Voters approve Squibnocket Beach plan, obstacles remain

Selectmen must now negotiate complex land-use agreements necessary to implement the plan.

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The special town meeting was sparsely attended, and took less than 15 minutes. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Chilmark voters, in a series of near unanimous votes taken with little debate, approved a plan to restore the Squibnocket Beach parking lot and the access road to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision at a special town meeting Monday night. It took less than 15 minutes for voters to endorse the plan devised by a special town committee. The overwhelming support stood in stark contrast to the battles which have divided the town over the past year. At last year’s town meeting, voters narrowly rejected a plan endorsed by selectmen that included a bridge spanning the shorefront to provide access to homes on Squibnocket Point. Instead, they opted to form a special seven-member committee, appointed by moderator Everett Poole.

Obstacles remain, however. The board of selectmen must negotiate land-use and land-rights agreements with the owners of two small parcels of land needed to implement the new plan, and Squibnocket Farm homeowners must agree that the plan will provide adequate access to their homes.

“Very pleased,” said Jim Malkin, who chaired the special committee, following the votes. “Look forward to a hopefully speedy resolution of all the issues, so the town can get on with its life.”

The first five articles on the special town meeting warrant related to the Squibnocket Beach proposal.

In the first article, the town meeting unanimously approved the committee’s plan, which calls for the town to remove the boulder revetment and manage the retreat of the beach to its natural state; build an access road to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision, including a low causeway passing over the wetlands bordering Squibnocket Pond; and create new parking lots on both sides of Squibnocket Road.

Next, voters authorized selectmen to negotiate any agreements for the plan approved by voters.

Voters then designated up to $410,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to execute a long-term lease for a stretch of beach west of the parking lot, currently controlled by the Vineyard Open Land Foundation. The Squibnocket Farm homeowners originally proposed that they would purchase the 1,200-foot stretch of beach and then lease it to the town. That proposal was part of a comprehensive plan that included a 15-foot-high bridge parallel to the shoreline to provide access to the homes on Squibnocket Point. Voters derailed that plan at last year’s annual town meeting,opting instead to study alternatives. Bill Rossi, chairman of the Chilmark board of selectmen, told voters that he is hopeful the town can reach an agreement, but the terms negotiated as part of the original proposal may not be available, now that the plan has changed.

“I’ve been in communication with the representative from the Vineyard Open Land Foundation and the Squibnocket homeowners,” Mr. Rossi told voters. “It’s going to be a different version of that agreement. We’re looking to lease a portion of what was originally agreed last year. My understanding is there is less support for spending the amount of money they were going to spend last year, but there is still willingness to get something done.”

At a Jan. 13 selectmen’s meeting, Mr. Rossi said the town is renegotiating the original proposal, but some Squibnocket Farm homeowners are concerned with the expense. “We’re exploring all our options with that parcel,” Mr. Rossi said at the Jan. 13 meeting. “There is huge concern; there’s not any backroom politics going on, but we are negotiating, renegotiating, based on my assumption that there isn’t a consensus within the homeowners association to incur this expense, and I think it’s creating some division.”

Next, voters designated $350,000 from CPA funds to acquire the two small parcels, unbuildable under current zoning, needed to implement the latest plan. Peter Weldon, who owns one of the parcels, has told selectmen he is willing to sell or give his land to the town. The other parcel is owned by Anthony Orphanos and Wendy Jeffers, seasonal residents of Chilmark. They have submitted a seven-page counterproposal, saying they are willing to negotiate a long-term lease if the town makes certain changes to the Squibnocket committee plan, including changes to the location of the road, parking, and a kayak launch area.

Following Monday’s meeting, Mr. Orphanos said he is optimistic an agreement with the town can be negotiated. “We’re willing to lend or lease the land to the town, a long-term nominal lease,” Mr. Orphanos said. “Our interest is basically design-oriented. We want to address all those things that could come up, and the biggest thing is the height of the low causeway. We think it can be done in a very satisfactory manner. I think it can be fine.”

Selectmen, however, have expressed reservations about leasing the property, and about making significant changes to the plan proposed by the special committee.

Finally, the special town meeting voted to appropriate $11,670 to fund the town’s share of a $280,000 state grant to be used for the “managed retreat” of the beach to its natural state.

Several town meeting voters offered high praise for the difficult task taken on by the special town committee on Squibnocket, including some who vigorously opposed the original plan for a higher bridge spanning the beachfront.

“I thank the committee, selectmen, and all involved,” said David Damroth, a former Chilmark selectman and resident of the Blacksmith Valley neighborhood overlooking Squibnocket Beach. “It was an amazing amount of work. What we’ve arrived at is a solution that looks to be, I won’t say a compromise, but a wonderful solution to the problem.”

Selectman Warren Doty also complimented the work of the special committee. “There were 23 meetings,” Mr. Doty said. “They listened to everybody who had an opinion.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, voters unanimously designated $20,000 from CPA funds for affordable housing, approved payment of $3,330 in bills from a prior year, and approved a total of $3,564 in salary adjustments based on new job grades set by the town human resources board.

A total of 85 people, or 9.2 percent of the town’s 918 registered voters, attended the special town meeting.