Chilmark voters easily approve Tea Lane Farmstead plan

The Tea Lane Farmstead will be leased to farmer. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Chilmark voters Monday easily approved plans to lease the Tea Lane farmstead to a resident farmer and spend $100,000 in community preservation act (CPA) funds to renovate the historic farmhouse on the property during a fast-moving special town meeting.

A total of 112 registered voters turned out, a large number for a special town meeting in the dead of winter. Voters approved two articles about the Tea Lane farmstead by near unanimous votes.

Voters first authorized selectmen to lease the Tea Lane farmstead to a resident farmer, selected by the board and town Land Bank advisory board, based on criteria developed by selectmen with the town farm committee. The lease is for a period of 75 years.

The same article authorized selectmen to sell the farmhouse, barn, garage and two outbuildings to a resident farmer for $1. The successful applicant must draft a farm plan for the property that the farm committee and selectmen approve.

The added value of renovations made to the farmhouse will be owned by the applicant, subject to the final approval of selectmen.

Voters shot down plans to renovate the Tea Lane farmhouse on two previous occasions – first at a special town meeting in September of 2010 at a cost of $300,000 and then at a special town meeting in September of 2011 at a cost of $550,000.

Voters were in a more agreeable mood Monday. The only discussion about the two articles consisted of questions about the specifics of the plan. Only one person, Chris Murphy, offered a personal view.

“I was one of the more vocal critics when it first got underway, not the original plan but one of the subsequent plans, so I figured if I got loud about that plan I should get loud about this and say, thank you,” Mr Murphy said. “I’m not sure you will ever come up with a plan that everyone agreed with, but I think this looks like a workable plan. It says a lot about our town that you can come up with a new plan, something different than we’ve ever done before: it says we are still growing and learning.”

Frank Fenner, chairman of the selectmen, explained the long and sometimes bumpy road for the Tea Lane farmstead, located at the northwest corner of the intersection of Tea Lane and Middle Road.

In 2001, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank and Chilmark combined to protect the 40-acre farmstead.

Under the terms of a combined purchase, the town bought the farmhouse and farm buildings and three acres of surrounding property for $250,000 from owners Walter, Elmer, and Robert Silva and Clara Rabbitt. The Land Bank purchased the remaining property.

As part of the agreement, a life estate provision was granted to Robert Silva.

Mr. Fenner said the town worked hard on the plans rejected by voters at town meeting in 2010 and 2011. But realizing that voters had no appetite for a costly renovation of the farmhouse, selectmen shifted gears and came up with a plan that involved a long-term lease.

“We have gone through a draft, two drafts actually, of what this lease would be like and we waited to make sure it was a viable option,” Mr. Fenner said. “We are very close to finishing it, and it is certainly a viable option.”

Selectman Warren Doty, also a member of the farm committee appointed to help select a resident farmer for Tea Lane farmstead, said the town held an open house last month at which more than 40 candidates expressed interest in leasing the property. “We have thought about this process and we have spent a lot of time in town hall talking about the Tea Lane farmhouse and this is our third time at town meeting,” he said. “And I certainly hope you say yes so we can get a farmer working the land there this summer.”

The article to lease the land to a resident farmer was approved by a standing count vote of 62-5, according to moderator Everett Poole.

A second article pertaining to the Tea Lane farmstead, to appropriate $100,000 from the CPA historic resources reserve fund, passed by a near unanimous voice vote again with only a few questions and no debate.

A third article to appropriate $24,000 from the waterways improvement fund to buy a new boat for the harbor department also passed easily.

The most emotional moment of the evening occurred when former town treasurer Judy Jardin led voters in wishing happy birthday to lifelong town resident Jane Slater, who turns 80 next week.

Ms. Slater serves on several town committees that include the historic commission, library board of trustees, and parks and recreation committee. “We should all be so lucky to have as much energy as Jane at that age,” Ms. Jardin said.

The audience rose to their feet to sing Happy Birthday to Ms. Slater.