Ernie Boch asks boat builder to seek a new home for scow
Photo by Ralph Stewart
For more than two years Islanders and passersby have watched boat builder Theodore "Ted" Box construct the wooden skow "Seeker" under an open shed on a lot off Beach Road within an oar toss of Vineyard Haven harbor. Ernie Boch Jr., the lot's owner, has asked Mr. Box to either set sail or find a new home for his boat project by the end of September. Mr. Boch told The Times he wants to clean up and develop the long vacant waterfront lot, starting with the demolition of the derelict Entwistle building.
In a telephone conversation Monday, Mr. Boch said he does not have anything specific in mind but wants to do something that will benefit the town and be good looking. "I wouldn't mind putting some condos, and some marine use, something nice that we can all be proud of," he said. "I really don't know yet what they'll let me put there."
The Seeker's open boatshed is located on the Beach Road lot Mr. Boch owns across from the Citgo Station and adjacent to Five Corners. Mr. Box leased the lot from Mr. Boch in April 2011, with the expectation it would take him and his son Jake about a year to construct and launch the wooden scow.
"Ted was there a lot longer than he planned, and we came up with a date we both agreed would be okay for both of us," Mr. Boch said. "So he's going to move the boat into the water, so the lot will be clear."
Once the Entwistle building is demolished, Mr. Boch plans to ask consultants to walk the property with him and strategize about what to build there, and then sketch something out to propose to the town. He said the town previously told him the old building, which has housed a lumber business and Sturgis Entwistle's woodworking shop, was historic and refused his request to take it down.
"Now, they're ordering me to take it down," he said with a laugh. "So I'm glad, because it's an eyesore. Once that's down, that will give me a clearer view of exactly what the lot's like, and I would like to do something that's acceptable to the town so that it will make it nice."
An Edgartown seasonal resident, Mr. Boch is president and CEO of Boch Enterprises, which operates automobile dealerships. He is also a well-known philanthropist who has funded an Island police K-9 unit and outfitted a new police rescue boat in Edgartown.
Mr. Boch's talk about redeveloping the long disused lot comes at the same time that two projects around the corner on Water Street have begun to move through the regulatory process.
The Stop & Shop Company wants to build a new, two-story, 23,800-square-foot market with parking for 42 vehicles on the site of its existing properties.
And the Island Housing Trust (IHT) plans to turn a dilapidated house between Stop & Shop and A-A Island Auto Rental, near Five Corners, into affordable housing. Cronig's Market owner Steve Bernier bought the house and donated it to IHT.
Launch or not?
Last week, Mr. Box placed a chalkboard sign in front of the lot advertising the availability of the shed free for the taking. With a September deadline looming, Mr. Box said he is weighing his options for wrapping up the 100-foot scow's construction, moving it or launching it, and removing the boatshed. He said the simplest solution for him, which he proposed in an email to Mr. Boch, would be to move the boat onto a cradle on the beach, finish it over the winter, and launch it in the spring.
"He [Mr. Boch] may or may not give permission, based on how he sees it affecting his plans," Mr. Box said, adding that he understands that Mr. Boch has to do what's best for him.
"Whether the scow continues its journey into the water will be determined by Ernie's response to my email," he said. "If it does go into the water, it will go in on September 21."
If the scow is launched, Mr. Box has to find a place to put it where he can continue to work on it. But he would prefer it to remain high and dry.
"I'm still not comfortable with putting it in the water without a deck on it," he said. "It could be done, but that's not the way you want to do it. We're in the process of caulking the bottom; we have one side done and the other will be done in two or three weeks. If worse comes to worst, I'll have to do something with it, because it's too big to move down the street."
Mr. Box said that Ralph M. Packer Jr., owner of R.M. Packer Company and Tisbury Towing, has offered to help roll the scow into the water "Egyptian style."
"We will make a cradle for it, put planks down, and use a piece of equipment to pull it into the water over rollers made of metal pipes, laid on the ground," he explained.
It may not be that simple. Any path to the sea would first need approval by the Tisbury conservation commission. Jane Varkonda, Tisbury conservation commission agent, said the beach is a coastal dune. Asked if Mr. Box would need approval for any plan to roll the boat, Ms. Varkonda said, "Absolutely."
Fundraising is key
"My whole reason for doing this is to work with at-risk kids." he said. "Once it's in the water, I think it will be self-sufficient, it will earn money."
Mr. Box, who is also a driftwood furniture artisan, envisions the scow being used as a platform for the arts, corporate seminars, and a distant learning campus for universities.
He said he has put about $90,000 of his own money into the scow and expects he will need an additional $150,000 to finish and outfit it. Mr. Box said the Seeker project is going through the process of obtaining 501(c)(3) non-profit status.
"I don't mind if I have to earn every one of those dollars; it wouldn't bother me," Mr. Box said. "My driftwood furniture does well, I can find ways. I've been working with some of the Island's most talented fundraisers, too, and I think that it's attracting that kind of attention."
About $3,000 has been collected through a donation box on-site this summer, bringing total donations up to around $11,000, including gifts and proceeds from an Internet fundraising campaign. Several Island businesses have given him large discounts on supplies.
The project's website, www.seekerthescow.com has also provided a source of donations. Mr. Box said he also has applied for grants and received his first one from the Martha's Vineyard Arts Council.
Most of the work on the scow has been done by Mr. Box and a cadre of volunteer laborers, including high school students, friends, and a group of senior carpenters and woodworkers.
Mr. Box said Mr. Packer and Black Dog owner Bob Douglas have given invaluable support and advice, along with wooden boat builders and experts Ross Gannon and Nat Benjamin next door at Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway.
Mr. Box praised Mr. Boch for his generosity — and patience — with the project in a phone conversation with The Times on Monday.
"It would not be fair to paint him as being unsympathetic; I think he's been wonderful," Mr. Box said. He firmly denied Island rumors that he was evicted.
"It was just an agreement we came to, that Mr. Boch extended the lease until the end of September," Mr. Box said. "I originally had a six- or nine-month lease and then it went month to month."
Parking lot, not
Once the scow is removed, Mr. Boch can expect to navigate through the Island's often tricky regulatory and permitting process before anything is built on the lot that has remained vacant since 1999.
Mr. Boch's father, automobile dealership mogul Ernest J. Boch Sr., who died in 2003, purchased the property in 1987 for $600,000. His plan to build a 99-car valet parking lot ultimately lead to a long running regulatory battle between Mr. Boch, the Tisbury planning board, and zoning and building inspector Ken Barwick, who said it could not be used for parking cars. Ultimately, Mr. Boch shut the 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.
In February 2002, a group of Tisbury residents proposed the town acquire the property to create a public park. In January, 2003, Kathryn Roessel, then Vineyard Steamship Authority member, asked boatline management to explore the possibility of a purchase to use the Boch lot for SSA employee parking. In April 2008, a group of voters asked the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank to purchase the property. Land Bank officials said it would not be a good use of funds to purchase small in-town parcels.
The unused property has contributed one benefit for the town. In fiscal 2013, the Boch family paid $15,256 in property taxes, according to the Tisbury tax collector/treasurer's office.