Chilmark selectmen eye new site for public safety building

Eminent domain is last resort, but is on the table.

Chilmark selectmen met Tuesday and discussed options for a new public safety building location. — Edie Prescott

At a packed meeting Tuesday night attended by many members of the town’s volunteer fire department, Chilmark selectmen grappled with the findings of a public safety site committee appointed to find a new location for the construction of a new public safety building.

The committee identified one good option, the so-called Benham/Windy Gates parcel adjacent to the Chilmark Community Center. The one hitch is that the property is not for sale.

In an email to selectmen and town public safety officials dated June 1, Andy Goldman, chairman of the public safety site committee, said the committee agreed with the selectmen’s decision not to go forward with the Carroll property, rejected in February due to its size and location, and “looked at several parcels available for purchase in the vicinity of town center. For environmental or other issues, none was acceptable.”

Mr. Goldman said the Benham/Windy Gates parcel “has wetlands, and more would need to be done to study the situation to ascertain whether and in what configuration an approximately two-acre parcel could be carved out to satisfy the programmatic objectives for the proposed Public Safety Building.”

Mr. Goldman said more study would be needed. He said acquisition of land “may only be able to be achieved by eminent domain and, if acquisition is only possible in that manner, by unanimous vote of those present at its most recent meeting [the committee] strongly supports such a taking.”

Mr. Goldman said the committee would work with selectmen “to assure that all questions and concerns relating to this matter be addressed in a series of informational meetings prior to a town meeting at which such a course would be presented.”

Helen V. Benham of New York City is the listed owner of a 95.6-acre parcel valued at $10.8 million from which the town proposes to carve its needed lot. Ms. Benham could not be reached for comment Wednesday by The Times.

Ball in their court

“We all recognize that our current facility is inadequate and inappropriate for our town, and certainly inappropriate for the needs of the next 50 years,” Mr. Goldman told selectmen Tuesday night.

“We are asking you to accept our recommendation, to approve our recommendation, or give us further direction as this goes forward,” Mr. Goldman said. “I think more work needs to be done to develop the particulars of exactly how much land and where it is located and how we would do that on land that is not currently town-owned or offered for sale.”

“It’s been a long process; how do we proceed?” asked selectman Warren Doty, chairman.

“I think the most important thing from the committee’s perspective is to have a thorough process in connection to obtaining property to accommodate the emergency services building,” selectman and public safety site committee member Bill Rossi said.

Selectmen agreed to keep the existing committee intact to move forward with the building site process. Mr. Goldman agreed to stay on as chairman.

“Instead of just a general idea, come up with a specific idea about, ‘OK, we want this’ — then propose it, and go through a process,” Mr. Doty said.

Selectman James Malkin suggested the committee hire Reid Silva, owner of Vineyard Land Surveying & Engineering, “to consult in a general way with the conservation commission to make sure that this is even buildable upon before we go too far down the road.”

Mr. Malkin suggested informational hearings where other ideas could be solicited for alternative sites, and the committee could explain to the public how it arrived at its current proposed plan.

“We’d love to purchase this piece of property; we prefer to purchase this piece of property,” Mr. Malkin said. “I also think that all of the people and all the relatives of the people who would serve in this emergency services building should be very, very supportive of this, if we are going to need two-thirds of the town meeting vote to accomplish this.”

“I’d like to acknowledge selectmen, who did tireless legwork for negotiating with property owners behind the scenes to give us alternate locations for consideration,” said retired 30-year Chilmark Police Chief Tim Rich. “Unfortunately it didn’t pan out, but as a committee we appreciate all your effort.”

“It’s actually nice to see it may come to fruition at some point, maybe before we’re deceased,” said Mr. Rich, to laughter.

“We can move right ahead with this proposal,” said Mr. Doty. “A firehouse sounds like a wonderful thing to all of us, but if it were built within 100 feet of my house, I’d have a few concerns, and that’s going to be true everywhere.”

“I think we need to do this in connection with our attorney, so the process is not going off in an area where it doesn’t belong,” said Mr. Rossi, who agreed to be the liaison between the public safety site committee and town counsel.

Mr. Malkin suggested conversations take place with the landowner before Mr. Silva begins looking around the property in question. “Make them aware of what’s going on, and offer to be collaborative and inclusive,” Mr. Malkin said. “Be open with the property owners, and keep a positive conversation going in town.”

In other business, in response to the tri-town meeting last week concerning regional school costs, selectmen formed a new committee that will be chaired by Mr. Malkin. The new committee will examine the costs of the Up-Island Regional School District as well as the report of the West Tisbury Special Task Force, and make recommendations to the board of selectmen.