Two Island families will be making Aquinnah their permanent home after being selected by lottery to purchase new homes built by the Island Housing Trust off State Road in an area dubbed Smalley’s Knoll.
During a lively and packed town meeting Tuesday, James and Nancy Benoit and their daughter Laina were chosen first, being met with loud applause and shouts of joy from their peers. This lottery marked the fourth for the Benoits, who were married at Gay Head Lighthouse and have been living in Aquinnah for 20 years, trying to purchase a home.
“We feel very good, fantastic. It can be years between them,” Nancy said of the lottery process. “We’re so happy we can stay in this town.”
Taylor and Sarah Ives and their son Louie were the second family chosen. A thunderous “Yeah!” erupted from Taylor as he held up his son. Taylor grew up in Aquinnah, and met Sarah when she spent summers there. “We’re super excited, excited to raise our son here,” an emotional Sarah said.
Plenty of hugs, applause, and tears of joy were shared in celebration of both new Aquinnah homeowners.
Ten applicants were screened and approved for the homes by the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. The families were chosen through a two-round lottery process that incorporated an old-fashioned wooden lottery wheel. The first drawing was for local preference families of two or more who have been living in Aquinnah, while the second round was an open pool of applicants living outside Aquinnah. The additional drawings would be for alternates if one of the chosen families doesn’t move into the homes.
Aquinnah fisherman Vernon Welch met with selectmen to discuss improvements he wants to make to a lot in Menemsha that he leases from the town. Failing dock pilings, the construction of a seasonal boat ramp, railings, and repairs to the shack at the lot were all projects Welch said he wanted to complete. Welch also explained his desire to raise mussels at the lot, telling selectmen he would see how feasible it would be before getting permits.
Welch and Wendy Swolinzky shared a heated back and forth throughout the meeting when Swolinzky, who runs a boat rental business at a neighboring lot, brought up a pending lawsuit over an imbroglio of small-town relationships and property ownership. Swolinzky said no decisions should be made until the lawsuit is resolved.
Chairman Gary Haley brought up potential safety issues with the lot, saying things should be repaired.
“I consider this my property, the shack, the railings, and everything else. I think you should refer to this to the lawyers. It’s only the right thing to do with a lawsuit going on over a property dispute,” Swolinzsky said.
“She’s talking out of turn,” Welch fired back. “I’m not here to yack about people. I’m not here to turn people in. I just want to simply get on with my life down there, and these are some reasonable requests.”
“The selectmen took it from me, they’ve given it to you for no money,” Swolinzsky said of Lot A, which Welch leases.
Selectmen decided to refer the issue to legal counsel. “All of these are sore open wounds. We’re not going solve any of them,” town administrator Jeff Madison said.
As Welch got up to leave he made a buzzing sound with his lips, and muttered a comment under his breath directed at Swolinzsky, who replied, “Oh that’s so cute, Vern, let’s be adults here.”
In other business, Madison, in partial jest, brought up the use of town hall equipment, specifically chairs, which he said were mysteriously disappearing. “The chairs, they’re either eating each other or somebody’s taking them. Every day I come in here, and there’s fewer and fewer chairs. I’m just beside myself with what to do,” he said.
Theresa Manning, owner of Cliffhangers restaurant, pleaded for the selectmen to improve Aquinnah Circle. Manning suggested potted flowers and an additional sign be put up to improve the area. Improvements to the bathrooms were also suggested. “People are horrified when they walk in there,” Manning said.
Special and fast
Also Tuesday, the town breezed through a special town meeting to vote on three articles concerning the general stabilization fund for Up-Island schools left off the previous town meeting warrant.
The town voted unanimously to pass each article, which paid the town’s share for projects to repair a heating system at the Chilmark School and install fire alarms at the West Tisbury School. The total cost of the projects is $35,043.18.
The meeting was necessary because an email with the original article was not sent to Madison.
Superintendent Matt D’Andrea attended the meeting to apologize to the town for the mistake. “I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you for coming out here tonight,” he said. “This was an error on the school’s part.”
“Thanks for fessing up,” moderator Mike Hebert joked.