You can have your park and tax it too


Under pressure by the town building inspector, and tired of the long-running drama over the lot his father purchased in 1987, on Wednesday a contractor working for Ernie Boch Jr. demolished the long-derelict Entwistle building, the remnants of the former Hancock Hardware and Builder’s Co., on the lot he owns at 20 Beach Road in Tisbury, adjacent to Five Corners.

Last week, Mr. Boch told The Times that his plan for the “immediate future” is to turn the gravel-covered space into a park. That news will be cheered by those Island residents who think that is a dandy idea for the three-quarter-acre lot that occupies a prime harborfront spot overlooking Vineyard Haven Harbor, sandwiched between the Black Dog wharf and Gannon & Benjamin shipyard.

It is likely that Mr. Boch arrived at his qualified decision to turn a valuable piece of long-fallow — it would be a misnomer to call it undeveloped — waterfront property into a park because he does not know exactly what it is that Tisbury officials want or will allow; and Mr. Boch has the financial resources to be able to pay about $17,300 in taxes on a vacant commercial piece of property assessed at just under $2 million while they figure it out and he pays attention to more productive activities.

Use of the property has bounced from the town building inspector to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to the court and back to the town. As Islanders are wont to do where their wealthy seasonal neighbors are concerned, they have suggested how Mr. Boch ought to spend his money and what he ought to do with his property, including selling or donating it — options they might reject if it belonged to them.

In 2002, a group of Tisbury residents sought to take $500,000 from the town’s stabilization fund and borrow $1,495,000 to acquire the property — even though it was not for sale — “for the purpose of creating a pocket park for public use and enjoyment to preserve the vista of the harbor waterfront in perpetuity for the visitors and citizens of Tisbury.”

In 2008, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank declined to act on a town request to try to purchase the property because it was not in favor of purchasing small in-town parcels.

Mr. Boch, a seasonal Edgartown resident, could simply tear the building down and let the weeds grow through the gravel for another 30 years. But with his many contributions to numerous Island causes and organizations, Mr. Boch, president and CEO of Subaru of New England, has earned a reputation as a public-spirited citizen. He chose a different route.

“In the immediate future, I want to make it a beautiful park,” Mr. Boch told The Times. “I’ll go for whatever permits I need; I’ll need to add irrigation; and I’m talking to landscape architects. I just want to do a little beautification.”

Those who will cheer this immediate outcome ought to recognize that in the long term, maintaining the economic vitality of downtown Tisbury is just as critical as open space to the well-being of our community. And the two, a park and development, are not mutually exclusive. There is a considerable section of beach between the lot and the water, now used by others to store dinghies, that could accommodate benches or picnic tables.

The long-range question that town leaders need to ask — and have managed to avoid coming to grips with for 30 years now after wrangling with Ernie Boch Sr. over his plans to create a paid parking lot — is what makes good planning sense. A part of the Boch lot lies in the commercial district, and could be developed into retail, office space, or housing. But some of the lot lies in the waterfront district, and is restricted to marine use under current zoning.

In previous comments, Mr. Boch pointed to the waterfront zoning regulations as the reason his property has sat vacant. Last July, he said he envisioned condos overlooking the picturesque harbor, and he called on the town to take the lead in drawing interest from developers on his property, and others along Beach Road. “They should be proactive; they should go on offense, not defense,” Mr. Boch said.

Development creates jobs, contributes to the tax base, and in the case of the Boch property could help defray a municipal sewer system built purposely small with defense in mind. It was a decision that has hobbled the town’s capacity to treat wastewater, and placed the increasing costs of the system on its approximately 125 town users, mostly members of the town’s business community.

A small restaurant similar to the the charming Menemsha Galley with some apartments on top and a park in back would be a nice addition to the waterfront. In the meantime, town leaders can sit in Mr. Boch’s new park and contemplate the ramshackle Beach Road corridor and the one year permitting morass that ended in May 2014 with no new plan for the mundane Stop and Shop Supermarket.