Chilmark landowner agrees to protect the landscape and ancient ways

The board also discussed a causeway at Squibnocket Pond and a senior housing idea.

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Chilmark planning board chairman Rich Osnoss reads aloud a letter from Doug Liman about the proposed causeway over Squibnocket Pond. Mr. Liman opposed a bylaw change that would allow it. — Edie Prescott

The Chilmark planning board tackled a full agenda at its Monday meeting:

  • David Damroth presented a plan to subdivide his property off Quansoo Road. It created a youth lot, and included 100-foot buffers around ancient ways.

  • The Eileen S. Mayhew Revocable Trust subdivided a property on Middle Line Road and sold a portion to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, which will add it to their adjacent preserve.
  • A presentation by Martha’s Vineyard Commission planner Christine Flynn was postponed. Ms. Flynn was to present new housing definitions associated with an MVC affordable housing plan. However, in some towns the changes would cause extensive changes to bylaws, so the plan will be reworked.
  • A presentation was canceled because the presenter, selectman James Malkin, was ill. It concerned a bylaw amendment that would allow a new causeway to be built over Squibnocket Pond. A letter from resident Doug Liman to the board about the issue provoked discussion.
  • Board member John Eisner introduced an idea to improve housing for seniors. A onetime subdivision and sale of a lot would yield income to allow the elderly to “age in place.”

Protecting ancient ways

Doug Hoehn of Schofield, Barbini, and Hoehn, an engineering and surveyor firm in Vineyard Haven, led the planning board through the plan to subdivide Mr. Damroth’s land, which is just west of Town Cove and east of Quansoo Road. The board praised his creation of a youth lot, a parcel of less than three acres that is carved out of a larger lot and made available by lottery to buyers who make less than 150 percent of the Dukes County median income.

The planning board received correspondence from abutter Sharon Kleinberg. She had no objection to the subdivision, but requested that a 100-foot buffer be maintained adjacent to ancient ways in the area. When asked if he would agree to a buffer next to Old Fields Path, Mr. Damroth said that it was not an ancient way as he understood it. He said it was not old enough and not oriented toward a distant destination, which he argued was part of the definition of true ancient ways.

Diane Sherlock, an abutter who lives on Paddock Circle, was in the audience at the meeting. She spoke in support of Ms. Kleinberg’s letter, and further asked Mr. Damroth to add landscaping in the buffer zones to protect privacy and the integrity of the ancient way.

“I’m not in favor of imposed landscaping,” Mr. Damroth said, who said he had protected his land for a long time, and had watched the woods changing. “The oaks are dying,” he said, “and being replaced by beeches.” When he builds roads through his subdivisions, the landowner said, he winds them across the land to avoid cutting down trees; to build a road he never removes a tree larger than four inches in diameter.

Mr. Damroth was not in favor of treating Old Fields Path as an ancient way. He stated that he knew the history of the byway, and that it did not qualify. He did not wish to put a buffer zone adjacent to it. The planning board members did not challenge his statement.

The Times asked Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) planner William Veno about how ancient ways are identified. “There are few hard and fast rules about ancient ways,” Veno said in an email. “That’s why I typically use the term ‘cart path.’ It conveys that the way was used before motor vehicles, but doesn’t opine as to why it exists or who has rights to use it. Those answers for any specific cart path come from research of titles, town records, old maps, and other historic materials.”

Board member John Eisner noted that the town of Chilmark has been trying to make people aware of ancient ways, and would like people to use them.

Ancient ways are byways created between the colonial period and the 19th century that are still visible on the landscape, according to David Foster, director of Harvard Forest and a part-time resident of the Island. There is a tradition on the Island of allowing public access to them.

The matter of Mr. Damroth’s subdivision will be referred to the MVC because it concerns a parcel larger than 10 acres and includes more than two acres of “priority habitat.”

Planning board chair Rich Osnoss proposed sending a letter to the MVC that said, “Deals have been hashed out and we’re satisfied with how it’s going.” Board member Jane Weidner agreed and noted that it was a mandatory referral because of the criteria involved.

Fire Chief David Norton was present in the audience. He asked the board or Mr. Damroth to inform him after any roads were built. After the lots receive street numbers, the fire chief must report them to the 911 dispatcher.

This public hearing was continued.

An agreement at Middle Line Road

Six members of the Mayhew family and the Land Bank have reached an agreement that will allow the conservation organization to buy 14.5 acres of the Mayhews’ property. This will be added to the Land Bank’s adjacent Middle Line Woods Preserve. The remainder of the parcel will be divided among three of the Mayhew family members. According to the Land Bank website for the preserve, the “middle line” refers to a “stone wall that historically separated land owned by the Wampanoag natives, to the north, and the land of the Thomas Mayhew family to the south.”

Flexible siting has been proposed for the three lots created from the Mayhew parcel. This is a provision of Chilmark zoning law that allows for construction of single-family home on a lot of less than minimum size (three acres) in order to preserve adjacent agricultural or natural lands. The bylaw requires the planning board to work through an approval process with the board of health and the board of appeals.

A board member asked if the construction of a guest house was allowed on flexible siting properties. “It’s as if they’re three-acre lots,” said Mr. Hoehn, who was also working with the Mayhew family trust, “so, yes, they can have guest houses, but they definitely will have a hearing in front of the MVC for this.”

The hearing was continued while the planning board connected with the board of health.

Squibnocket causeway: A road is not a structure

Selectman James Malkin was scheduled to present an amendment to a bylaw that would permit a proposed causeway over Squibnocket Pond ( August 10, 2016, “Abutters group appeals Squibnocket Project approval”), but he was ill and could not attend the Monday meeting. However, chairman Osnoss read into the record a letter from Squibnocket resident Doug Liman, and this letter provoked a discussion about the merits of the proposed amendment.

Mr. Liman made it clear in his letter that he opposed the amendment to the bylaw that would allow a causeway to be built over Squibnocket Pond. He reminded the planning board that in 2014, a higher bridge over the pond had been blocked (Dec. 23, 2014, “Chilmark residents applaud low causeway solution for Squibnocket Beach”).

“What grounds are there to vote on essentially the same exact structure?” he wrote. “This is a case of a small group of landowners destroying vistas for convenience, not access. It stinks.” Mr. Liman said that the board was being asked to “gut its own bylaws.” He said that he had another solution that would be within the bylaws, but he did not include it in his letter.

“This brings up a larger issue,” said Mr. Eisner, “which is the philosophy of what should be allowed in the wetlands.” The conservation commission, he noted, had already approved the proposed amendment.

Mr. Damroth raised his hand and asked if he might comment on the situation. Mr. Osnoss invited him to do so. “I don’t want to stop this bridge,” Mr. Damroth said, “but the selectman’s proposal exempts roadways as not being structures. This gives blanket permission for structures that may become prominent on the landscape without any review process.”

Mr. Damroth suggested that the raised causeway should be treated as a structure. According to Mr. Damroth, Chilmark building inspector Leonard Jason Jr. had judged the causeway to be a road, and therefore not subject to a review process. Mr. Damroth said that the proposed causeway was only the first part of a planned larger one.

Mr. Damroth mentioned that climate change should be taken into account when building structures so close to the shore. He anticipated damage when in the future, storms penetrate farther inland. He suggested that the bylaw include a clause that required property owners to clean up what was destroyed. He concluded by repeating that he did not oppose the construction of the causeway, but he thought the proposed amendment did not include enough conditions.

No discussion on new housing definitions

Another item on the agenda was not presented as planned. A draft of new housing definitions has been developed by the MVC. Chilmark town clerk Jennifer Christy said that MVC planner Christine Flynn canceled her appearance in Chilmark after it became obvious that the new definitions would cause more extensive change to town bylaws than anticipated.

“She has spoken with other planning boards,” Ms. Christy said. “Changing the definitions will cause wider ripples than she thought.” The town clerk said that the terms in question were used throughout the Chilmark bylaws.

Ms. Flynn will be revisiting her process, Ms. Christy said, and contact the planning board at a later date.

Seniors in Chilmark

Mr. Eisner asked if he might bring up a topic that was not on the agenda. His fellow board members were amenable. Mr. Eisner is working on a change to the bylaw that governs senior housing, and wanted feedback.

Some seniors in the town wish to remain in their homes, he said, but are having a difficult time affording the expense. Mr. Eisner proposed allowing residents older than 65 or 70 to subdivide their parcel once, as long as it was three acres or larger. He suggested that they be permitted to sell a one- or one-and-a-half-acre lot, if the sale helped them to stay on their land.

Board member Mitchell Posin was not in favor. Everyone in town had the potential to eventually qualify. “In the short term, it would work,” agreed Mr. Osnoss, “but in the long term it would add density.”

Mr. Posin amended his initial dismissal of the idea. “I’d say you would need to have four acres or more,” he said, “and only sell an acre.” He expressed concern that the resulting density would overtax the roads and lead to septic problems. He reminded the board that the town had already allowed the construction of guest houses with the idea that the owner would move into the guest house and rent the main house.

“I don’t think the affordable house people see the accessory house thing as anything other than a drop in the bucket,” said Mr. Eisner. He added that it was his intention that the houses built on lots sold by seniors would be market-rate homes. “Because it is only onetime,” he said, “developers can’t use this [to create greater density].”

Mr. Posin suggested that Mr. Eisner refine his proposal, and the board agreed to revisit it.