Chilmark voters take up Home Port purchase
Chilmark voters will be asked to perform an electoral Heimlich maneuver and eliminate the question of a town purchase of the Home Port Restaurant from the body politic when they gather for a special town meeting Monday night.
The big question is a request to voters to shell out $2 million to purchase the landmark Home Port Restaurant in Menemsha.
Ever since long-time owners Will and Madeline Holtham actively began to market the Home Port, town officials and residents anxious about the future use of the site have pursued a town purchase.
Monday will be the second time in three years the question of a town purchase has been placed before voters. The meeting begins at 7:30 pm in the Chilmark Community Center.
Although the purchase price is considerably less than the $3.9 million voters rejected in 2005, there is a new twist in the story.
Bob Nixon, owner of the Menemsha Inn and the Beach Plum Inn in Chilmark, said he has an agreement to purchase the restaurant if voters reject a town purchase. Mr. Nixon said he wants to continue to operate the restaurant much as it is and should that prove to be unsuccessful he would offer it to the town.
The plan as outlined in the warrant article is to purchase the property for the purposes "of providing additional town water access for kayaks and small boats, additional parking, the development of public park space, the restoration and preservation of vistas of the ponds and a site for a comfort station." The restaurant building would be demolished.
Opponents of a town purchase say the restaurant is far too valuable as a business, employer, and village anchor to be demolished for use as a waterfront park.
Proponents argue that the town has the opportunity to secure valuable land and protect the future character of Menemsha.
Mr. Nixon is a filmmaker who co-produced the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist, the story of Diane Fossey, and divides his home between Washington, D.C., and Chilmark.
In a telephone conversation from his home in Washington, Mr. Nixon told The Times he and his wife Sara plan to attend the special town meeting and describe their intentions.
He said he acted because no one else stepped forward to save the restaurant. There is nothing more to it, he said.
According to the board of health, any change in ownership would result in a decrease in seating capacity tied to new septic regulations.
Mr. Nixon said that as he understands it the septic system is working fine. He said he does not understand what the issue is but would work with the town and the board of health. At this point, he said he does not own the restaurant and any discussion is premature.
Mr. Nixon said he is prepared to continue to allow people to park, provide access to the water and run the restaurant much as it has operated in the past. His offer has generated support among residents who see it as a viable solution, but it has not slowed backers of a town purchase.
This week selectmen posted two concept plans on the town website to show what a park could look like without the building. An attached note said, "Actual design of the park would only be done after the acquisition and public hearings, with input from all town interests. Questions such as how many parking spaces, whether to have a comfort station as well as the overall design would be addressed at public hearings."
Yesterday, selectman J.B. Riggs Parker, a leader in the effort to acquire the Home Port, told The Times that, irrespective of any other offers, the opportunity is ripe. "The town now is in a position to acquire the property for a good price," said Mr. Parker. "It is almost certain to be our last chance at this price. Whatever the town decides to do with the property, a park or lease the restaurant and use the property for kayaks, owning the property is essential to avoid a revolving door of use which finally slams shut on the public."
The proposal to purchase the property, and authorization to pay interest on the loan, are the first two articles on the September 22 special town meeting warrant. (The warrant is available at mvtimes.com)
Voters will be asked to consider other questions on the nine-article warrant besides the Home Port.
Voters will be asked to authorize the selectmen to execute and enter into an agreement "granting, receiving and relating to access and utility easements" for two parcels that form the new entrance to Middle Line Road
The town has finalized the purchase of one of the parcels but continues to negotiate with the owners of the other lot.
Voters agreed to purchase the lots at a cost of $500,000 at a special town meeting on March 3. The lots are intended to provide safer vehicle access to the Middle Line Road project, six rental units and six houses, to be built on 21 acres of heavily wooded town-owned land located about a half mile down Middle Line Road, a dirt road that intersects with Tabor House Road just north of the town landfill. The Martha's Vineyard Commission made safer access a condition of approval of the project.
Approval of a request to appropriate $55,000 is needed to fund the Year-Round Rental Assistance program.
The program subsidizes property owners who forego higher summer rents in exchange for providing year-round rental housing.
Long-running efforts to provide better wireless communication service in the three up-Island towns is behind a request by selectmen for the authority to enter into a lease, or leases, in order to place a distributed antenna system (DAS) "hotel" at the landfill or near the police station.
DAS relies on a series of radio access nodes connected to small antennas set on telephone poles, or poles erected for that specific purpose, to distribute cellular telephone signals. Although the range is considerably less, the DAS appeals to communities where a high conventional tower is unwelcome but wireless telephone service is poor.
The hotel is used to house equipment that transmits and receives wireless signals.
Voters will also be asked to spend $40,000 to remove dead standing trees along town roads, and $10,000 for a new air conditioning system for the Police Station.