By George Brennan
The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission has approved a plan to manage a series of trails near the Old Sailor’s Burial Grounds in Vineyard Haven.
During a Zoom meeting Monday afternoon, the commission unanimously approved the agreement promoted by the Tisbury open space committee. It had already been endorsed by the Tisbury select board and the Land Bank’s advisory board in Tisbury.
The agreement authorizes the Land Bank to “create, maintain, and improve” the trails, which are ancient rights of way. The trails will be used for pedestrians, equestrians, and nonmotorized bicycles, according to the agreement.
The Old Sailor’s Burial Grounds are located near the town’s planning and zoning offices on High Point Lane.
Land Bank executive director James Lengyel told the commissioners that the resolution is similar to management agreements made across the Island between the Land Bank and select boards. He said the trails will reconnect ancient ways that were “totally obliterated by the development around Mechanic Street,” and will pass over the town’s capped landfill. One of the proposed trails, which would connect to the Park and Ride lot, is still a dream, Lengyel said, because it requires state approval.
Commissioner Pamela Goff said ahead of the vote that she supported the idea of organizing the trails for the benefit of the public.
“The idea of clarity in this area is just outstanding,” Lengyel said.
The Land Bank commissioners also discussed whether they should weigh in on a request by Penny Parrot, who is requesting a 23- by10-foot sun porch at her house abutting the Land Bank’s Tashmoo Preserve.
As abutters, the Land Bank can make public comment on the proposal. Parrot is seeking a special permit to expand the “pre-existing, nonconforming structure in the shore zone of the coastal district.”
Ultimately, the commission decided it would be best to make no comments and put their faith in the conservation commission to “do what’s right.”
Prior to their unanimous vote, some of the commissioners strayed into an area that they admitted they probably shouldn’t have during the discussion: whether they should oppose the addition, which would add value to a property that they would someday like to own.
“We’re trying to get rid of houses along here, right? So I don’t have a problem saying, No, we don’t like any more added value to these things, because someday we want to buy them,” said Peter Wells, who represents West Tisbury on the Land Bank.
Sarah Thulin of Aquinnah, the commission chair, responded, “Well, we really can’t say that.”
“But that’s how we feel, so how do we express that?” Wells said.
Thulin said she didn’t want to “tick off the owner” by being seen as working against her proposed addition. “It puts us in a tough situation, because we don’t want to alienate a potential seller,” she said.
Goff is the commissioner who said making no comment at all is the way to proceed: “In our minutes we can say we trust the conservation commission to do what’s right on this application.”
Wes Mott, who represents the state on the Land Bank, agreed that the commission had to be sensitive to appearances. “Without getting into our hopes for the property in the future, which is very dangerous ground to get onto, just some generic statement about our concerns about what development would do to the property,” he said.
An issue was raised with whether Tisbury’s representative, Nancy Weaver, who also serves on the conservation commission in that town, had a conflict of interest.
Lengyel said the Land Bank has gotten a legal opinion on this in the past, and it’s not an issue. “As long as the Land Bank commissioner is not receiving compensation from any position that she’s on, then there can be no conflict, because in every setting she is representing the voters of the town of Tisbury,” he said. “They can’t have a conflict with themselves.”
In other business, the Land Bank commissioners unanimously supported the $2,280 purchase of trail counter equipment to monitor how many people are using the Land Bank trails. According to land superintendent Harrison Kisiel, the request comes after the Martha’s Vineyard Commission asked if there were any data on how many individuals are using Land Bank properties.
Kisiel said the data could be beneficial in budgeting for maintenance, putting some research behind the numbers.
In answering questions about whether the numbers would be skewed by wildlife, Kisiel said they can be programmed to only count during the hours when the trails are used by humans.