Updated 12:50 pm
Tisbury isn’t the only Vineyard town targeted by the state for shared-use path (SUP) improvements. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) plans SUP construction from the Lagoon Pond Bridge in Oak Bluffs to the intersection of Eastville Avenue and County Road.
“The proposed improvements will enhance vehicular and pedestrian safety, provide bicycle accommodations, provide compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, and improve vehicular traffic safety by including ‘Complete Streets’ design principles,” a 2019 MassDOT notice states.
The project will utilize pre-existing roadway easements, and in some places will also involve land taking in order to accommodate the 8- to 10-foot path.
At least one Eastville Avenue property owner is displeased with the prospect of losing land to the SUP, and thinks there’s an established alternative route that isn’t being considered. Xerxes Agassipour, who owns a house on the curve where Beach Road changes over to Eastville Avenue, said his property stands to lose a significant portion of its value due to land taking for the SUP. Agassipour told The Times the SUP will level trees that screen his property from the road, and bring the path to within “about 10 feet” of his porch. He said he’s at a loss for why the SUP doesn’t follow an existing bike route that winds through the grounds of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, and instead runs along what he described as the dangerous, often flooded corner where his property sits.
Agassipour said he’s had difficulty reaching Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour regarding the SUP. “I tried to reach out to him on a number of occasions,” Agassipour said. “He was supposed to be the point of contact to try to coordinate with all the abutters, and he didn’t return any calls, and from what I understand he’s leaving now …”
Whritenour, who has accepted a job in Yarmouth, told The Times in an email that the commonwealth asked him to step aside concerning Agassipour’s property.
“I am familiar with Mr. Agassipour’s property,” he wrote. “He attended the selectmen’s workshop on the proposed bikeway, and had several questions. His property abuts the state road, and I contacted [MassDOT] immediately after the meeting to follow up on issues related to Mr. Agassipour’s property. I was informed that the state had outreached Mr. Agassipour to review his concerns, and I was requested by the state [right of way] experts to not contact Mr. Agassipour or discuss his property outside of the state discussions. As a result, I have not contacted Mr. Agassipour to review the matter further.”
Agassipour also said he reached out to the selectmen, and heard back from selectman Brian Packish. Packish acknowledged speaking with Agassipour, as well as other property owners along the SUP route. Packish said several had also come before the selectmen earlier in the year following MassDOT letters they received. For most of them, he said, they thought land was being taken from them. However, Packish said the letters actually indicated the state was seeking temporary rights to work on their land to build the SUP. He admitted in Agassipour’s case, things appear different. He said he encouraged Agassipour to reach out to Island representatives in the state legislature.
“For the record, I’m for the bike path, for what it’s worth,” Agassipour said. “You know I don’t think that’s a terrible idea.” He went on to say the way the process was being handled, especially how taxpayer concerns such as his are being fielded, was subpar. He said he’s formed the opinion the town “punted” to avoid costs.
“The town is pushing the cost on the state, and then on us,” he said.
A review of overlay maps on the Oak Bluffs assessor’s portal shows Agassipour’s property line runs fairly far from the road, as compared with adjacent lots. A screen of trees appears situated beyond the bounds of his property, as opposed to within it. Agassipour said evaluations by two different Realtors found the loss of those trees would adversely affect the value of his property.
Despite the depth of roadside land apparently controlled by MassDOT before Agassipour’s property line, a letter sent to Agassipour by MassDOT right of way agent E. Jenny K. Flanagan on March 1 indicates the state plans on going deeper in and acquiring some of Agassipour’s private land.
“The purpose of this letter is to notify you that MassDOT – Highway Division will be initiating the appraisal process,” the letter states. “I have been directed to provide an appraisal of the parcels to be acquired from your property. Over the next few weeks, I will be conducting inspections of the properties affected by this project, and meeting onsite with property owners.”
In reply to an email seeking comment on Agassipour’s land and the viability of the hospital route, MassDOT indicated Wednesday afternoon, as The Times went to print, that it needed more time to provide a response.
Updated to include comments from Whritenour.