Chilmark dry-docks summer residents' town pool proposal
Menemsha basin. Photo by Susan Safford
At a sparsely attended special town meeting Monday night, Chilmarkers voted to extend the town's building cap and decided not to plunge ahead just now with a proposal to construct a swimming pool on town land, despite an offer by a summer residents group to pick up most of the tab.
A total of 103 of Chilmark's 823 registered voters, approximately 8 percent, assembled in the Chilmark Community Center at 7:30 pm to take action on a 10-article special town meeting warrant. Despite the limited agenda, the normally quick-acting voters of Chilmark were in a mood to talk and did so until nearly 10 pm.
They talked about the ephemeral qualities that distinguish Chilmark from other places; the detrimental aesthetics of asphalt paving; the virtues of learning to swim in the ocean versus a pool; and the need to restrict people who might purchase an old house with the intention of tearing all but a portion down to circumvent the building cap in order that the town might preserve affordable housing in a community where the average median value of a house is $1.2 million.
Voters quickly and unanimously approved spending $13,750 to enroll Tisbury Great Pond in the state Estuaries Project. And there was limited discussion regarding future town costs before voters unanimously voted to adopt the provisions of a state law that would allow members of the Chilmark volunteer fire department and Tri-Town Ambulance service to enroll in the town's health insurance plan at 100 percent of the cost.
Voters became more cost-conscious when presented with a request to spend $750,000 in Menemsha Harbor to repair the fill dock and install new floating concrete docks.
According to town officials, this spring an underwater survey of the fill dock revealed that portions of the wooden sheathing had deteriorated to the point that fill material was leaking into the harbor. Speaking to the issue, selectman J.B. Riggs Parker said the town was in danger of ending up with the fill dock in the harbor.
"This is a lot of money," said Jay Lagemann, who questioned spending taxpayer dollars on a project to benefit a small number of people who currently have boat slips and pay a modest fee in a town with a very long waiting list. He suggested the town raise fees to help cover the costs involved.
Mr. Parker said he agreed that all rates should be reviewed. He added that the harbor now generates a significant amount of revenue and the improvement would benefit the entire harbor. "If we let it deteriorate it is going to be much more expensive," he said.
Selectman Warren Doty, a former fish wholesaler, said it would be shortsighted to refuse to spend money on the harbor because someone did not own a boat. "Menemsha is at the heart and soul of the community and I think we need to spend money to preserve it as a harbor," he said.
The voters unanimously approved the money request.
A request for $14,000 to pave the parking lot area in front of the police station now housed in the old Menemsha School was not well received.
Tim Rich, Chilmark police chief, said the paving was needed because protruding curb stones presented a public safety hazard and interfere with snow plowing.
Jane Slater, chairman of the historical commission, questioned whether it was necessary to use asphalt and told voters that at some point in the future the 19th century schoolhouse would be restored and the asphalt would need to be removed.
Linda Thompson, wife of Martha's Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London, said asphalt would change the character of the entire area to a more suburban nature. She cautioned that Chilmark was "just going to look like West Tisbury."
Making a tactical retreat, Chief Rich said he was open to other materials. "I just want it to be safe," he said.
Following a lengthy discussion underpinned by the aesthetics and practicality of various materials and possible solutions, including an assurance from Frank Fenner, chairman of the board of selectmen, to find a way to mitigate the appearance of asphalt, the measure was defeated on a voice vote.
Voters quickly and unanimously dispatched of the next two articles designating community preservation funds.
A seemingly innocent request for $25,000 to construct roads and level areas in a new section of the Abel's Hill Cemetery raised concern over just how much leveling might occur. Leveling the cemetery, said one voter, would not be in keeping with the character of Chilmark or good environmental practices.
A member of the cemetery committee assured voters that any leveling would be minimal and was needed to construct a road. A request was made to amend the article to remove the reference to level with the understanding it would not affect roadwork.
On a voice vote, long-time moderator Everett Poole paused with a cocked ear and called it for the change. Jonathan Mayhew, former selectman, was not so sure and asked for a count. The tally was announced 52 to 23 in favor of the change. "Whose got the better ears, Jon?" asked Mr. Poole with a satisfied grin.
The spending request passed unanimously as amended.
Voters next turned their attention to a request by the planning board to limit the rate of growth by extending for another three years the current town building cap which sets a limit of 18 permits per year for new residential construction plus two permits for qualified youth lot recipients.
Voters were also asked to approve a change in the bylaw affecting the inclusion of so-called tear-down renovations, where more than 50 percent of the pre-existing dwelling is removed, in the definition of new residential construction unless four restrictive conditions pertaining to the size of any increase are met.
Voters were asked to change the language in one of the four conditions so that the word footprint would be changed to total floor area and that it not be allowed to increase by more than 25 percent or 500 square feet, whichever is less.
Helen Parker, wife of selectman Parker, made a motion that the 50-percent definition be eliminated and the bylaw be changed to include any renovation, irrespective of the percentage of the pre-existing dwelling left standing, unless all four conditions were met. Mr. Parker diplomatically seconded the motion.
Ms. Parker invoked the need to provide affordable housing as a reason to remove the attraction of possible tear-down housing stock.
A long discussion ensued about ways potential builders might bypass the spirit of the building cap by purchasing an old house under the current 50 percent measure.
Doug Sederholm, Chilmark MVC commissioner, said he was disgusted by the way some people took advantage of teardowns to bypass the building cap, but he said he did not think the proposed amendment accomplished what it set out to do.
Ron Rappaport, town attorney, was asked to weigh in on the legalities of the proposed amendment. He cautioned against straying too far from the original bylaw and said doing so might attract closer scrutiny by the state attorney general and that recent court decisions were not favorable to such caps. "I am concerned about the legality of the building cap in this town," said Mr. Rappaport.
On a voice vote Ms. Parker's amendment failed, but the requested change prevailed. The cap was extended on a 50 to 3 vote.
Although appearing weary from the long bylaw discussion, voters plunged into the question of a swimming pool the Chilmark town affairs council — which operates the summer program at the Community Center the group built and donated to the town 50 years ago — wants to build on town land at Peaked Hill.
Speaking for the council, which is made up of many summer residents, Jeff Herman said the council would pay to build the pool and operate it during the eight-week summer program period at no cost to taxpayers, who would be free to use it when it was not in use in the afternoons and in the shoulder seasons.
Mr. Herman explained that the council had dropped its summer swimming program because children were not willing to brave the cold waters off Menemsha Beach and private pools were no longer as available as they had been in the past.
Bob Merry questioned why anyone needed a pool to learn to swim on an Island in a town with so many attractive beaches. "I can't imagine why we need that swimming pool," he said.
Katy Upson reminded the voters of the Island-wide effort by the YMCA to build a community pool adjacent to the high school in Oak Bluffs. She said people needed to support a covered pool that could be used year-round and questioned how the Chilmark project would affect the Y.
But Mr. Lagemann said a town pool was a great idea and would be a great benefit for kids. "This type of cooperation between summer people and winter people is a wonderful thing," he said.
Steve Gallas spoke in favor of the ocean experience versus learning to swim in a hole in the ground.
Addressing a potential YMCA community pool, Mr. Herman said it was not a viable option because it would be just too far away for parents to take their children and "kill the whole morning."
Mr. Doty said a portion of the town land was designated for recreational use and he was in favor of it. Mr. Parker said he preferred to see an overall plan that addressed all the potential uses of the land rather than taking a piecemeal approach. Mr. Fenner agreed on the need for a more comprehensive look.
The debate ebbed and flowed until Dr. Arnold Geiger pulled the plug with a request that the discussion be put off.
Mr. Poole told the doctor that he could move to indefinitely postpone the article. "I would move to definitely postpone it," said Dr. Geiger to laughter.
The voters responded to a request to postpone indefinitely with a resounding "aye."
In the final bit of business, voters agreed to spend $25,000 for repairs to the Squibnocket Beach parking lot by a vote of 55 to 17.