Head to head race in Chilmark

Jonathan Mayhew — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

On Wednesday, April 28, Chilmark voters go to the polls to elect town officers. In a race for a seat on the three-member board of selectmen, two candidates seek the position currently held by J.B. Riggs Parker, who will not seek re-election. Both men are well known in town and have held elected and appointed positions.

Jonathan E. Mayhew, 58, is a lifelong Chilmarker with deep Island roots. He has two adult children and two young children, Christopher and Maggie, ages 11 and 10.

A commercial fisherman, Mr. Mayhew has served on a several town and Island boards, including the planning board for nine years and the board of selectman for three, three-year terms, ending in 1994.

He has also been a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission.

William Rossi, 52, has lived in Chilmark since 1973. He and his wife Stephanie have two children, Haley, 18, and Joseph, 14.

Mr. Rossi, the former owner of Rossi Landscapes in Chilmark, has been a real estate broker with Wallace & Company Sotheby’s International Realty for the last 11 years. He and his wife also own the Chilmark Store.

Mr. Rossi was elected to a five-year term on the Chilmark planning board in 1986 and was appointed to the Chilmark zoning board of appeals in 1996 and served as chairman the last seven years. He is also on the Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club board of directors.

The Times emailed questions to each candidate. Their responses follow:

Please describe one or two specific goals.

Mr. Mayhew: In the mid 90’s I did not run for re‑election as selectman. My career in the fishing industry needed my full time commitment. This led me to participate with various fishing organizations including the Atlantic Fish Spotters Association as president. I am now a board member on the M.V./Dukes County Fisherman’s Association. I’ve made every effort to promote sustainable fisheries for the New England communities and locally, to bring along the next generation to preserve our fisheries.

I can recommit my time as selectman again. The town continues to support our school, fire department, EMTs, police department, as well as the beach program. I would like to see Chilmark, as well as the Island as a whole, take a pro‑active role in developing wind power. However, we need a two‑pronged approach. First, Island homeowners, as well as the Island as a whole, need guidelines. Second, the commercial wind farms should be required to be 12 miles offshore. We have our beautiful vistas without the lights and structures, and it should remain that way. I’m one fisherman that can live with these structures.

Mr. Rossi: If elected, I would encourage more residents to become more involved in community service. I see an aging group of volunteers serving on town boards that would be willing to step down and relinquish their duties to the next generation, but it’s difficult to convince some younger people to get involved, for whatever reason. I will start asking younger people to share their time and talents with our town.

We also need to assist the fire department in recruiting volunteers. There is tremendous pressure on the department’s membership due to the age of the current volunteers and for some, the cost of living on the Island.

The total cost in town and state taxpayer dollars to build six units of rental housing and provide the infrastructure for six one-acre house lots on 21-acres of town-owned land off Middle Line Road is expected to be approximately $3.6 million. What is your opinion of the Middle Line Road project within the overall context of affordable housing efforts?

Mr. Mayhew: Affordable housing is a necessity for our town. To keep the integrity and heritage of our town we need to continue to have a younger population living and participating in Chilmark. Given the economics of our area, we need to provide for our kids to stay here. The town began a youth lot program, it continued with a resident homesite program. I was in favor of it then and continue now.

Mr. Rossi: In 1982, I benefited from the youth lot by-law, and ever since I have looked for opportunities to give back to the town.

The Middle Line Road project is the result of many years of hard work by the selectmen and housing committee that began in 2002. Town voters approved funding for feasibility studies, architectural and engineering studies, debated the benefits and detriments between rental and home site lots, and ultimately voted in favor to combine both.

The size of the project triggered MVC review, which added restrictions and conditions that were costly, such as additional land purchases and perfecting the use of the right-of-way. We were fortunate to be able to take advantage of the legal expertise from members on both committees to help defray some cost, as well as extensive pro-bono architectural and construction supervision work donated by local experts. Because of the use of state funds, and being on town-owned property, residents will have to always meet affordability guidelines. The selectmen and housing committees should be applauded for the time and effort they’ve put into this project. This was a valuable learning experience, and a great deal of knowledge will be passed on to the group that may take on a future project.

I favor the existing youth lot by-law, which requires initiative from someone who meets certain guidelines to try and procure a building lot from someone who is willing, and whose property is large enough to subdivide and sell at less than market rates to assist them with being able to own property in town. The successful candidates would be required to make a commitment to the property for a period of 10 to 20 years and would enjoy the same rights as any other property owner after that commitment is met.

Another type is our affordable housing by-law, which we typically see procured by our planning board through negotiations with landowners looking to subdivide their property. There is a cap on appreciation with this type, and it would have to remain in the affordable housing pool.

There has been an extended discussion about how best to preserve the working character of Menemsha Harbor. How would you balance recreational, commercial, fishing and taxpayer interests?

Mr. Mayhew: Keeping the balance in Menemsha is critical especially for the fishermen. We are aware of and enjoy the camaraderie of our neighbors. We continue to respect all, and it is a short season.

Given my knowledge and experience, I feel I can bring a lot to the table for our town.

Mr. Rossi: The existing policy seems to be working. I believe everyone in town is in favor of preserving Menemsha as a commercial fishing harbor. At first glance, it’s easy to question the compensation the town receives for the harbor lots and fishing shacks.

We need to refer to the Chilmark Master Plan that was approved with the stated goal to encourage Menemsha to remain a commercial fishing village. It’s an industry struggling with state and federal regulations along with depleted fishing stocks. The town should be willing to assist; otherwise we would quickly lose what makes Menemsha special. The revenue we now receive from transient and recreational boaters, recreational fishermen, and tourists helps sustain the harbor at the same time that we support commercial fishing.

The park and recreation committee requires the fish markets to purchase their products from local fishermen and are restricted from competing directly with private businesses in Menemsha. They’ve assumed the cost to construct their facilities and are responsible for all capital improvements and maintenance of their buildings and equipment. The gas station is required to remain open year-round, most likely at great expense, to provide fuel when needed to our commercial fisherman. A vital Menemsha benefits all of Chilmark.