member, asked boatline management to explore the possibility of a purchase to use the Boch lot for SSA employee parking in an effort to create more staging room at its Vineyard Haven terminal.

In April 2008, George Balco, a former long-time member of the Tisbury finance and advisory committee (FinCom), submitted an article by petition for Tisbury’s annual town meeting warrant that asked voters to authorize the selectmen to request that the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank purchase the property. The Land Bank declined to act on the recommendation. Land Bank officials said it would not be a good use of funds, and that the Land Bank was not in favor of purchasing small in-town parcels.

Although the property remains unused and an eyesore, it is does provide one benefit for the town: In fiscal year 2010, the Boch family paid $18,664 in property taxes, according to Tisbury’s tax collector/treasurer’s office.

Town selectmen have continued to discuss the future of the property with Ernie Boch Jr. “In conversations with people at Ernie’s office last month, I was told it will be put on their agenda to re-discuss what’s going to happen with the Beach Road property and where to go with it,” Tisbury selectman chairman Jeff Kristal said in a recent phone call.

Mr. Boch could not be reached by The Times for comment.

In the meantime, the grounds were mowed and spruced up for a car show held there on July 2. Mr. Boch donated the use of his property for the fundraiser for the Tisbury Volunteer Fire Fighters’ relief fund, Mr. Kristal said.