Tisbury selectmen on the fence about encroachment issues
Photo by Ralph Stewart
If Robert Frost had been at the Tisbury selectmen's meeting Tuesday, he might have had second thoughts about writing that "Good fences make good neighbors."
Issues about how to enforce laws regarding fences in Tisbury that encroach on town property provoked a clash between selectmen Jeff Kristal and Tristan Israel. Ken Barwick set the stage for the ruckus when he called the selectmen's attention to a house off Main Street.
Mr. Barwick, who is also the town's fence viewer, said the property owner, who he did not name, had built a split-rail fence that encroached 12 feet onto the public way.
Mr. Barwick gave selectmen a draft letter that he wrote with the guidance of town counsel David Doneski. In the letter, Mr. Barwick advised the homeowner to relocate or remove the fence within 10 days from the date of the letter, or the town would remove it.
Too harsh, too liberal
In discussion about Mr. Barwick's letter Tuesday, Mr. Kristal took exception to its harsh wording. He also questioned the purpose of removing fences all over Tisbury. Doing so, he said, might create lots of small parcels all over town that would require maintenance by the DPW.
Mr. Kristal said he would also understand if some property owners were resentful and consequently did nothing to help maintain the area where a fence and possibly some nice landscaping had stood.
Mr. Israel said he was concerned about creating a double standard by not enforcing the rules, especially since the town's fence viewer brought a case that involved what he considered a major encroachment.
Mr. Kristal suggested amending the letter to make it less confrontational than the one Mr. Barwick presented, which he dubbed as "Doneski-esque," a reference to the town lawyer.
Mr. Israel began dictating one out loud: "Dear fellow resident, we are sorry that you are not here to spend the winter with us on Martha's Vineyard..."
"Dear taxpayer," Mr. Kristal retorted. "Let's call it what it is. They do contribute, especially since we have a split tax rate. They contribute more."
"We really feel your pain," Mr. Israel continued as though he were still dictating the letter.
"We thank you for your investment in our town and sending our children to school," Mr. Kristal interjected, adding as an aside, "I think we differ."
"I think you're being our liberal here," Mr. Israel taunted.
"You get more done with a little honey," Mr. Kristal said.
"All right, I'll remember that line," Mr. Israel conceded.
He agreed with Mr. Kristal that Mr. Bugbee should draft another letter.
Selectmen did not read the letter aloud and throughout the long discussion that followed there was no mention of the homeowner's name or the property address, described as "off Main Street."
The draft letter dated March 2, obtained by The Times yesterday, is addressed to Eve Chilton Weinstein of New York. She is the former wife of recent Academy award winning director Harvey Weinstein.
"We are writing with regard to your wooden, split rail fence running the full one hundred sixteen feet of your lot frontage along Main Street in the town of Tisbury," the letter said. "As was stated in the November 3, 2009 letter to you from the town's fence viewer, after locating permanent boundary markers in your immediate area, the town has determined that your fence is encroaching approx. 12 lineal feet into the forty-foot layout of Main Street, a public way owned by the town of Tisbury.
"You did not respond to the fence viewer's letter directing removal of the fence," the letter continued.
Mr. Barwick asked the selectmen whether they approved of the letter as written and said it would be signed by him and public works director Fred LaPiana, who said he had not seen the text of the letter.
A bit of history
Mr. Israel asked Mr. LaPiana to refresh his memory on what had been decided last summer when Mr. Barwick discussed enforcing fence regulations. Mr. LaPiana said it was his understanding that the selectmen would review each encroachment on a case-by-case basis and decide whether to instruct the Department of Public Works to remove the fence.
Mr. Barwick told the selectmen at a meeting last August that as the town's fence viewer, he wanted to start enforcing the law regarding encroachments on town property.
The selectmen said they would like to discuss it with the Board of Public Works commissioners at a joint meeting on August 10. The selectmen came up with a process in which Mr. Barwick would bring each case under consideration to review with town administrator John Bugbee before presentation to the selectmen. Then they would decide whether the fence in question was of a significant nature, such as a matter of public safety, that would warrant removal by the DPW.
Mr. Barwick followed up on the issue at the selectmen's August 17 meeting and told them he would be submitting a list of fence encroachments on town property to Mr. Bugbee. He also made mention of a fence at a residence in West Chop that extended 12 feet onto the Main Street shoulder, which is Ms. Weinstein's.
In a phone call yesterday, Mr. Bugbee said he plans to take a look at everything, figure out what needs to be done, and work out a plan with Mr. Barwick to streamline the process.
"It's a very difficult issue, as you heard last night," Mr. Bugbee said in a phone call yesterday. "We've got, as Ken mentioned, hundreds of these cases where you've got people encroaching on town property, and that being said, in many cases people encroaching on town property are actually keeping it aesthetically maintained.
"And when you've got a DPW director telling the town he doesn't have money or resources to take on these many parcels in terms of maintenance, it's a very difficult issue," Mr. Bugbee added, "The last thing we want to do is take on a parcel of property that deteriorates into an eyesore, because nobody wins in that scenario. At the same time, we have to uphold the law, and at this point it's a matter of sifting through hundreds of cases and identifying the most significant cases."
Mr. LaPiana said in a phone conversation yesterday that there are two issues involved, one of intrusion on town property that has occurred over many years, and the other one of determining where property lines are. "Sometimes bounds aren't there and may require additional survey work," Mr. LaPiana said.
Since there may be extra costs involved in some cases, he added, "I think each case should be handled on its own merit and, as the board of selectmen decided, they should deal with each as they see fit. It's a matter of common sense, also a neighborly approach to the issue.
"If [the intrusion] affects the DPW's operation or the town's interest, we will be immediately involved anyway, before it even gets to the board of selectmen," Mr. LaPiana concluded.