Building is center of attention

Chilmark selectmen wonder if enough is charged for community center.

Selectmen want a three-member panel to examine if the town is getting enough in rent for the Chilmark Community Center. - George Brennan

Updated June 21 at 2:45 pm

A three-member town committee is being asked to look at whether some community groups, and the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival in particular, are putting too much wear and tear on the Chilmark Community Center for not enough return.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, selectmen appointed Jane Slater, Andy Goldman, and Alexandra London-Thompson, executive director of the center’s summer program, to look at a study done several years ago to see if the fee structure works for the building.

The community center is used for weddings, fundraisers, by community groups, and is the site of Chilmark’s annual town meeting.

“We have a number of users of the community center which are not for the residents of Chilmark only, and over the years it’s gotten bigger, bigger, and bigger, which not only stresses resources of the community center, but stresses the town,” chairman Jim Malkin said.

There have been disputes between the town library and the film festival, which holds a weeklong event in March and has events throughout the summer, because of strains on parking, Malkin said.

“The library to me is a huge, integral part of the community,” he said. “It’s stressed by the use of the facility by the film festival.”

He urged the newly formed committee to meet with key stakeholders, including the film festival, and return with recommendations by the end of September.

“I like films, but I question the size of the film festival and its stress on the infrastructure, and whether that’s the purpose of what the community center is for, and whether the town is being compensated appropriately for that use,” Malkin said.

The community center charges $50 for children’s parties, $200 for adult parties, and $400 for weddings.

The group that issued a report several years ago suggested a $500 fee for events with paid admission, plus 20 percent of the admission fees.

The film festival pays the wedding fee of $400, Malkin said.

Thomas Bena, president of the festival, reached Thursday said the film festival is looking forward to talking with the new committee.

“We love the Chilmark Community Center and want to make sure it thrives,” he said.

For each of the five days that movies are show, the film festival pays the $400 wedding fee, Bena said.

“It’s very fair. No hard feelings on our end,” he said. Asked if his organization would be willing to pay more, he never hesitated. “Absolutely,” Bena said. “We have to sit down with the committee and discuss what they thinks is fair. It’s a beautiful space and we’re not looking for free rent.”

Selectman Warren Doty said he’s a big supporter of the film festival. “It’s a group that brings extraordinary talent to this festival,” he said. “I think it’s an exceptional event that all around the Island people love.”

He noted that Pop Jam events, which he sponsors, are attended by people from out of town. “The community center is seen as a really nice place to perform,” Doty said.

Selectman Bill Rossi said the film festival provides a valuable service, but whether the town is being fairly compensated for the facility is worth looking at. “Nonprofits are a business,” he said. “Maybe a more fair rent might be appropriate. It might not.”

Slater said she’s delighted to look at it again. “I think it’s something we should definitely do,” she said.

Is Menemsha vulnerable?

Selectmen heard a report from Dan Shaw, a landscape architect with Dodson & Flinker, a consultant that did a vulnerability assessment for both Chilmark and West Tisbury. The two towns were the only two on the Island to seek Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) certification, which makes the towns eligible for state grants through Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

During his presentation, Shaw told the committee that the town’s most vulnerable spot to sea-level rise is Menemsha, because of the amount of building concentrated in that area.

Doty asked what might happen with the town’s only gas station, the fish markets, and other businesses in Menemsha. “We think a modest retreat at Squibnocket was complicated,” he said, a reference to the protracted battle over the bridge and beach swap; “try a managed retreat in Menemsha.”

Most of the town’s building is spread out and not too close to the coastline, he said.

About 30 stakeholders from the two towns met at two workshops in May to talk about areas of hazard and vulnerability, and to talk about possible ways to deal with them, Shaw told selectmen.

While you’d think a coastal town would be most susceptible to inundation, that risk is low compared to the concern of the potential for wildfires. The towns have accumulations of dead wood that could ignite forest fires, Shaw said.

The Island hasn’t had a major forest fire since 1965, when 1,200 acres burned, Shaw said.

One area of possible grants could be clearing out dead trees and limbs, Doty said. Homeowners might be provided an incentive to cut down trees or get rid of dead wood, with a split between grant money and an individual contribution, he said.

The entire report done by Shaw’s firm is online on the town’s website.

In other business, Debbie Packer pleaded with the board of selectmen not to approve a walkway in Menemsha that would eliminate trees along North Road; some of them have been growing since 1945. “They’re important habitat,” she said, noting that she watches the birds and other wildlife that use them. “I’m so sad about this.”

Packer expressed doubt that providing a walkway would have any benefit, because people walk down the middle of the street during the summer months.

Town administrator Tim Carroll said the plan is to replace some of the plants and shrubs with native species, while preserving some of the beach plums and bayberry that are there.

Malkin said the town is obligated to do what’s in the best interests of public safety.

“Do tourists have all the rights?” Packer said.

Town hall and the fire station will be getting a new roof soon. Selectmen approved town custodian Rodney Bunker’s recommendation to hire Jonathan Flaherty for both projects. Flaherty was the low bidder with a total cost of $36,500.

Selectmen unanimously supported allowing the Travel Channel show “Delicious Destinations” to shoot at Larsen’s Fish Market and Home Port in Menemsha. Before agreeing to the filming, Doty wanted something to be made clear to the network.

“Did they ask for filming at the beach?” he said. “That’s what we don’t want.”

Updated to include comments from Bena. -Ed.


  1. Not enough is charged for the community center rental to the Film group, which turns Beetlebung corner into a zoo every time there is an event, disrupting trafffic flow, the library, bank and school parking. The town should get a percentage of the film events’ door take. And since the Film organization is backed by big bucks donors who do things like pay for property to buy (that the West Tisbury community ultimately did not agree with) and pay to send school children and Film organization employees to Chicago to interview and film how poor city kids of color live, the Film group can certainly afford to pay more of a fair rental price to the town.

  2. I love having the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival in Chilmark. I really hope the selectman don’t push them out of town.

  3. It’s not really accurate to say that forest deadwood, standing or otherwise, “ignites forest fires”. Fires don’t start by themselves. Let’s hope that Chilmark does not try to get too “tidy” with respect to woodlands. Dead trees are an important part of forest ecology. The insects that live in them provide food for birds and other animals. Once they’re fully rotted, which does not take that many years in our damp Vineyard climate, the remaining organic material is what helps create new soil. Interference in natural processes can have unintended effects. There’s some interesting literature on the subject. The included link at the end of this comment takes you to but one paper. Simple searching can take you to many more.

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