Chilmark airs seasonal concerns
Selectmen forced to defend Menemsha slip vote
Affordable housing and poor cell phone service were the most repeated topics at Chilmark's open selectmen's meeting Tuesday night. The annual summer meeting is intended to provide an opportunity for seasonal residents to air concerns and ask questions.
About 40 residents and many town officials, including the three selectmen, attended the meeting held in the Chilmark Community Center.
One person put the selectmen on the spot regarding their June vote to depart from established policy and award the use of a Menemsha boat slip to life-long town resident Robin Smith, a 20-year slip tenant. Ms. Smith had not sent in her signed lease and payment for the slip by the Jan. 15 deadline, so in accordance with the rule her slip was awarded to the next boat owner on the town's waiting list.
Darby Campbell, who lives in Chilmark about half the year, charged the selectmen with "preferential treatment" in their 2-1 vote to reinstate Ms. Smith's lease.
Noting that the town government prides itself on "transparency," Mr. Campbell said the decision violated the rules regarding boat slip leases, which have a Jan. 15 renewal deadline. "How could you do this and avoid the general directives by the Massachusetts attorney general on preferential treatment?" he asked.
Selectmen Warren Doty and Frank Fenner, who voted for the boat slip reinstatement, defended their decision, saying it was based on their belief that second notices should be sent to people who do not send the lease renewal and payment by the deadline. Mr. Doty said the selectmen plan to change the rules to allow a 15-day grace period with a late fee to those who miss the deadline.
Selectman Riggs Parker defended his vote against the boat slip renewal. "I believe people on the waiting list deserve fair treatment," he said. "I don't believe in any special treatment to anyone."
Mr. Campbell also asked the selectmen what they are doing about people who in the past lost their boat slips for failure to renew. Mr. Fenner said they are reviewing this year's list.
In defense of his vote, Mr. Fenner said, "I don't feel it was preferential treatment." He said he did not fully understand the implications of the regulations when the selectmen approved them in November 2005. "I think I made a mistake" in approving the initial regulations, he said.
Mr. Fenner said he thinks people should be allowed a second chance, and he doesn't think it would have been too much effort on the town's part to contact the 12 people out of 297 applicants who did not meet the Jan. 15 deadline.
Mr. Campbell also asked about another new policy put in place this year - more staffing of the Squibnocket Beach parking lot. The selectmen approved extra funding for a second lifeguard and second parking attendant until 7 pm daily on the beach committee's recommendation, based on limited parking for the popular beach.
Mr. Campbell asked if the new hours and staff were necessary since he had not seen lines of cars at Squibnocket this summer as there had been the past few years. "Is there anyone there?" he asked regarding staff.
Martina Mastromonaco, beach superintendent, concurred that there have not been as many cars at the parking lot this year, and thus not as much need for the extra staff as was expected. "If the lot's not full, there is no reason to staff it," she said.
Beach stickers are not required after 5 pm, Ms. Mastromonaco said, so the staff members are allowed to leave if the lot is not full. No dogs are allowed on the beach until after all staff leaves, she said in answer to another question from Mr. Campbell.
The selectmen answered several questions about their efforts to solve the Up-Island cell phone signal access problem. Most of the discussion was about the distributed antenna system (DAS), which the town has been exploring with Aquinnah and West Tisbury. The selectmen also have had discussions with other companies and systems, and will have another at next week's selectmen's meeting with Sprint Nextel.
Mr. Fenner, who has dealt with the cell phone issue for the board, said the selectmen are still exploring options. Resident Ken Iscol, who was in the telecommunications business for 25 years, strongly cautioned the selectmen about their choice of companies.
"Whomever you choose will not be here in 25 years," he said. "You need to negotiate with Verizon or AT&T." The town could be left with problems from smaller companies, and installing fiber optic cables, as are needed for the DAS, would require digging up the roads, he said. He said the best choice would be to install a tower on Peaked Hill.
Mr. Doty expressed his strong dislike for tall towers and putting any more antennae on Peaked Hill. "The DAS idea is to get away from towers," he said, but added that the final decision on the cell phone service will be made in town meeting.
Mr. Parker reported that the long permitting process for the Middle Line Road affordable housing project that will provide housing for 12 families is almost complete. When asked about the demand for the housing, Mr. Parker said he did not have a specific number since applications have not been taken yet, but based on what the town knows he believes "the demand is huge."
"We hope by next year we will be talking about a project that really exists," Mr. Parker said. In answer to a question about continued maintenance of the Middle Line project, he said the ground lease will cover those issues and a nonprofit developer will run the project.
Seasonal resident Peter Darling asked about maintenance of the town's stonewalls. "It's something that needs to be protected as well as enhanced," he said.
Andrew Goldman of the Conservation Preservation Committee said the committee initially hadn't considered the maintenance problem, but it is now working more closely with people on it. Jane Slater of the CPC said the committee's focus is now on educating people who build new stonewalls with the hope that they will build them like the traditional Chilmark walls. "You can't legislate some things," she added.
A couple of residents asked about the town's plans to acquire more property. Mr. Parker said it would like to acquire more, but property is very expensive and people are reluctant to give up what they have. However, he said the selectmen are currently looking at a location for a larger fire station, and may look at more options for 20 town owned acres at Peaked Hill.