Home Port decision due in Chilmark
Chilmark voters meet Monday to decide whether to buy the Home Port restaurant property, offered to the town for $3.9 million.
Voters will gather at the Chilmark Community Center at 7:30 pm to take action on the one-article special town meeting warrant.
Will Holtham and Madeline Moore, owners of the iconic restaurant that overlooks Menemsha Creek, agreed to sell the restaurant buildings and six nearby lots, including a dock and other waterfront on the creek, at a price lower than they had previously asked for the business and land.
The Holtham-Moore offer is binding until next week's special town meeting. Voters must agree to the purchase by a two-thirds vote.
At a meeting Tuesday night, the Chilmark finance committee voted unanimously to recommend the purchase. The board also recommended that the town seek non-tax-based funding sources to defray the cost.
The decision came after the Home Port committee presented its report on the proposed purchase at a joint meeting with the selectmen and the finance committee.
In September, the Chilmark selectmen appointed five town residents to a special committee to consider the proposed purchase and to examine what uses might be made of the Home Port Restaurant, if voters decide to buy the Menemsha eatery.
The Home Port committee presented its findings in a five-page report at Tuesday's meeting.
In the report, the committee weighed the various benefits and detriments of the proposed purchase and various possible uses for the property. However, the committee stopped short of making a recommendation for or against the purchase.
"There are plenty of good reasons for the town to buy the Home Port," the report states. "The question is whether these reasons are worth $3.9 million. The voters, not this committee, must answer this question."
At Tuesday's meeting, Doug Sederholm, chairman of the committee, said that the report makes no recommendation, but should be used as fodder for discussion to help voters form their own opinions. "We thought it would be a good idea to give voters some things to think about," he said.
While the committee took no position on the proposed purchase, the selectmen did. J.B. Riggs Parker said that he favors buying the land, while Warren Doty said that he thinks it is too expensive. Board chairman Frank Fenner, who owns the Menemsha Galley, which abuts the Home Port property, recused himself from the discussion, but prior to the meeting he told a Times reporter that he thinks the town should purchase the restaurant.
Pros and cons
The Home Port committee addressed several aspects of the proposed purchase, including the benefits of controlling the waterfront property and the impact that $3.9 million in borrowing could have on the town.
The committee found advantages to owning the property, including improving traffic and parking in the congested area near the restaurant, and public access to Menemsha Pond.
The committee said that purchasing the property and closing the restaurant could help resolve many of the traffic problems that currently exist in Menemsha, particularly around the Home Port.
The report stated, "At night during the summer, the Home Port is Menemsha's single greatest generator of traffic. Closing the restaurant and retaining the parking lot would probably reduce Menemsha's traffic and parking problems, particularly at night."
About pond access, the report states, "Currently, there is only one public boat launch area in town. The Home Port property would provide one, perhaps two, public access points to Menemsha Creek."
While it discussed the benefits of controlling the property, the committee did not recommend a proposed use for the land.
The report states, "A number of people have suggested that the town should not buy the Home Port unless we have a plan for the property. This is a reasonable suggestion, but given the time limit placed on the offer by the seller, it is impossible for the town to formulate a definitive plan for the property in the time available. We think that the town will have to decide whether there are enough good potential uses for the property that the benefits of owning it outweigh the detriments of not owning it."
The committee did, however, recommend that the town stay out of the restaurant business.
"We do not see preservation of the restaurant as a good enough reason for the town to buy the Home Port," the report states. "Leasing the building to a restaurateur should only be considered as an interim solution to defray a small part of the purchase price while the town develops a definitive long-term plan for the site."
The proposed use that the committee found most appealing was to demolish the restaurant and replace it with a small town park. The committee said that this would provide the maximum benefit for the public, including waterfront access, traffic mitigation, and the possibility of new restrooms, and other services.
The committee also briefly addressed the possibility of turning the property into a facility to support the local fishing industry.
The report states, "We have not had the time or the resources to properly evaluate this suggestion. We mention it because it may merit further consideration in light of Menemsha's long history as a working fishing port."
Along with the benefits of owning the property, the committee addressed the detriments.
First and foremost was the purchase price. According to the report, the loan would cost the owner of a $1 million home in Chilmark an additional $110 per year in property taxes for the next 20 years.
The purchase would nearly double the town's current long-term indebtedness. While the committee said that the town could "easily finance the debt that the purchase of the Home Port will create," they acknowledged that the purchase could influence future financial decisions for other town projects.
In its report the committee asked, "How much long-term debt does the town want to carry, and what other projects must we finance in the next few years? How do the benefits of controlling the Home Port property compare to the benefits (or necessities) of other competing uses of these tax dollars?"
Selectmen weigh in
Tuesday, the selectmen expressed differing opinions on the proposed purchase.
Mr. Parker was first to announce his support of purchase.
"I think we will regret it if we don't acquire this property," he said. "I'm all too familiar, like many Islanders are, with the land that got away."
While he said that the town does not need to rush into any one plan for the property, he agreed with the committee that the town should not get into the restaurant business. He said running a for-profit business would end up costing the town more money.
"If the property were used for profit-making, the interest rates on the bonds to purchase it would be about 175 basis points above the rate if no profit-making business were contemplated," he said. "This means that the interest would go from about 4.25 percent to 6 percent, a 41 percent increase in interest costs."
Mr. Doty said that he was against the purchase because the $3.9 million price tag is too high.
"I think it is too expensive," he said. "I think it is overpriced by $1.5 million to $500,000, and we have worked very hard to try and control our finances, and to say $500,000 is no big deal, I just can't say it."
Prior to the selectmen's meeting, in a telephone conversation with a Times reporter, Mr. Fenner said that he favors the purchase.
Speaking as a private citizen, not as a selectman, Mr. Fenner said, "I think that this is an unbelievable opportunity for the town of Chilmark to control its destiny. All of the recent master plans have said that Menemsha is one of the highlights and gems of our community. The option of purchasing the Home Port gives us the ability to control what happens to the property, rather than react to what will happen to it."
Mr. Fenner said that he is open to potential uses, but likes the idea of a town park. "This is far, far too important an issue, and there are far, far too many options to take this and rush through a use," he said. "However, I have to say that I liked the suggestion that it become a park. I think that could be a wonderful thing."