To the Editor:
This photo shows a beach, which the state owns up to this point, in the 40-foot right of way of Beach Road. The town of Tisbury wants to widen the sidewalk, which currently is sand, by 1.5 feet on each side. To do this, the plan is to take 3 feet from the other side of the road. However, if you take 3 feet by eminent domain from the entire south side of Beach Road, you end up with a sidewalk that is only about one foot wide, if you fudge it a little. This is because 6 feet of the right-of-way that the state owns is sand.
So, in theory, it sounds fine, but in reality, it seems to me that the state will have to make up the difference by taking another 6 or so feet, just about 9 feet of eminent domain of Scripts pharmacy and adjacent properties, more or less, in that location.
There is a way out of this, and that would be to build a boardwalk that goes over the beach. It could be on posts, set into the sand, much like a dock is constructed. There could be railings on it, and it would be safe for biking and walking. It could be elevated somewhat. It would be quite pleasant to walk or ride a bike on it for that little stretch along the beach. I proposed this, and there has been some positive response, but in the main, the selectmen want to wait until they see what MassDOT comes up with. However, in speaking to the engineers at MassDOT, they oppose this idea, or any idea other than taking land by eminent domain from the other side of the road.
A petition signed by many of the property owners on Beach Road indicated that no one wanted to give up land to eminent domain, and there are many concerns that have been expressed concerning this. MassDOT did not feel as though taking 1.5 feet for wider sidewalks, making them 6.5 feet, when legally 5 feet would be fine, would be a problem. The selectmen and planning board all agree, and so that is the plan. But this stretch of land makes it impossible to take only 1.5 feet, and necessitates taking 3 feet from Tisbury Marketplace to the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard. The reality is that there is a beach in the way, and so they want to take it all from the other side and calculate it at 3 feet. But the obvious fact is, they are missing 6 feet from one side, so they have to add it back into the 3 feet they want to take and the taking will actually have to be 9 feet for a portion of the road. Like the emperor with no clothes, the calculation still shows a 3-foot taking on their plan.
I believe that a small boardwalk would alleviate part of this problem, be wonderful to use and look at, and be a feature we could be proud of in Tisbury. And I do agree with everyone else who also owns property on Beach Road, that eminent domain to make the sidewalks wider is not a good idea. Having said that, the town and MassDOT have come up with a splendid proposal to make the bicycle lanes more than twice the width that they are now, and that is wonderful. And they worked together very hard to make the vehicle lanes 10.5 feet instead of 12 feet, which is also an excellent idea and makes more room for bicycles to share the road. It will also calm traffic somewhat, and make it safer for everyone. However, taking 1.5 feet will pose problems for many businesses, taking 3 feet is twice as bad, and taking 9 feet? Well, that is just downright ridiculous.
I would like to propose that the town back down from taking land by eminent domain for the purpose of increasing the sidewalks to 6.5 feet, and keep them at 5 feet. In this way, there need be no hardship on business and property owners, and 5 feet is adequate for sidewalks. Eminent domain is intended for cases where there is a public benefit, but the taking can cause lasting trauma and so by definition is supposed to be invoked only in cases of extreme necessity. It is not designed for cases where someone wants a 10-foot-wide sidewalk or something that is not necessary.
Taking this much land seems to many to be a small thing. And it does appear to be small, but consider this: Many of the features that we love about Beach Road, including its hedges, plantings, gardens, stone walls in places, and even some trees, would be lost by taking 1½ feet. Taking 3 feet is very severe, and would cost some of our best trees. Taking 9 feet would guarantee losing all of them. A boardwalk, on the other hand, would be costly, but less costly than taking land by eminent domain, and we would preserve our landscape, add a feature to it, and be in harmony with, not battling, nature.
Mr. Brunelle is a Beach Road property owner. —Ed.