Tisbury pushes for solutions for Boch Park(ing)
The gravel and weed-covered property is garnished with a dilapidated building. It is located in a prime spot on Beach Road overlooking Vineyard Haven harbor and stands out like a missing tooth.
For many people, "Boch Park" inevitably raises the question, "When is something going to be done there?"
The property got its name during a tumultuous permitting battle between automobile dealership mogul Ernest J. Boch Sr., who died in 2003, and the town of Tisbury.
The town won a battle in Land Court in 2000 to close the parking lot down, and the property has remained vacant since.
Ernie Boch Jr. and the Tisbury selectmen have attempted to work out an arrangement where the Boch family would retain ownership of the property while allowing the town to use it. However, irresolvable legal issues brought the discussions to an end last year.
Although the property remains unused and is an eyesore, it is does provide one benefit for the town. In fiscal year 2008, the Boch family paid $19,950 in property taxes, according to Tisbury Assistant Assessor Ann Marie Cywinski.
Over the years some residents have suggested the property would make a nice park. George Balco, a former long-time member of the Tisbury finance and advisory committee (FinCom) has decided to press the issue. Mr. Balco submitted an article by petition for Tisbury's annual town meeting warrant that asks voters to authorize the selectmen to request that the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank purchase the property.
Mr. Balco sees the beachfront parcel as a "jewel in the crown" of Tisbury the Land Bank should purchase for use as a public park. He said such a purchase would benefit Island residents and visitors and make up what he sees as a shortfall between Land Bank revenues collected from Tisbury and spent on property acquisitions in Tisbury.
Mr. Balco asked the Tisbury's FinCom at a meeting on Feb. 7 to support his article. The FinCom initially tabled the matter but last week voted 7 to 2 to recommend the article at town meeting.
Tisbury officials weigh in
Reactions from Tisbury town officials to news about Mr. Balco's Boch Park article were mixed. "My reaction is that we did try and approach the Land Bank many years ago, and they turned us down," said Selectman Tristan Israel.
"I would certainly be pleased as punch if they would buy it," Mr. Israel said. "Nothing leads me to believe Mr. Boch has the property for sale. However, I'm very supportive of the article. If the price was relatively reasonable and he were selling, I think it would be great."
Mr. Boch is out of the country this week, according to his office in Norwood, and unavailable to confirm whether or not he plans to sell the property.
Building and zoning inspector Ken Barwick said zoning for Boch Park, which is located in the town's waterside management area and the commercial management area, allows various permitted uses including retail, wholesale, service, office, public utility, fish processing, and marinas.
Considering that it is in a vital location offering many possibilities, Mr. Barwick added, "I would not be in favor of taking that property off the tax rolls so it just sits there with a couple of park benches on it."
A restaurant or outdoor café also could be built on the Boch Park site with a special permit from the planning board. Department of public works director Fred LaPiana said the property already is tapped to go into the town's sewer line, with a current allowance of 250 gallons per day, as a retail space. Changing the use of the facility would require a decision by the sewer flow review board.
Two years ago Boch Park figured into a draft master plan for downtown Vineyard Haven and its waterfront proposed by Tisbury's planning board. "The Planning Board has written a letter to the Boch family to let them know how we envision the property fitting into the overall scheme down there and to possibly start discussions," said board co-chairmen Tony Peak. "None of that contradicts Mr. Balco's article. It just gets more people on board to find some solution and gets people talking about it."
Land Bank considerations
The Land Bank uses revenues generated by a two percent surcharge on most real estate transfers in the six towns to purchase property. Purchases must be approved by a town's appointed land bank advisory board and the elected Land Bank commission.
Although the Land Bank has not formally discussed Mr. Balco's article, Tisbury Land Bank commissioner Tom Robinson said in a recent phone call that Boch Park has come up many times during his five terms.
"The Land Bank's law states that properties are to be bought and maintained primarily in their natural state," Mr. Robinson said. "We don't think the intention in Tisbury is to do that with Boch Park. It would be a town park with more intensive use."
The Land Bank has resisted buying small in-town parcels like Boch Park, Mr. Robinson explained, because it would use up revenues that could be better spent on purchases of larger properties to preserve open space, the original purpose for which the Land Bank was intended.
Mr. Robinson dismissed Mr. Balco's notion that there has been a shortfall between Land Bank revenues collected in Tisbury and expenditures on properties in the town. "It's a small Island - to be completely parochial about where your money goes really would sort of paralyze things," Mr. Robinson said. "Tisbury residents benefit even more because we have properties elsewhere on the Island that have been opened up to them. I don't think someone from Chilmark will come down to Tisbury and park in the Park and Ride and go and sit in Boch Park."
Price is another consideration, Mr. Robinson said. Tisbury's property database online at Vision Appraisal Technology lists assessed values for Boch Park's .73 acre of land at $2,241,100, the building at $12,200, and an outbuilding at $3,500, for a total of $2,256,800. Considering that would equate to about $3 million an acre, Mr. Robinson said, "I'm not sure we've ever spent that much per acre."