Edgartown residents oppose tree cutting on ancient way
There were sharp exchanges at a Monday night meeting of the Edgartown selectmen when several residents of an Edgartown subdivision and selectmen clashed with attorney Ben Hall Jr. over the clearing of land and removal of trees along Middle Line Path.
The ancient way is part of a network of roads and paths between several Edgartown subdivisions and property owned by the Hall family in a triangle of land bordered by Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and Edgartown-West Tisbury Road.
Representatives of the Edgartown Meadows Road Association attended the meeting to voice their complaints that Mr. Hall cut trees on property he did not own. Mr. Hall maintained he has an easement that he is allowed to maintain.
The selectmen joined what was at times a heated discussion with Mr. Hall. At one point, selectman chairman Margaret Serpa threatened to call the constable to have Mr. Hall removed from the meeting when he continued to press his points after she shut off discussion on the issue.
This photograph was presented at a meeting of the Edgartown selectmen to show the clearing and tree removal on Middle Line Path. Photo courtesy of the town of Edgartown
"I never finished speaking," Mr. Hall said. "I have not had a fair opportunity to tell what happened."
The issues at the meeting were two-fold: one related to the tree cutting, and the other was a delay in forwarding a request to the Martha's Vineyard Commission to add five byways, including Middle Line Path, to the existing Dr. Fisher District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC), which would provide another overlay of regulatory control.
Mr. Hall is a member of a planning board subcommittee that has been reviewing Island Roads District bylaws. His participation on that committee also raised a challenge.
Selectman Arthur Smadbeck asked Mr. Hall if he owned the roadways on which he was cutting and clearing. Mr. Hall said he did not, but that he has easements to his property.
"If you're on the committee," Mr. Smadbeck said, "I don't think it's appropriate for you to send people to cut the trees. It has the appearance you were on this committee so you could go in and clear that area."
Bob Green, a member of the byways committee and the planning board subcommittee, claimed that Mr. Hall took information from the subcommittee and used it to his own advantage when he started cutting the trees earlier this year. Mr. Green said he no longer wanted to be on the subcommittee because of what has transpired.
In May, the planning board approved a byways committee recommendation to add Middle Line Path, Pennywise Path, Ben Toms Road, Tar Kiln Path and Watcha Path to the existing Dr. Fisher DCPC. The referral to the MVC was delayed because of questions about the bylaws, planning board member Roger Becker said. He said the subcommittee was looking at the need to allow existing vehicular access to the byways.
Paul Ulyatt, co-president of the Edgartown Meadows Road Association, read a letter on behalf of the association expressing its concerns about Mr. Hall's land clearing and cutting of 41 trees since early April on association property and other private property extending to Middle Line Pond. Mr. Ulyatt said the association did not receive a letter from Mr. Hall about the tree cutting and stump removal until July 23.
The road association asked the selectmen to refer the five byways immediately to the Martha's Vineyard Commission, to return Middle Line Pond to its previous state, and to remove Mr. Hall from the byways subcommittee.
Georgiana Greenough, planning board assistant, held up several photographs of the area under discussion at the meeting. "He is creating a road," she said, referring to Mr. Hall. The section of Middle Line Path that is being cleared is almost 1,100 feet long.
Selectman Michael Donaroma told the association members that the issues involving the trees would probably have to be settled in litigation between the property owners. "You'll probably need to sue," he said. But he and the other selectmen agreed that the DCPC designation should have been sent to the Martha's Vineyard Commission. The selectmen approved the recommendation in January.
"The mistake is it's taken too long to get to the MVC," Mr. Donaroma said.
The selectmen agreed Monday to refer the five byways directly to the MVC for action, saying they were clearly a DCPC issue. However on Tuesday the planning board met and agreed that they, rather than the selectmen, would send the referral to the MVC.
On Monday night the selectmen referred the rest of the residents' complaints, including the tree cutting, to the town counsel.
Mr. Hall continued to insert his comments after the selectmen took action on the two issues. He said the town has no restrictions on maintaining a right of way, including the lack of the DCPC designation, which would apply to the path. "I'm not aware of any town interest [on the property] other than the DCPC and preserving public water," he said. "This is a grave concern to us - interfering with the property rights of individuals."
Earlier in the meeting, Mr. Hall asked the selectmen if it was their intent to wipe out vehicular use on the ancient ways. He said the paths are used daily by people going to their homes. He claimed a 10-foot wide road was needed to allow fire trucks access into the subdivision.
"These ways are roads used as roads," he said.
Late Wednesday afternoon in a telephone call to The Times, Mr. Hall reiterated his right to cut down trees on property owned by his parents. He said the trees were taken down in a seven- to eight-foot swath of land within his parents' right of way. "My mom owns rights on Fisherman's Knot Road and the full width of Middle Line Road to maintain her rights of passage," he said.
Mr. Hall explained that the tree cutting was done so his parents could tap into a water main the town installed last winter along Middle Line Road. "We wanted the water main to service other property for the future. We were going to pay to have a gate valve put in," he said.
The work was never finished because Mr. Hall said residents of Edgartown Meadows stopped his contractor, John Keene, from clearing the tree stumps by putting boulders across Middle Line Road. "They are trying to limit my parents' vehicular rights to the property," Mr. Hall said.