Chilmark selectmen hear public safety building options

The central issues are location, and one building or two, for a project estimated to cost taxpayers $4 million.

Chilmark selectmen, from left, Bill Rossi, Jonathan Mayhew, Warren Doty, and executive secretary Tim Carroll discussed proposed layouts for the new public safety building Tuesday night. — Photo by Edie Prescott

Chilmark selectmen Tuesday discussed two options for how a new fire station and Tri-Town Ambulance building might fit on a parcel now under agreement, and which has raised questions about the feasibility of building on a 1.4-acre parcel of land behind town hall.

Selectmen also reviewed a laundry list of summer-related Menemsha problems that need immediate attention, primarily sunset pedestrian traffic, parking limitations, and comfort station flaws.

Public safety building options were presented at a joint meeting with the public safety building committee, although some key members of the committee, including chairman Andy Goldman, were absent.

Town leaders stressed the drawings were not “designed” options, but “layout” options developed by Dennis Ross, a consultant from Pacheco Ross Architects of Voorheesville, N.Y., to help visualize how the public safety needs could be met on the proposed parcel of land at 399 Middle Road from a square-footage point of view.

Selectmen signed a purchase and sale agreement in November for $975,000 with Sam Carroll, the executor of the estate of Bette Carroll. The sale is contingent upon approval at a special town meeting scheduled on Feb. 29 just for that purpose. The deal must be closed by May 15.

Chilmark Fire Chief David Norton has expressed concerns about the size of the parcel, the need to share a parking lot with town hall, and emergency trucks entering and exiting Beetlebung Corner from Middle Road.

Option one is the fire department building alone, without EMS inside, at 7,600 square feet. The existing ambulance barn would be knocked down, and a new EMS building would be built in its place.

Option two is the fire department and EMS combined in one building at 10,418 square feet, which has some setback challenges.

“Not everyone is going to be happy about it, but there is a need for this type of building in town,” selectman Bill Rossi said. “It comes down to how much does money matter and how much does aesthetics matter in the center of town. There is no perfect solution.”

Selectmen were wary of a suggestion that the land the fire department’s needs could be acquired via eminent domain. “Taking someone’s land who doesn’t want it to be taken is not the greatest,” Mr. Rossi said.

Selectman Jonathan Mayhew added that the town has been looking for land for 5½ years, and that this is the first time they actually have something.

“There were three or four sites that I was happy with,” Fire Chief David Norton said. “We might have to break a couple of eggs to make this work.”

Selectman Warren Doty summed up the situation. “We signed an option to buy this land. We decided to hire a very respected consultant to come down and give us a complete report. He went to the site and said, ‘Does this work or does this not work?’ And he came up with a couple of options. Now it’s up to us to decide, OK, given that we have this review, does it make sense to move ahead?”

Mr. Doty added, “It is going to be at least a $4 million project, and the question is, Does the town want to do that?”

Mr. Doty said it would be important to convene a town meeting on Feb. 29 with the full enthusiasm of everybody involved in the project. “If some people in the project say, Well, it’s probably OK, that’s not a good enough reason to spend four million bucks,” he said.

Mr. Rossi disagreed. “I think we have a little more enthusiasm every time we meet. David had one foot in the boat and one foot in the water, now he has both feet in the water.”

Selectmen tabled discussion and agreed to hold a meeting which all interested parties, including Chief Norton and public safety building committee chairman Andy Goldman, can attend.

Menemsha to-do list

Also pressing Tuesday was a laundry list of Menemsha items, many of which may not be fixed in time for Memorial Day.

Selectmen want a cosmetic quick fix of the comfort station to make it tolerable for this summer, but plan a major overhaul for fall 2016. Selectmen plan to hire a home inspector to assess the situation and give a full report. Selectmen will organize the list of Menemsha issues discussed Tuesday, and re-enter them on the Feb. 2 agenda.

In other business, selectmen authorized the transfer of an oyster grant from Emmett Carroll to Melanie Flanders.

“I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Emmett Carroll over the years, and he is just not able to work this grant the way he would like to, and he would like to give it to a younger person who could really work the grant,” said Mr. Doty. There are approximately 80 cages on Menemsha Pond that Ms. Flanders will access, and she hopes to have 10,000 sellable oysters and 100,000 seed this spring.

“I think it’s great that someone wants to put energy into it,” Mr. Rossi said. “It’s a good thing.”

The town has identified four possible new oyster grant sites that met with state approval. The town will advertise for applications to farm the sites and then hold public hearings about new oyster possibilities in Chilmark.