Chilmark residents pack selectmen’s meeting

Bus turnaround, community center ‘punitive’ fee hike lead debate.

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Steve Bernier, Martha's Vineyard Film Festival board president, questions fee hikes leveled for use of the community center.

Chilmark residents jammed the selectmen’s meeting room Tuesday night, lining the walls and spilling out into an adjacent hallway and kitchen in order to weigh in on several thorny agenda items. Over the course of a three-hour meeting, the board dealt with grassroots blowback on all but finished plans to execute a Menemsha bus turnaround, and to the disheartenment of Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival organizers, the board voted in per diem rate increases for the Chilmark Community Center. The selectmen also voted to commission plans for an independently situated fire station and Tri-Town Ambulance barn in light of the recent Carroll lot purchase behind town hall, and tentatively approved a single $284,724 bid to revamp Menemsha Harbor electrical infrastructure following a reissue of the RFP for the project.

Menemsha Texaco co-owner Katie Carroll made her second appearance before the selectmen regarding the Menemsha bus turnaround, a component of the Menemsha Master Plan meant to ease summer traffic congestion by looping VTA buses around the Menemsha public restrooms instead of around the perimeter of the Menemsha Beach parking lot. Carroll told the board she had garnered 200-plus signatures against the turnaround.

“At the last meeting I had about 150 signatures of people who wanted to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, let’s readdress this,’” she said. “In the meantime, I now have well over 200 signatures, and that’s enough to call a special town meeting to, again, reopen this and try to suggest some other alternatives.”

Carroll went on to say she’d prefer not to pursue a special town meeting, but will do so if the selectmen don’t table the bus turnaround, which she considers an environmental detriment and harmful to the character of Menemsha.

After much debate, the selectmen opted to relay two alternate sketches of the bus turnaround to Brewster Architects for analysis, one from Carroll and one from Barbara Armstrong. The board floated the idea of implementing one of the sketched redesigns, should either of them pass muster with the architect, but did not commit to doing so.

Former Chilmark Police Chief Tim Rich told the board while he didn’t support the bus turnaround project, he was dismayed that so much work might be undone with an “end-run” political maneuver.

“You had an open, long process — many hearings; it was voted on at the town meeting, and now a grassroots effort, via whatever venue, is able to get a plan in place for the summer? Seems like an end run around the whole process. And I know if I were on that committee, whether you agree or disagree with the decision, I’d be a little bit taken aback …”

“I would say that there are a number of people in town who share your view about process,” selectmen chairman Jim Malkin said. “And that this is an end run. From my personal point of view, as a citizen, not as a selectman, I would say I absolutely agree with you. However, I have talked to town counsel, and what happened at the town meeting was money was voted to do something. We are not required to do that right now. There’s no time frame on which we are required to spend that money. We are authorized to do it, not required to do it.”

Community center rates

As a member of the town affairs council tasked with suggesting rate hikes for the Chilmark Community Center, selectmen Bill Rossi initiated discussion on the subject by pointing out the council struggled to agree on figures. Rossi said upkeep of the building, among other things, necessitated a modification of the scale of fees there. Based on his experience as a real estate broker, he also said the current fee structure is well below market rate for commercial space.

Nan Doty, also a member of the town affairs council, emphasized the council members’ opinions on fee amounts ran a gamut that she believed reflected economic and class differences in Chilmark. She asked if the higher fees put forth represented the will of the people of Chilmark. For example, one figure Rossi backed was a $1,500-per-day rental fee for the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, a $1,100 jump from the $400-per-day fee it normally pays.

Steve Bernier, president of the festival’s board of directors, asked the board if a hike for the Film Festival was actually necessary, and why some of the maintenance costs for the building “can’t be layered into our tax base?”

Bernier said more inquiry was needed to conclude if there’s “really a problem here” or if Chilmark is “making one.”

“That event brings incredible joy to a lot of people in this town,” Chris Murphy said.

Murphy argued for the festival’s continued use of the building at a reasonable rate. “So for me, I’m saying that it’s my community, my community center, and I want it to be used that way,” he said.

Brian Ditchfield, festival artistic director, told the board the rate hike may not have been intended to be punitive, “but it does feel punitive, as we are the only large noncommercial event that happens there.”

He said in the 17-year tenure of the festival at the community center, it has made several capital improvements to the building. He pointed out comparable fees elsewhere on the Vineyard are below $1,500, such as at the Performing Arts Center, where 800 seats, air conditioning, technician, and a state-of-the-art facility overall can be had for $500 per night.

Festival founder and executive director Thomas Bena said he felt the hike was connected to bad blood between himself and the selectmen over his criticism of the Squibnocket Bridge — specifically, Bena said, either Rossi or Malkin had raised questions around town about how he benefited from the community center.

Malkin took umbrage with the accusation: “During the Squibnocket issue when you and I were on different sides of that issue on various elements, at no time did I raise that issue with anyone.”

Festival managing director Hilary Dreyer simply asked if the festival could keep the fee rate it signed onto in November when it secured the community center for 2019.

The board declined her request, and voted to approve a 2019 rate of $600 per day for the festival, with a $200-per-day, never before charged, setup and breakdown rate. Several other fee increases were voted in as well, but not debated.

In other business, the board voted to approve adding language to the next town meeting in support of a plastic bottle ban brought forth by a group of West Tisbury School children.

The board voted to authorize the architectural consultancy firm Pacheco-Ross to make drawings for a new fire station on the town hall lot, and a Tri-Town Ambulance barn on the newly purchased Carroll lot behind town hall.

The board voted to accept the sole bid on Menemsha electrical infrastructure work by Powers Electric, a company owned by Cole Powers, town inspector of wires. The approval of the bid was contingent upon review of bid materials on Wednesday, and with the caveat that excavation work relative to the project be finished in a timely manner.