Chilmark selectmen voted 2-1 Tuesday night to endorse a memorandum of understanding between the town and the new owner of Beetlebung Farm regarding a proposal to erect an agricultural barn in place of the farm’s current farmstand.
The barn, an antique, would come to Chilmark disassembled from an off-Island location, and be reassembled to a height of 30 feet, slightly lower than it originally sat, and without its cupola. Following analysis, discussion, and negotiations with the town’s site committee, selectmen chair Bill Rossi and selectman Jim Malkin supported the idea, while selectman Warren Doty did not.
Malkin said concerns linger about the traffic impact of the barn, as its intent is to sell local produce all year long. Those concerns weren’t enough to sink his support, however. Doty simply found the barn too big.
Amy Weinberg, who owns the farm through Beetlebung Farm, LLC (previously called the Farm Group, LLC), sought to assure the selectmen that she would work with them on any issue that might arise.
Weinberg characterized the structure as a sloped barn, “so it sits very nicely in the slope of the field …“
Builder Len Butler, who is working on the project, said the barn will blend with the landscape. “All the materials for this barn have been taken down, numbered,” Butler said. “It’s going to be rebuilt exactly the way you see it in this picture. So it’s not going to be something new and newly shingled, and kind of jump out. It’s going to look like it’s been there since 1850.”
“We wouldn’t want to do anything that would be in any way considered, you know, detrimental to the town,” Weinberg said. “And you know I really mean that very seriously.”
She stressed she was always ready to talk about anything related to the barn, and was cognizant she would have to earn the trust of the community on this project.
Doty wasn’t on board. “It sounds like I’m going to be the one dissenting voice,” he said. “It seems to me that this is a really large building.” Doty described it as 30 feet tall and 9,000 to 10,000 square feet: “What I don’t understand is why there can’t be a nice farmstand that is 18 feet tall and 3,000 square feet.”
Doty went on to say the barn would be very close to Middle Road, and would “just barely” meet a 50-foot setback. He noted the roadside height limit for buildings has long been zoned at 18 feet.
“I just don’t understand the need for a building this size for a farm that has been a small operation, it has been an artisanal owner-operated operation for all its life,” he said. He described the proposed structure as like a “big tobacco barn” or a “big hay barn” that he thought was too big for the site.
“I’m told by everybody,” he said, “as an agricultural operation you have a right to do it, but it just seems out of scale to me.”
Tea Lane Farm proprietor Krishana Collins, who is involved with the project, said the aim is to make Beetlebung Farm sustainable “both financially and environmentally.” Collins stressed there’s “a real need for food in the winter” and “this would be a space where we would provide year-round access to fresh vegetables.”
Collins speculated the barn would become a pleasant landmark, as opposed to an eyesore.
“I personally love Chilmark so much I don’t want it to change,” she said. “I love everything about it already. But I do think that there are some needs that are not being met.”
“I don’t think there’s a farmer out there who says they have a barn where they have too much space,” Weinberg said. “Everybody needs more space. I’ve never, ever heard that someone wishes they had less space. By putting all the different agricultural functions into this barn, I think it will just meet our needs. And I just believe in what we’re trying to do.”
Doty couldn’t be swayed, and the board took its vote.
“We wish you the best of luck,” Rossi said.
In other business, beach superintendent Martina Mastromonaco and members of the beach committee came before the board with a proposed $15 increase for all Chilmark beach stickers. Mastromonaco described the increase as long overdue. She said it had the potential to boost beach revenue by nearly $70,000. The board voted unanimously to approve the increases.
Beach committee member Margeret Maida and town administrator Tim Carroll pointed out after the vote that a hearing was necessary for any rate increase. Following that revelation, Rossi recharacterized the vote as conceptual, and said a hearing would be scheduled.
“We can get it done before we print the stickers,” Carroll said, “so we’ll just put it on the next agenda, two weeks away.”
On the recommendation of a special interview committee, the board unanimously approved the provisional hiring of Alison Kisselgoff as zoning board of appeals administrator and Kara Shemeth as conservation agent and conservation commission administrator. The new hires are meant to plug the gap soon to be left by Chuck Hodgkinson, who is retiring in March. Hodgkinson held both positions. The town had 48 hours a week available to dedicate to the positions, Rossi told The Times Wednesday.
“They’ll each be working part-time, 24 hours each,” he said. Part-time was what they both were looking for, so the situation proved ideal, he said.
He described Kisselgoff and Shemeth as “two very qualified people.” Rossi tipped his hat to Hodgkinson, who he said has long been invaluable at town hall.