Tisbury selectmen favor compromise on Tashmoo overlook

— File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Tisbury selectmen wrangled long and hard Tuesday evening over the details of a proposed memorandum of understanding (MOU) designed to preserve the water view from the Tashmoo overlook, which was negotiated between the town and private property owners whose land extends across the northern end of that viewshed. Ultimately, the selectmen took no action on the MOU, but they revised it in an executive session after the meeting and put it on the agenda for public discussion at a future meeting.

At issue are about a dozen trees that have grown over time on the property on Tashmoo Farm that Thomas and Ginny Payette have owned for more than 30 years. The trees have narrowed the view window of Tashmoo Pond visible from State Road.

A committee led by Patricia Carlet, chairman of the Citizen’s Committee to Save the View to Lake Tashmoo, has been pressing the elderly property owners and selectmen to remove the trees. Tuesday, Ms. Carlet presented a competing proposal that selectmen said they feared would put the town in an adversarial position.

The selectmen took no action during the public portion of the meeting and voted to continue discussion of the wording in the draft MOU in executive session.

In a phone conversation with The Times Wednesday, selectman chairman Jeff Kristal said the selectmen revised the MOU in executive session and reconvened in open session. Pending review by town counsel and Michael Goldsmith, the property owners’ attorney, the selectmen plan to put the MOU on their July 2 meeting agenda, with an opportunity for public discussion, Mr. Kristal said.

“The Payettes are finally at the table with us and everything is amicable, and we are working for a combined resolution which the selectmen feel is an equitable solution for all parties,” Mr. Kristal said.

How much of a view?

Prior to the selectmen’s discussion of the MOU Tuesday, Ms. Carlet summarized for selectmen the results of a view and vegetation management study the Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF) prepared for the committee. Attorney Eric Peters, chairman of the VOLF, accompanied Ms. Carlet.

As background, Ms. Carlet noted that the Tashmoo overlook is of historic significance, designed and built by the State in 1958 as a safe area for the public to stop and enjoy the view over Lake Tashmoo and Vineyard Sound in the background.

Over the years, Ms. Carlet said several large trees, including swamp maples, wild cherry, and large and small willow trees and other vegetation, have grown up and obscured the view.

She and a group of others concerned about the view formed a citizen’s committee in 2007 to work towards restoring and preserving the view. In 2010, at the request of selectmen, the Payettes agreed to have two willow trees removed and a third trimmed, which restored some of the overlook’s original view.

The committee received Community Preservation Act funds in 2012 to complete a survey and map of the “view corridor.” The VOLF, acting as a consultant, prepared a detailed report and proposal for removing and topping trees, managing vegetation, and adding vegetative screening on town property to protect the Payette’s privacy.

Ms. Carlet said the citizens’ committee and VOLF are concerned that the MOU the Tisbury selectmen are negotiating with the Payettes will prevent any further clearing of their property that is in the view corridor. They would prefer that the selectmen take legal action to pursue a view easement.

Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said the selectmen remain in favor of working out a compromise with the Payettes through an MOU, to restore the view to what it was a few years ago after the first cutting.

“I’m not convinced about going to town meeting at this point, as opposed to working out a compromise with this family,” Mr. Israel said about a viewshed easement. “There would be legal expenses involved in the cost. I think it was in the $25,000 range when we first looked into that three or four years ago.”

Ms. Carlet said that if cost was the selectmen’s main concern, the citizens’ committee could request additional CPA funds for it rather than requesting it from taxpayers in a town meeting article.

“While you can go back to the Community Preservation Committee, that’s still tax money,” Mr. Kristal pointed out.

Later, when the selectmen took up discussion of the draft MOU, Ms. Carlet asked to see a copy of it. Mr. Kristal said it would not be available until after the selectmen finished their revisions.

In a testy exchange, Mr. Peters argued that since the selectmen were discussing the document in a public meeting, that made it a public document. Mr. Kristal said in that case, the selectmen would discuss their revisions in executive session, and then reconvene in open session, at which time the MOU would be made available. He and Mr. Israel were joined by selectman Jonathan Snyder in voting to approve discussion of the MOU in executive session.

Vineyard Haven Cultural District

In other business, following a public hearing, the selectmen voted to apply for a state-designated Cultural District and adopt a Vineyard Haven Harbor Cultural District Resolution. Arts Martha’s Vineyard (formerly the Martha’s Vineyard Arts and Culture Collaborative) is spearheading the local cultural district initiative.

Anne Smith, executive director of Featherstone and chairman of the Arts M.V. steering committee, said the group thought Vineyard Haven would be a good choice for the district because its harborfront area has a large number of arts organizations, galleries, designer boutiques, and businesses.

Parking lot proposal

In another discussion, the selectmen reviewed a proposal by town administrator John “Jay” Grande for a temporary town parking lot on the site of the old Tisbury fire station on Beach Road. Mr. Grande said the lot would hold about 24 to 26 spaces and be more suitable for long-term parking, leased on a six-month or yearly basis.

Sherm and Susan Goldstein, co-owners of the Mansion House Inn, said their business and others in Vineyard Haven are greatly in need of more parking and they favor the selectmen creating the town owned lot. Mr. Grande said he would talk to Vineyard Haven businesses to gauge their interest in the lot and report to the selectmen on July 2.

“To be fair, anybody doing business in Tisbury should have the same shot at leasing one of these spots,” Mr. Israel said. “If we have more interest than spaces we can provide, we can set a limit on how many.”

The selectmen’s lengthy meeting also included their annual appointment process to approve municipal employees and town committee members.