Aquinnah annual concludes with vote of thanks

Planning board chairman Peter Temple explains a complex zoning article at the Aquinnah town meeting. — Steve Myrick

With a standing ovation and sustained applause at their annual town meeting Tuesday night, Aquinnah voters offered thanks to voters in five Island towns who voted to appropriate nearly $500,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to help move the Gay Head Lighthouse away from the quickly eroding clay cliffs.

“To ask at this scale, and to have the support of all five Island towns, was tremendous support,” said Derrill Bazzy, chairman of the Aquinnah Community Preservation Committee.  “It’s unheard of in the state of Massachusetts. It was just amazing for them to come to bat for us.”

At the last of the Island’s round of annual town meetings, a total of 54, or approximately 15 percent of Aquinnah’s 368 voters turned out to attend to town business. Voters approved all but two of the articles on the special and annual town meeting warrants and a $3,823,866 operating budget for fiscal year 2015.

Voters went to the polls Wednesday to elect town officers. Julianne Vanderhoop challenged incumbent Beverly Wright for a seat on the board of selectmen. Results are available at

Voters rejected a move to consider a name change for State Road. The planning board asked the town whether it wanted to consider a name change, through a process of debate and two public hearings. Planning Board chairman Peter Temple explained that the legal name of the road is South Road, but over the years, everyone, including the post office, has come to know it as State Road. The planning board suggested a name change could clear up confusion with State Road in Chilmark, where some street numbers and the zip code are identical to those in Aquinnah.

Voters thought otherwise. They defeated the article unanimously on a voice vote.

They also tabled a broadly worded article that would give the town the right to deny permits or leases to delinquent taxpayers. Town officials offered the example of a resident who owes back taxes, but applies for a permit to expand their home on the delinquent property. The article would have given town officials the authority to deny the permit, but it was met with wide skepticism from voters.

“There are already remedies for people who don’t pay their taxes,” voter Keitha Fine said. “We don’t need to burden the town with any more Draconian laws. It’s just plain absurd.”

The town took a critical look at the proposed $3.9 million fiscal year 2015 budget, questioning town employee salaries, legal expenses, police department expenses, and highway department costs, among others. A near unanimous voice vote of approval signaled the town meeting was satisfied with the explanations of spending by various town officials.

Voters agreed to spend $120,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for costs related to moving the lighthouse. Voters also appropriated $25,000 for fundraising materials and expenses requested by the Save the Gay Head Light Committee.

In its report to the town meeting, the lighthouse committee said it expects to recommend one of two viable new sites for the lighthouse to selectmen very soon. Selectmen said the decision rests with them, but a number of voters said the decision ought be put to a vote at a town meeting.

“I’m offended that we as town meeting members have voted on acquiring the lighthouse and preserving the lighthouse, but we’re not allowed to vote on where it’s going to go,” said Elise Lebovit. “We as townspeople should be able to make that vote.”

The lighthouse committee said it has raised $1.1 million toward its $3 million goal, and has a summer full of fundraising events planned. International Chimney Corporation, the company selected to move the lighthouse, plans to begin pre-engineering work, including inspection, repair, reinforcement and bracing of the lighthouse soon. The Save the Gay Head Light committee hopes to begin moving the structure in the spring of next year.

Voters narrowly approved a measure to move a boundary line between Aquinnah and Chilmark that bisects a Menemsha creek lot that the two towns now share. Voters were confused about the article, which sets in motion a process of review by state authorities, and requires the drafting of special legislation for consideration by state lawmakers. The more town officials tried to explain, the more confused the voters seemed.

“It’s kind of all fudged up,” said Angela Waldron. On a standing vote, the measure passed, 19 to 17.

A zoning bylaw change generated extensive discussion. The complex article, which passed with only three dissenting votes, gives the planning board an option to grant a variance to lot owners with less than 200 feet of frontage, for development of those lots.

Mr. Temple, chairman of the planning board, said the changes would affect approximately 30 existing lots that were once conforming lots, but became non-conforming lots with previous zoning changes. Any new development would still require a minimum of 200 feet of frontage, and would not be eligible for a variance.

In the final article of the evening, voters accepted with little debate a measure that creates a Fertilizer Management District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC). The measure allows local boards to regulate and enforce the use of lawn fertilizer, with the goal of reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus leaching into groundwater. With the vote in Aquinnah, all six Island towns have agreed to the measure.