Authors Posts by Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

by -
After an eight-year period during which the beach Norton Point was open, it closed this past year, allowing cars to travel between Katama and Chappaquiddick. Recently, the breach reopened. File photo by Bill Brine

The high winds and heavy seas churned up by last week’s storms, combined with the extreme high tides during the “blood moon,” reopened the recently closed breach in Norton Point Beach, once again making the On-Time ferries the only way to access Chappaquiddick.

“Our staff noticed the overwashing when we had the strong southeast winds from last week’s storm,” Trustees of the Reservations (TTOR) superintendent Chris Kennedy told The Times. The subsequent nor’easter over the weekend widened the breach.

“Over the next several days, it widened to 150 yards or so, but it’s been steadily filling in,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Right now the channel is only 10 feet wide, and at extreme low tide it’s about five feet deep. If someone called me tomorrow and said it was closed, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

A video of the breach, which also shows a fisherman catching a small striper, can be found on the TTOR Facebook page. “Fishermen are catching a lot of stripers at the breach,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Nothing big, but there’s a lot of schoolies being caught.”

Mr. Kennedy said the breach could well open and close again several times over the winter. “It’s a very dynamic area,” he said. “This last storm pushed Norton Point Beach 100 feet closer to Wasque. It’s amazing how much sand was moved by one storm.”

In April 2007 a one-two punch of storm-driven ocean waves and powerful spring tides knocked open a substantial cut in the beach. The result was two long, narrow spits of sand stretching east and west toward one another. The cut continued to migrate eastward to Wasque Point, in a natural cycle recorded many times in the past four centuries.

On April 1 of this year, Jack Klumick, assistant superintendent for The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR), was the first person to walk from Katama to Chappaquiddick since the 2007 breach.

The Woods Hole Group (WHG), an international environmental, scientific, and engineering consulting organization headquartered in Falmouth, recently prepared an eight-page analysis that described the three-stage natural history of periodic breaks in Norton Point Beach. In the first stage, ocean waves and tidal levels combine to punch a hole in vulnerable spots in the barrier beach. During stage 2, the inlet begins to migrate east toward Chappaquiddick, and the dominant easterly-flowing shoreline current causes the Norton Point spit to grow. As that spit extends to the east, the barrier beach on the Chappy side of the inlet tends to shorten and erode. The process of easterly inlet migration and barrier spit growth occurs until the eastern barrier is completely eroded and Norton Point begins to overlap the southwest corner of Chappaquiddick. During this middle phase of stage 2, the absence of a sediment source from the west, in combination with tidal currents directed against Chappaquiddick, causes rapid erosion of the south-facing shoreline. In stage 3, the tidal channel that connects Katama Bay to the Atlantic Ocean eventually closes, as tidal currents are not strong enough to flush sediment from the opening. Waves gradually push the Norton Point barrier spit to the north, and the beach eventually welds onto Chappaquiddick. Finally, during the last part of stage 3, the beach/dune system begins to retreat as ocean waves, tides, and currents cause erosion. The process continues until a new breach in the Katama Bay barrier forms, and then the cycle starts over

by -
The North Bluff seawall restoration project will go back out to bid on Oct. 22.

When Oak Bluffs selectmen unanimously voted on Sept. 22 to accept a $5.25 million bid from MIG Corp. to rebuild the new North Bluff seawall, contingent on additional Community Preservation Committee funding, it appeared that the long-awaited project was finally moving ahead. However, due to a bid complaint from Northern Construction Service, Oak Bluffs selectmen, on the advice of the state attorney general’s office and town counsel Michael Goldsmith, called a special meeting to vote to rescind their decision, and to rebid the project.

Tuesday night selectmen held the special meeting, and voted unanimously to rescind acceptance of the previously winning bid and to rebid the project.

“A bid protest that goes to a hearing and possibly a lengthy appeal process can take a lot longer than a month,” town administrator Robert Whritenour said, endorsing the board’s vote.

At issue is the wording of the Request for Proposals (RFP) which asked for the bid to be broken into sections — the “base bid” was for construction of the steel sheet seawall and boardwalk from the harbor to the fishing pier, along with hazardous waste removal. Addendums to the bid were requested for the cost of continuing the wall and boardwalk to the SSA terminal. Northern Construction submitted the lowest bid for the entirety of the project, at $5.9 million.

However, all bids, including MIG’s, came in well over the $5.6 million the town had received in state grants for the project, once management fees and a 5 percent contingency fund was added to the bottom line. So a decision was made to begin with the most crucial part of the project, e.g. the base bid, where MIG Corp. came in lower than Northern Construction by $103,000.

Despite the monthlong delay a new bidding process will require, project manager David Lager told The Times in a recent interview that it would not significantly delay the project. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t still complete the project on the same timeline,” he said. The bulk of the project is due to be completed by Memorial Day, with a month allocated for punch list items, according to Mr. Lager.

Mr. Whritenour said the rebidding may actually benefit the town. “Maybe we’ll have more competition in the bidding process,” he said.

The town will be open for bids on the North Bluff restoration project on Oct. 22.

In other business Tuesday, selectmen unanimously approved the appointment of Allyson Malik, adult technology services coordinator at the Oak Bluffs Public Library, to interim library director. Ms. Malik will temporarily fill the gaping void left by departing library director Sondra Murphy. Ms. Murphy’s last day will be Oct. 16, the same day as the library’s 10th-anniversary party. Mr. Whritenour said he expects a high number of applicants for Ms. Murphy’s position. “We expect this to be a very active posting,” he said.


by -
The four-day playground raising begins on Wednesday, Oct. 14, and lasts until Oct. 18. — Photo by Michael Cummo

After over a year of planning and fundraising that has tapped every source from state funds to lemonade stands, the new Niantic Park playground is set to become a reality. All that’s needed now is for Islanders to lend helping hands, tools, or organizational skills, at the four-day “playground raising,” which begins Wednesday, Oct. 14, and runs through Sunday night, Oct. 18.

Over 100 volunteers a day are needed, with jobs ranging from skilled trades to laborers to serving food to moral support, according to a press release. Over 50 percent of the volunteer spaces are still not filled.

Tools are also in short supply. The group needs metal garden rakes, long-handled shovels and spades, 25-foot extension cords and stepladders between six and 12 feet tall.

“With a big vision and a short build window, we really hope Islanders will help support future generations with their time and talent,” Greg Erman, chairman of the Niantic Park Building Committee, said. “This project really embodies what the Island stands for — dedication, community, and family.”

The building site will be lighted, and construction will go well into the night on each of the four days. People are asked to sign up for four-hour shifts if possible.

The Niantic Park Playground Project (NPPP) began in 2014 with a small group of parents committed to improving the rundown 30-year-old playground. The new playground will cost $126,000. $118,000 has been raised to date, and the NPPP is seeking tax-deductible donations to close the funding gap. Anyone who wants to pitch in with donations of time and/or money can do so at the NPPP Facebook page: Islanders can also sign up for shifts by contacting Holly Thomas at 508-776-0379, or by email at

by -

Citing Island housing costs and new opportunities, Sondra Murphy begins a new chapter in Worcester.

Oak Bluffs residents can bid Sondra Murphy farewell at the library's 10th anniversary celebration this Friday night, from 6 to 8 pm. – Photo by Michael Cummo

She’s not your stereotypical librarian. She’s young, ebullient, and in her five years at the Oak Bluffs Public Library (OBPL), Sondra Murphy has only “shushed” somebody once.

“I felt awful after I did that. I hate that sound,” she said in a recent interview with The Times at her office. Her desk had an impressively diverse clutter collection, including dishes from yesterday’s lunch.

“I know librarians are supposed to be super-organized, but when it comes to my desk, oh well,” she said. Pinned above her desk is an article about “Occupy Wall Street,” where she delivered a suitcase of donated books, on her own time and on her own dime; and an email from her father titled “The Fundamentals of Leadership.” Pictures of goats and manatees and children’s drawings of cats hang on the wall behind her. “My cat was hit by a car, and the kids made me cards. I really treasure them,” she said. “The kids are awesome here. They’re the reason I fell in love with this library in the first place. I’m really going to miss them.”



Ms. Murphy was made children’s librarian in 2010 and interim director a year later. She is widely credited for bringing new energy and a wide assortment of new programming to the library. “Local Heroes day, when kids can sit in a police car and a fire truck, was a huge hit. We could do that every day,” she said. There was “Frozen” night, where the smash movie was screened and children showed up in costume. “There were 50 Elsas there,” she said. “And I was one of them, oh yeah.” Ms. Murphy said some of her other favorite events were the sock hop, the luau with a pig roast, indoor mini-golf, and the stuffed animal slumber party. A glance at the OBPL Facebook page shows listings as diverse as “Caffeine & Computers,” “Graphic Novel Book Club,” “Film Noir Night,” and a book drive for children in the Bahamas.

“When I started, public opinion about the library was on the whole, negative, which is why I pursued more fun programming,” she said. “I wanted people to know it was different, that you don’t have to be afraid to come here.”

By any metric, Ms. Murphy succeeded. Adult and children’s program attendance has increased from 4,000 attendees in 2010 to 11,315 so far this year. The number of registered borrowers increased from 8,251 in 2010 to 10,462 this year. Over 4,000 of Oak Bluffs’ 5,000 townspeople carry an Oak Bluffs “CLAMS” library card.

“Being a director is 99 percent personality,” Ms. Murphy said. “Strategic planning is a necessary evil to me. I know that’s not very librarian-like. I’m not the most organized person, but my focus is on the human experience. I like to think outside the box. Someone might say, ‘You can’t have a roast pig luau at a library,’ but why not? The library is a community center, so why not bring in the community? The selectmen and the board [of directors] have been great. They’ve let me do pretty much everything I dreamed up.”

Ms. Murphy is leaving, confident that her vision will continue. “I’m not worried about what’s going to happen after I leave, because we have an amazing staff here. I trust that they’ll keep going with what we’ve started, and they won’t settle for anything less. I know the trustees will hire someone awesome. I think there’s some good candidates already on the Island.”

Asked what she sees as her successor’s biggest challenges, besides the always fickle HVAC system, Ms. Murphy weighed her words. “Developing a technology plan with the I.T. department to keep the library on scheduled technology updates,” she said. “We’ve been doing some, but it’s not on a regularly scheduled plan.” Ms. Murphy also said she hopes her successor takes up her as-yet-unsuccessful campaign to get new carpeting in the building. “After 10 years, library carpeting gets pretty nasty,” she said.

She also hopes her successor continues with community outreach. “Maybe doing storytime on the ferry, or storytime at the beach, or doing programs at the Council on Aging,” she said.



Ms. Murphy began working at the OBPL part-time while she was getting her master’s degree in library science at Simmons College in Boston. She also waited tables at Zephrus and at Salt Water. “I paid off half of my student loans by the time I graduated,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the work opportunities here.”

She began working at the library full-time three days after graduating from Simmons. The children’s librarian resigned a month later, and Ms. Murphy got the job, and eventually became the library director.

Ms. Murphy announced her departure at the Sept. 22 selectmen’s meeting, where she was applying for a one-day wine and beer permit for the library’s 10th anniversary celebration on Oct. 16, which coincides with her last day. Selectmen were unanimous in their disappointment. Selectman Greg Coogan said he was particularly vexed that Ms. Murphy’s departure was in large part due to the affordable housing shortage on the Island. “We need to address housing in a coordinated approach with the other towns,” he said. “We’re losing our most talented young people.”

Ms. Murphy told The Times that housing suddenly became an issue when her landlord informed her she was selling the home where she had been renting a two-room apartment for several years. “I fixed it up and I was hoping to buy it, but then a realtor stepped in and the price went way up, and it didn’t work out,” she said.

Ms. Murphy had little luck finding an affordable year-round rental that also permitted pets. “I put out a lot of feelers, but I wasn’t finding anything decent in my price range. Having a cat narrows your options a lot. By the end of the summer, I still hadn’t found anything, and I was getting worried. I didn’t want to live in a dark, moldy, basement apartment. I’m 30, I’m a professional, I don’t feel like I should have to live in a potato chip truck,” she said, laughing. “My boyfriend actually did that. But that’s when he was in his early 20s; that’s what you do.” Ms. Murphy said buying was also not an option, so she had no choice but to look off-Island for a new job. She interviewed at the Worcester public library, and soon after was offered the job of youth services coordinator. She will supervise a staff of 15 that services five branches.

“People love to hate on Worcester, but I think it’s really up and coming,” she said. “It’s an extremely diverse and culturally rich place. There’s a lot of people in my age group doing some really interesting things there. There’s not a lot of people in my age bracket here. All my friends are much older, and all have families.” Ms. Murphy said an added bonus of moving to Worcester is that she’ll live near her parents in nearby Boylston, where she grew up.

After an uncharacteristic somber pause, she said, “It hasn’t hit me yet. It’s very bittersweet. But I’m excited about taking things to Worcester that worked here.”

The project to rebuild the seawall and construct a boardwalk is not expected to be significantly delayed.

Grants will pay for part of a new seawall and boardwalk along the crumbling North Bluff.

When Oak Bluffs selectmen unanimously voted on Sept. 22 to accept a $5.25 million bid from MIG Corporation to rebuild the new North Bluff seawall, contingent on additional Community Preservation Committee funding, it appeared that the long awaited project would move ahead. However, due to a bid complaint from Northern Construction Service, Oak Bluffs selectmen, on the advice of town counsel Michael Goldsmith, have called a special meeting this Tuesday to rescind their decision, and to re-bid the project.

“We awarded the bid and then a complaint was filed in regards to the language in the bidding,” chairman of the board of selectmen Mike Santoro told The Times on Friday. “Right away we filed an appeal with the Attorney General for a hearing next Wednesday, but in the process, we found it would be easier to rescind the vote and put it back out to bid again.”

“It’s in our best interest to deal with the ambiguities in the RFP (Request For Proposal) and start with a clean slate,” town administrator Robert Whritenour told The Times. “A bid protest that goes to hearing and then an appeal can take a lot longer than a month.”

At issue is the wording of the RFP which asked for the bid to be broken into sections—the “base bid” was for construction of the steel sheet seawall and boardwalk from the harbor to the fishing pier, along with hazardous waste removal. Addendums to the bid were requested for the cost of continuing the wall and boardwalk to the SSA terminal. Northern Construction did have the lowest bid for the entirety of the project, at $5.9 million.

However, all bids, including MIG’s, came in well over the $5.6 million the town had received in state grants for the project, once management fees and a 5 percent contingency fund was added to the bottom line. So a decision was made to begin with the most crucial part of the project, e.g. the base bid, where MIG Corporation came in lower than Northern Construction by $103,000.

The  $343,000 shortfall that remained on base bid from MIG was reduced to $230,000 after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made a rather tardy but welcome “first offer” of Hurricane Sandy relief funding for $113,000 late last month.

Once selectmen rescind the bid on Tuesday, the project will go back out to bid, which is a 30 day process. Despite the month long delay, project manager David Lager told The Times that the re-bid would not significantly delay the project.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t still complete the project on the same timeline,” he said. The bulk of the project is due to be completed by Memorial Day, with a month allocated for punch list items, according to Mr. Lager.

Mr. Whritenour said it is possible that the re-bid process could reduce, and possibly eliminate, the overage that required selectmen to request $230,000 in additional funds from the Community Preservation Committee (CPC), which was approved at last Monday’s CPC meeting. The allocation will have to be approved by town voters at special town meeting on November 17.

by -

Ken Beebe battles Parkinson’s with wit and grit.

Ken Beebe launches a plug into the surf at Norton Point. - Photo by Barry Stringfellow

With September’s first blast of cold air at his back, Ken Beebe worked the surf at Norton Point late Sunday afternoon, lashing the water with a fluorescent orange pencil popper lure. Although he was casting from a sitting position in a low-slung beach chair and gripping his pole with tremulous hands, his lure arced well over the breaking waves.

Ken was sporting a new purple Derby hat with registration pin attached. He’s fished the annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby for 20 years, and although he’s a very accomplished fisherman, he’s never been on “the board” — the running tally at the weigh station that shows the top three fish landed in each category.
It looked like a promising night to break that streak. Baitfish were jumping close to shore, en masse. Dusk was rapidly approaching. Terns were scanning the water in increasing numbers.
But the bluefish weren’t cooperating.
Ken switched from the orange pencil popper to a red and white Roberts Ranger. “The best one for blues,” he said. His shaking hands struggled with the snap swivel, but he eventually succeeded.
Ken was an avid fly-fisherman for many years until Parkinson’s disease left him unable to tie the delicate knots that are required, but it has not put an end to spin casting, which he does three or four times a week during the season. He used to fish alone in the predawn hours, but his increasingly tentative balance put an end to that.

Ken and Laura Beebe at Norton Point. - photo by Barry Stringfellow
Ken and Laura Beebe at Norton Point. – photo by Barry Stringfellow

“Laura doesn’t like getting up at 4 am to go fishing,” he said, referring to his wife of 48 years, who was working on a quilt while he fished. A self-confessed “obsessive quilter,” Laura’s stitching won second place at the Ag Fair this year, and first prize the year before.
When Ken lands a fish, Laura will put down her quilting and help him out. “I’m also the Sherpa,” she joked, as she took a bucket of lures to him.
Laura also is a translator. Sometimes Ken’s sentences are loud and clear; oftentimes they are not. Laura has a keen sense of when his words don’t land, and she glides in and out of a conversation as needed.

Always a wise guy
Parkinson’s is a cruel disease. It slowly inflicts debilitating tremors, sudden fits of muscle rigidity, and can even compromise a person’s ability to blink, or to swallow, or to smile. It has taken away Ken’s ability to drive, and his ability to fly-fish, and it’s slowly robbing him of his ability to walk. It has not, however, robbed him of his mischievous grin.
“I was always a wise guy,” he said, taking a break from casting. “None of the teachers in my elementary school would take me twice. I spent a lot of time in the principal’s office. When I was a principal and kids were sent to me, I’d say, ‘Don’t tell me a story, because I’ve already used it.’”
Ken was a school principal in New Hampshire until his school burned down. He’d never been to the Island when he applied for a job at the Tisbury School. “I didn’t even know you had to get a boat to get here,” he said. Although the job went to longtime principal Alan Campbell, Ken took the assistant principal job. When his position was eliminated, Ken worked for the telephone company on the mainland, first in the Boston area and later in Vermont, where he continues to maintain a home. When Ken was 55, the shaking and tingling in his arm was diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease.
“That’s when I retired,” he said. “I wanted to go places. I wanted to play.”

Dr. Play opens Island practice
Ken and Laura moved to the Vineyard full-time in 1999, and when he registered his Jeep in Massachusetts, he got “Dr. Play” license plates. The “Dr.” comes from his doctorate in education, which he earned at the University of South Dakota. “We lived there for three years,” he said. “It’s not exactly the best place for a liberal from the East Coast. And I missed the saltwater.”
Ken has a long and deep connection to the beach. It’s where his father taught him to fish in his native Fairfield, Conn., and it’s where he met Laura. The back bumper on his Jeep has a rainbow of oversand permits, and a “Ken’s Sandbox” bumper sticker, which he had made after a friend commented on the copious amounts of Chappy sand that always covered the floor.
The “Play” in Dr. Play comes from a core belief Ken embraces, as much as his body will allow. The back of his Dr. Play business card, which he reckons he’s given out thousands of times, reads, “Make play a high priority in your life, for if you die tomorrow, no one can play for you but someone can and will work for you!”
The front of the card has his contact information, and two small drawings — one of a fisherman landing his quarry, the other of a telescope.
“It was the closest I could get to a spotting scope,” he said, referring to the favored tool of bird watchers. Dr. Play is also an avid birder, and every year he and Laura participate in the Island bird count, usually done the Saturday after Christmas. He’s also taken birding trips to Florida, California, Texas, and Arizona, since his diagnosis.

Attitude is everything
In June 2004, Ken was one of the first people to undergo a relatively new procedure called “deep brain stimulation” at Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital in New Hampshire. The procedure involved drilling through the skull and placing an electrode in the brain, which required him to be awake so doctors could ask questions to determine if the electrode was positioned correctly.
“Since I was one of the first, they didn’t know how it was going to turn out,” Ken said. He described the results as “miraculous.” He was not as effusive about the results from a subsequent surgery in 2011. Yet Dr. Play remains committed to his regimen.
“Attitude is more important than anything,” he said. “You have to be proactive. If you don’t get out and see people, [Parkinson’s] will eat you alive. That’s why I love to fish. You always meet interesting people.”
Last year Ken took his third trip to Alaska to fish with his son Chris. “A plane took us to a boat, and we went way into the wilderness. We saw grizzly bears every day,” he said with a large grin.
The father-and-son tandem has also gone whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River, and fished the Blue River and mighty Colorado River while rafting.

‘This I believe’
“You can catch a big bass anywhere on this Island,” Ken said. “If you want to catch a fish, pick a spot, anywhere you like. Go every day and take five casts. I guarantee the fish will show up at some point.”
Ken has a number of maxims, which he’s compiled into “This I Believe.” A sampling includes:
If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly, especially when attempting to learn a new skill.
Tell me what you can do, not what you can’t do.
If you can afford it, do it. Today is the rainy day you have been saving for.
Doing nothing is sometimes more important than doing something.
Sometimes you need to make a decision, and if needed, fix it later.
If you’re afraid to travel alone, you’ll never go anywhere.
One of his favorites is “Never defend a no.
“If you’re asked to volunteer for something and you don’t want to do it, just say no and leave it at that,” he said. “Nobody ever asks you to explain a yes.”
“He still says yes a lot,” Laura said.
Mr. Beebe remains on one committee. He is a co-facilitator for the Martha’s Vineyard Parkinson’s support group, also known as “Vineyard Isle Parkinsonians” or “VIPs.”
Ellen Reynolds, outreach worker at the Up-Island Council on Aging, estimates the group, which meets the second Monday of every month at 10:30 am at the Up-Island Council on Aging on State Road, has about 25 regular members. “We think there are probably three times that many people with Parkinson’s on the Island,” she told The Times.
The VIP outreach crews are comprised of a registered nurse, a social worker, and a patient facilitator, a role Ken often fills.
“The model we use on the Vineyard is somewhat unusual,” Ms. Reynolds said. “The Boston chapter of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association has used us as a model.”
Ms. Reynolds had high praise for both Ken and Laura. “He’s a special guy,” she said. “Laura is also incredible. There’s not always a significant other who is so dedicated.”
There is also a caregiver’s support group that splinters off from the VIP meetings.
“Caregivers usually don’t take as good care of themselves as the person they’re caring for,” Ms. Reynolds said. “It helps to be with others who are going through the same kind of experience.”

Sunrise and sunset
The bait was still jumping after the sun set at Norton Point, but no predators had shown up. Asked about his most memorable fishing moments, Ken didn’t recount an epic battle with a finned foe. “The sunrise and sunset,” he said. “So many people haven’t seen the sun rise over the ocean. They’re really missing something.”
After watching the sunset, Ken called it a day. Laura helped him to his feet and helped him back to “Ken’s Sandbox.” He tried to gain purchase in the deep sand with his aluminum cane, but it was heavy sledding. A three-foot incline almost toppled them both, but Laura steadied him, and together they made the last few steps to the Jeep.

With Laura by his side, Dr. Play calls it a day. — Photo by Barry Stringfellow
With Laura by his side, Dr. Play calls it a day. — Photo by Barry Stringfellow

“I’ll probably come back tomorrow or Tuesday,” he said, settling his six-foot frame in his seat and catching his breath. “Gimme a call if you want to fish.”

by -

Board looks to exemplify regional cooperation by confronting Island housing shortage.

The All-Island Planning Board (AIPB), a recently formed regional committee created to bring modernity and unity to Island zoning bylaws, met at the Chilmark Community Center last Thursday, and the shortage of year-round housing consumed the two-hour session. Representatives from the six towns and regional organizations spoke about a wide array of solutions, which were as different as the towns themselves. Tiny houses, large apartment buildings, and systematic acquisition of existing housing stock were a few of the options aired.
“No question, the place where we’ve found the most common ground is affordable housing,” Rich Osnoss, Chilmark planning board chairman, who ran the meeting, said. “We have people with expertise, like the Island Housing Trust, and we should be asking them for help. Philippe has been at this a long time, and he’s a wealth of information,” he said, referring to Island Housing Trust executive director Philippe Jordi.
Chilmark planning board member Joan Malkin, who is also a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), said that before specific solutions are discussed, the AIPC needed to define its mission.
“I think we need a clear picture of what our priorities are,” she said. “I see our role enabling the six planning boards to work together, and possibly creating a plan for all-Island funding. But it needs to be clear: Is the priority workforce housing, rental housing, ownership?”
“We need 12-month leases, badly,” Dukes County Regional Housing Authority (DCHRA) executive director David Vigneault said. “It is a dominant issue in the economy right now, and the body politic gets it. Businesses get it. Parents get it — many have adult children who can’t afford to move back here. The 25- to 35-year-old population can’t live here. That’s a huge loss for us. The school population isn’t going down, because people who’ve made their nut off-Island are moving here to raise their kids.”
“The MVC did the housing-needs assessment, and it was clear priority needs to be given to year-round rental housing,” Christine Flynn, MVC economic development and affordable housing planner, said, referencing a study the MVC released last December. “We need to define what is community housing, workforce housing, affordable housing. It has to be clear so voters know what they’re voting for. Change of this scale can only be decided at town meeting.”
Aquinnah Community Preservation Committee chairman Derrill Bazzy gave kudos to the towns of Chilmark and West Tisbury for passing bylaws that encourage accessory apartments, noting that 49 accessory apartments have been created in West Tisbury.
“This demand for housing is not income-based,” Oak Bluffs planning board member Ewell Hopkins said. “There are people with money to write a check, and no product to buy. This isn’t about charity. We all suffer because we don’t have diverse housing.”
“Market rate has become a dirty word,” Oak Bluffs planning board chairman Brian Packish said. “We need to relax regulation, and we’re heading in the other direction.”

Zoning the crux
Mr. Vigneault said that to make a dent in the shortage, town zoning boards have to create bylaws that allow for multi-unit developments. “It’s all about scale,” he said. “We know we haven’t made any headway even remotely keeping up with the tide.”
According to the United States Census Bureau, only 5.3 percent of housing in Dukes County is in multi-unit structures, as compared to the state average of 41.7 percent.
“Zoning is the crux,” Dan Seidman, Tisbury planning board chairman and founding member of the AIPB, said. “How can we as towns come up with uniform zoning that allows for cluster housing? If we don’t have somewhere to put it, it doesn’t matter.”
Mr Seidman acknowledged that increased density will create wastewater and septic demands, which points to locating new developments in the down-Island towns that have infrastructure to handle it. “You put density where density exists,” he said.
“The challenge isn’t finding a location — we have a lot of space in Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Hopkins said. “It’s all about the political will. If we’re going to [build] it in O.B., we have to see support from other towns.”
Chilmark and Aquinnah have relied on low-density, private development on town-leased one-acre lots. Chilmark’s largest development, Middle Line Road, is comprised of six rental duplexes and six one-acre house lots set on 21 acres.
Ms. Malkin floated the concept of regional funding for multi-unit housing that is built in the down-Island towns. Chilmark selectman Warren Doty strongly opposed the idea.
“It would be a terrible idea to support it elsewhere,” he said. “We don’t want 40-unit housing somewhere else and just write a check. Are you kidding? We need 40 units here.”
Mr. Doty expressed skepticism that accessory apartments will make much of a dent in the demand. He also was not enthused about large-scale apartment buildings. “I don’t see making a 40-unit building attractive. I think smaller cluster housing is attractive,” he said.

Tiny houses trumpeted
Mr. Osnoss noted that tiny houses and cluster developments have been a hot topic, but there are many vagaries in zoning bylaws that forbid their use.
“The tiny house is a great example of an energized group, and they’re finding it falls in a gap in the floor,” he said. “Technically they’re an RV. Most every town on the Island has bylaws that prohibit RV parks. Maybe we have to look at those again.”
Mr. Seidman noted that Tisbury was the only town on the Vineyard with zoning that allows for an RV park. It requires a 10-acre parcel with considerable buffer zones, and lots that are 3,000 square feet, which he considered excessive.
“We could look at adapting a similar bylaw for cluster-housing tiny houses on five acres,” he said. He also said that it would be unlikely in his view that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission would approve a mobile home park, and not without good reason.
“We have to balance the character of the Island with the need for more housing,” he said. “There’s the growth issue, and affordability and the reality. The reality is we can’t all live where we want.”

Overlooked option
Tisbury planning board member Ben Robinson said that there is an existing inventory of houses on the Island that could help ameliorate the problem without waiting for zoning changes, requiring a town meeting vote, and then going through the long process of permitting and construction.
“A lot of the more affordable houses that go on the market, between $300,000 and $500,000, get snapped up by investors who jack up the rents and make their money in the summer,” he said. “If the towns buy those before they fall out of the stock, we’re going to be creating year-round ownership. It’s not as pretty as ribbon cutting, but takes it out of the investors’ hands.”
In an email to The Times on Monday, Mr. Seidman said the Admiral Benbow Inn, a stately Victorian B&B on the market for $1.5 million, is one such opportunity. “The Benbow Inn could be converted to full-time, single-room occupancy that would add at least nine year-round units to the affordable pool. They could be ideal for younger people just out on their own and older people who are downsizing.”
Mr. Seidman suggested another way to integrate existing housing inventory into solving the problem is to relax zoning for the number of people who can live in a house.
“Some of the elderly and empty-nesters have houses that are paid for, but their income is low,” he said. “If they want to rent four of five bedrooms, that’s a good thing. By allowing them to rent by the bedroom, they supply housing and increase their income. And we’re not adding additional buildings. It’s a win-win.”

Beacon Hill beckons
Mr. Hopkins was adamant that to create substantive change, a united regional planning board from the Island has to actively lobby the State House. “We’re not challenging our legislators about what’s important on the Vineyard,” he said. Mr. Hopkins said some towns in Massachusetts lobby Beacon Hill on a regular basis, and a boat ride is no excuse to not make the effort. He also referenced the recently introduced Senate Bill 122, co-sponsored by Sen. Dan Wolf, intended to streamline permitting and zoning laws that hamper the creation of much-needed mixed-use developments. “This will affect our effectiveness as planning boards,” he said. “We need to educate ourselves about this legislation, and decide, as a regional body, if we support it or not.”

Zoning in the zeitgeist
Legislators on Beacon Hill are eyeing the growing shortage of workforce housing statewide. This past Tuesday, the Joint Committee on Housing heard testimony on a bill that requires all zoning ordinances and bylaws to include districts where multifamily homes are allowed by right. The bill also calls for cluster developments to be permitted with planning board approval.
“We don’t build nearly enough housing to keep up with demand, and when we do, it’s often the wrong type, and it’s often in the wrong place,” Under Secretary of Housing and Community Development Chrystal Kornegay told the State House News Service. The new bill includes an allocation of additional funding to cover the costs of educating children moving into the cluster developments.ter developments.

The purchase will create affordable housing and preserve open space.

The 24 acre parcel, shown in purple, will be split between the Land Bank and the Island Housing Trust.

The Island Housing Trust (IHT) announced Wednesday it has combined forces with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank to purchase a 15-acre parcel off State Road in Tisbury for $1.2 million. The two agencies joined together to “create year-round workforce housing with the strategic conservation of open space,” according to a press release.

The property off State Road near the Scottish Bakehouse is bisected by Red Coat Hill Road, an ancient way. IHT will propose an affordable housing development on six acres south of Red Coat Hill Road.

“The IHT intends to develop a neighborhood of 11 energy-efficient duplexes similar in design to the ones built at Sepiessa in West Tisbury, which have been well received by the community,” IHT executive director Philippe Jordi told The Times on Wednesday.

IHT sold the Land Bank an exclusive-use easement for the nine acres north of Red Coat Hill Road for $600,000, which entitles the land conservation agency to use the property as if it owns it. The parcel can be used for septic and wells for the affordable housing, provided IHT restores the land to a natural state, according to Land Bank executive director James Lengyel.


Failed effort resurrected

The parcel is part of a 24-acre property that was originally owned by the Norton family. In 2002, representatives of several Island religious organizations formed the nonprofit Bridge Housing Corporation and launched an initiative to build Bridge Commons, a Chapter 40B affordable housing project.

The corporation secured a loan for nearly $1.7 million from Boston Community Capital to buy a 14.8-acre Tisbury site at State and Deer Hill roads on which to build 22 homes in 11 two-family buildings.

The Land Bank opted to purchase the remaining nine acres, now part of Ripley’s Field Preserve.

In an option dated June 1, 2002, Bridge Housing agreed to pay the Norton family $2,000,000, subject to added payments that accrued until closing. The Bridge Commons project received approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in 2003 and Tisbury’s zoning board of appeals in 2004, and won court appeals brought by neighbors.

Closing finally occurred in 2007, resulting in two deeds, one to the Land Bank and one to Bridge, for an aggregate payment of $2,337,808.

In 2009, the Bridge Housing Common board announced a decision to put the Tisbury property on the market because the project had run out of financial resources and they could not repay the site purchase loan.

Continuing efforts to salvage Bridge Housing subsequently failed, and the land went into foreclosure. It was then bought by Boston Community Capital.


The power of one

Mr. Lengyel said that negotiations between Boston Community Capital, the Land Bank, and IHT began in February. “Both the Land Bank and the Island Housing Trust negotiated as a team with Boston Community Capital,” he told The Times. “We agreed we’d pay $1.2 million and split the cost 50/50.”

Mr. Lengyel said the initial spark for the deal came in November 2014 from a “citizen’s request” — a call to the Land Bank suggesting it purchase the property.

“We have a philosophy that anyone can call here at any time and say, ‘You should look at this land,’ but we don’t record the calls, per our policy, and I don’t believe the caller left a name,” he said.

In December the Land Bank said it was not interested in buying all of the property, but would be open to a cooperative acquisition with some affordable housing entity. In February, the IHT and Land Bank teamed up and began negotiations with Boston Community Capital.

Boston Community Capital is a nonprofit community-development financial institution that has invested over $1 billion in affordable housing and job creation in low-income communities since 1985, according to the company website.

“This never would have been possible without Boston Capital’s willingness to take a loss,” Mr. Jordi said. “They wanted to make the deal work because their mission is aligned with ours.”

The Land Bank has had a busy September. Earlier this month the commission announced the purchase of 22.6 acres along Pepperbush Way in West Tisbury for $2,350,000.

“Our acquisitions tend to come in clumps,” Mr. Lengyel said. “We can go stretches without any deals, but for some reason, they often happen all at once.”


Housing history

The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank is funded by a 2 percent surcharge on most real estate transfers. It is limited by its enabling legislation to land purchases for recreational and conservation purposes. That has not stopped it from cooperating with housing groups to create affordable housing opportunities, according to a Land Bank account.

In 1991 the Land Bank and the Dukes County housing authority cooperatively purchased land off Clam Point Road in West Tisbury; the housing authority obtained a three-acre site at a price of $18,420, on which it constructed four affordable rental units, and the Land Bank created the Sepiessa Point Reservation on the balance.

In 1992 the Land Bank and the town of Chilmark cooperatively purchased land off Tabor House Road in Chilmark; the town obtained 28 acres for various municipal goals, one of which was realized by the creation of two affordable house lots, and the Land Bank created the Peaked Hill Reservation on the balance.

In 1999 the Land Bank and the town of Edgartown cooperatively purchased land off Eighteenth Street in Edgartown; the town obtained 57 acres for various municipal goals, one of which was realized by the creation of the Morgan Woods affordable housing development, and the Land Bank created the Pennywise Preserve on the balance.

In 2003 the Land Bank and the Island Affordable Housing Development Corporation (IAHDC) cooperatively purchased land off Lobsterville Road in Aquinnah; the IAHDC obtained a 0.5-acre site at a price of $57,715, on which it created an affordable housing ground lease, and the Land Bank incorporated the balance into its Gay Head Moraine reservation.

In 2003 the Land Bank and town of Aquinnah cooperatively targeted land on Old South Road in Aquinnah; the town created two affordable house lots, and the Land Bank incorporated the balance into its Gay Head Moraine reservation.

In 2004 the Land Bank and the Island Housing Trust Corporation (IHTC) cooperatively purchased land off Takemmy Path in Tisbury; the IHTC obtained a one-acre site at a price of $48,430, on which it sited three affordable housing ground leases, and the Land Bank incorporated the balance into its Wapatequa Woods Reservation.

In 2006 the Land Bank purchased, for $15,714, a conservation restriction from the Island Housing Trust Corporation (IHTC) at its Twin Oaks site at the roundabout in Oak Bluffs, as part of a plan creating three affordable housing ground leases; the conservation restriction was incorporated into the Land Bank’s Weahtaqua Springs Preserve.

In 2007 the Land Bank and the Island Housing Trust Corporation (IHTC) cooperatively purchased land on State Road in West Tisbury; the IHTC obtained a four-acre site at a price of $350,168, on which it sited eight affordable housing ground leases on Eliakim’s Way, and the Land Bank incorporated the balance into its John Presbury Norton Farm.

In 2013 the town of Chilmark obtained, at no cost, four affordable house lots abutting the Land Bank’s Tiasquam Valley Reservation as a result of a tripartite agreement involving the transfer of various properties among and between it and the Land Bank and a private family.

Selectmen will look to community preservation accounts for an additional $230,000 needed for the project.

Grants will pay for part of a new seawall and boardwalk along the crumbling North Bluff.

Carlos Pena from CLE Engineering, designer for the North Bluff seawall project, told Oak Bluffs selectmen at their regular Tuesday meeting that MIG Corp. of Acton was the low bidder for the $5.6 million North Bluff seawall project — a steel sheet seawall and boardwalk from the harbor to the new fishing pier.

Four companies bid on the project. The base bids ranged from $5.2 million from MIG to $7.3 million from Middlesex Corp. The MIG bid of $5.2 million also included hazardous material removal. However, when engineering and management fees were added, along with a 5 percent contingency fund of $262,000, the total was $5.9 million, leaving the town with a $343,000 shortfall.

Town administrator Robert Whritenour told selectmen that after years of back and forth, FEMA had finally made a “first offer” of Hurricane Sandy relief funding to add to the project; however, it was only $113,000. This left the total town shortfall of roughly $230,000.

“The contingency is a very important item,” project manager Dave Lager said. “We do a lot of work for towns all over Massachusetts, and one of the items under public bid law is you have to have a contingency. As good as your planning may be, it’s very hard to be precise. We can’t sit here and tell you that the sheets will go into place without obstructions.” Mr. Lager added that the test borings made by Mr. Pena accounted for only 1 to 2 percent of the area that will be excavated.

“We may not need it,” Mr. Lager said. “I’m fairly confident that we won’t, but I can’t sit here and tell you that.”

Selectman Walter Vail, who has been active on the building committee for the new fire station, said that project will come in on or under budget, but noted that the budget included a $403,000 contingency fund, which is almost used up. “It is a good thing to have,” he said. Mr. Vail added that the new fire station is due to open in November,

“We need to take action as a town,” Mr. Whritenour said. “One option is cutting back on the project $200,000. I’m not comfortable with that.” Mr. Whritenour suggested that the shortfall be made up with CPC (Community Preservation Coalition) funds. “We’re intending to just hold the money, and if there’s a way to return it, we’d like to,” he said.

The Oak Bluffs CPC committee is holding a special meeting Monday. If the committee supports the request and puts it on the November town meeting warrant, Mr. Whritenour said, he was confident the long-awaited project could move forward without delay.

Mr. Lager said he expects material delivery to begin in November and construction to begin in December, with the entire project completed in 10 months, the bulk of the work being completed by Memorial Day.

Selectmen voted unanimously to accept the bid from MIG and to seek $230,000 in CPC funding for the shortfall.


by -

The well regarded director cited Island housing costs and new opportunities.

Sondra Murphy poses for a portrait in 2013 at the Oak Bluffs library. – File photo by Ralph Stewart

Oak Bluffs selectmen received the unwelcome news at their Tuesday meeting that library director Sondra Murphy is leaving the Island to take a position at the Worcester Public Library. Ms. Murphy’s last day will be Oct. 16, the date of the library’s 10-year anniversary.

She was at the meeting to apply for a wine and beer permit for the library’s anniversary celebration that same night. Ms. Murphy was made children’s librarian in 2010 and interim director a year later. She is widely credited for bringing new energy and a wide assortment of new programming to the library.

“I’d like to thank you for putting your faith in me,” she told the board.

Selectman Greg Coogan said he was particularly vexed that Ms. Murphy’s departure was in large part due to the affordable housing shortage on the Island. “We need to address housing in a coordinated approach with the other towns,” he said. “We’re losing our most talented young people.”