Chilmark selectmen navigate packed agenda

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File photo by Tim Johnson

Chilmark selectmen on Tuesday made their way through a packed agenda, including a review of a new lease for the Tea Lane farmhouse and a conservation restriction for 5.5 acres off Meeting House Way.

The meeting started with a visit by Laura Roosevelt, the new president of the board of trustees for The Yard, the dance colony next door to town hall on Middle Road.

Ms. Roosevelt requested a waiver of the rental fees for the use of the Chilmark Community Center for a fundraising event on January 13.

She said The Yard has gone through some tough times this past year with the revelation of a $230,000 deficit. “We have been making significant progress but we aren’t out of the woods yet,” she said.

Ms. Roosevelt said most of the money raised will be used to pay off Island vendors. Selectmen agreed to the waiver after only a brief discussion.

Selectmen then reviewed a proposed conservation restriction for two parcels totaling 5.52 acres off Meeting House Way owned by Richard Coleman.

The conservation commission endorsed the restriction in a letter dated Sept. 7 that said the restriction would “maintain significant acreage in a primarily undeveloped and protected state” and “reduce density of development and preserve water resources for the town, and open the possibility of walking trails in the future and preserve wildlife habitat.”

Selectman Jonathan Mayhew said he was concerned there wasn’t as easement in the agreement that would allow for a walking trail to connect to the nearby Sheriff’s Meadow or Land Bank properties.

“If you say perhaps we can put an easement here or a walkway … that has some potential. Other than that we are taking six acres out of the equation and getting nothing for it,” he said.

Attorney Geoghan Coogan, representing Mr. Coleman, disagreed. “This is eliminating six acres of building that somebody could put a pretty substantial house on. This is protecting land; while it is certainly a benefit to the owner I would argue you could probably sell that piece of property for a hell of a lot more money that he’s going to get making a tax donation,” Mr. Coogan said.

Selectman Frank Fenner noted there is language in the agreement that allows for an easement in the future, although that option is left to the grantor, not the town.

Mr. Coogan noted that when a conservation agency like Sherriff’s Meadow or the Land Bank negotiates a conservation restriction, they pay extra for the rights to an easement.

Mr. Coogan said Mr. Coleman was not opposed to granting an easement, but was reluctant to put it in an agreement now since it was unclear whether a path could connect to nearby conservation properties.

“I find it hard to say: let’s make a path to nowhere. If there was an abutting property that had a connection to it then great, we will connect through it, it’s a wonderful idea,” he said.

Conservation commission member and Land Bank commissioner Pamela Goff then suggested the agreement have a provision for a dormant easement, which are frequently employed by the Land Bank.

Selectmen unanimously approved the conservation restriction subject to a dormant easement to be approved by selectmen in the future.

Selectmen also reviewed a revised version of the Tri-Town Ambulance agreement with Chilmark and Aquinnah that contained a number of changes made after the agreement was sent to the town labor counsel.

Selectmen on Tuesday said the changes were mostly minor and for clarification purposes.

Selectmen unanimously agreed to adopt the changes and send the revised agreement to the other towns for review.

Selectmen also reviewed an early lease agreement for the Tea Lane Farmhouse drafted by the town attorney. The 21-page agreement, not including exhibits and attachments, calls for a 99-year lease, and allows for the occupant to be compensated for improvements they make to the property.

The agreement calls for the town and the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank to be joint landlords for the farmlands, and also includes a provision requiring the lessee to keep the property as a working farm.

The lease agreement also requires the lessee to make a number of renovations to the foundation, interior and exterior. Among other things the plans call for the heating, plumbing, and electrical to be up to code.

Selectmen said they appreciated all the work done by the town attorney’s office, but said they had many questions about the agreement, including the length of the lease.

“It was interesting to me to see that such a document like this is possible. But some of the questions I had: what’s the necessity of going 99-years? Can we go 70 or 75, it just seems to me 99-years is an awful long time,” Mr. Fenner said.

Selectman Warren Doty said the lease was a step in the right direction but felt the agreement needed more scrutiny and possible revision before it went to a vote.

“I don’t think we should approve anything tonight, we need to establish a direction and a timeline for how we are reviewing things, to keep this process moving along,” he said, adding:

“I admit the lease was more complicated than I thought, it has attachments going up to the letter K.”

Mr. Doty said some of the required renovations are too vague, and also said selectmen must answer the central question of whether the farmhouse should be classified as affordable housing.

“[The town attorney's] office did a great job of putting this all together. Now it’s our job to evaluate it all and say which of these things we like and which of these things we should change a little bit,” he said.

Selectmen agreed to review the agreement further and revisit it in the future.