MVC moves forward with ‘special ways’ hearing

Historic Tisbury paths have Revolutionary roots.

Commissioners will schedule a public hearing to discuss the designation of Red Coat Hill Road and Shubael Weeks Road. Both Roads have special way designations in West Tisbury. — Screenshot from Google Maps

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) voted Thursday to accept a nomination from the Tisbury planning board that seeks to designate and protect Red Coat Hill Road and Shubael Weeks Road, two paths that date back to the Revolutionary War, as special ways under the MVC’s District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC).

By accepting the nomination, commissioners will hold a public hearing on the roads. The nomination also puts a development moratorium on areas within 20 feet of the roads, but planning board member Dan Seidman said homes near the road would not be affected by the moratorium because they are all far enough back.

The commission now has until Jan. 20 to hold a public hearing.

Today, the roads are used by pedestrians, bicyclists, and horseback riders. The Tisbury Planning Board’s application said the roads qualified for special designation as a “cultural or historic resource district.”

Seidman said the purpose of the nomination was to prevent the roads from becoming a “paved, two-lane highway.”

Red Coat Hill Road is part of an old cart path that was created between State Road and Lambert’s Cove Road, according to the nomination application. The road gets its name from when the hill was used to surveil the harbor, which was visible from the highest point on Red Coat Hill in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to a 1923 history of Martha’s Vineyard by Henry Franklin Norton, on Sept. 10, 1778, British redcoats, led by Gen. Grey, seized the hill during a four-day invasion, leaving a redcoat on a nearby hill.

Shubael Weeks Road extends from West Tisbury, and crosses Red Coat Hill Road. Shubael Weeks was a Tisbury selectman at the time of the British raid in 1778. 

In addition to their historical significance, the roads connect to Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank and Nature Conservancy trails, Duarte’s Pond, and West Tisbury. The nomination adds that the trails were established before the automobile, when distance to town was measured in hours and not minutes. 

“The unbroken beauty of the path is peaceful, and lets one think back to less hurried times. Both locations connect to West Tisbury, which has protected them as Special Ways,” the nomination reads. 

“They’re also really well-preserved historic paths, and a lot of these things end up being overgrown, and lose some characteristics of what you imagine a quintessential ancient way is, and it does represent that,” commissioner Ben Robinson said.

Benjamin Hall Jr. asked for the commission to review their DCPC guidelines before adding to their list of special ways. He said towns tend to interpret the guidelines differently, and there was a lack of conformity with special permit approval. The Hall family owns several pieces of property in Edgartown on Pennywise Path, a designated special way under DCPC guidelines, and was involved in several legal issues over the designation of Pennywise Path and other special ways.

“If the Island wants these things to exist in a way that they want to keep them, then the towns or the Land Bank or somebody has to pony up the money, take the ways, provide alternative means of access to the landowners whose access ways are being taken, and that’s the fair way to do it,” Hall said.

If approved by the MVC, the designation would then need voter approval at Tisbury’s annual town meeting in April.