A lease agreement between the owners of Grey Barn and the Trustees of Reservations caught the attention of the Chilmark select board Tuesday night.
Taken up as a matter not anticipated by the chair, the select board expressed concern that the farm, known for its awardwinning cheese products and farmstand, might be in jeopardy of remaining in operation. The board reached a consensus to send a letter of the Trustees saying how much they appreciate what Grey Barn brings to the community, but steering clear of the negotiations between the Grey Barn and the Trustees.
All of this comes as Grey Barn owner Eric Glasgow, in a letter to the Vineyard Gazette, wrote that the inability of him and his wife, Molly, to convince the Trustees to extend their lease, which is due to expire in 2040, would jeopardize a plan they have to build employee housing on the property.
“Like other Island businesses, we struggle with housing for our employees. We negotiated at great length with the state and the town to come up with a plan to convert an existing barn into much-needed workforce housing,” Glasgow wrote. “This plan has been fully permitted by all relevant authorities, but has been in limbo for nearly a year as we try to negotiate with [the Trustees]. Without employee housing and other capital investment in the farm, it is unclear to Molly and I how the farm will be able to continue to be a part of the Island community.”
Select board member Warren Doty suggested the board show its support in a letter. “I think the Grey Barn has been a very positive addition to the town of Chilmark, and employs a lot of young people,” he said. “It’s very popular, especially among our summer residents.”
Chair James Malkin said he discussed such an endorsement with town counsel, who suggested the select board taking a position on something that’s in negotiation would be problematic. “We don’t know the issues in this negotiation,” Malkin said. That said, Malkin said he would be happy to personally write a letter of support.
Select board member Bill Rossi also praised Grey Barn as “an asset to the town,” but agreed that the select board should not involve itself in the negotiations. “We would endorse the Grey Barn’s activities over there as being beneficial to the town,” Rossi said.
Doty gushed about Grey Barn’s products, how it makes all of the products sold in the farmstand from the farm — vegetables, milk, cheese, and meat. “It would be stunning if the Grey Barn lost their lease,” he said. “It would be like a reversal to the town. We worked hard on developing local agriculture … everything they sell is locally grown.”
Reached at home Tuesday night, Eric Glasgow said he appreciated the select board’s support. He said since he wrote his letter, people have reached out by text and email. “I’m hoping people reach out to the Trustees and the board of the Trustees,” he said. “I think at the end of the day that it’s in everybody’s best interest. We’re looking to spend money on their property. It’s a win-win situation, giving us a lease extension that’s tied to the agricultural value of the property, and would be mutually beneficial. We’re willing to invest in property and the Island and try to run something that’s valued … It would reflect positively on the Trustees, who it’s fair to say have had some difficulties. They’ve had some missteps. I think it would be a great thing if we could announce they’ve extended the lease and we’re building housing on the property. That’s what I hope happens, sincerely.”
Responding to a request from The Times, Trustees president and CEO John Judge issued a statement: “We appreciate the investments that Eric and Molly Glasgow have made at Grey Barn, and the Trustees is happy to lease its 99 acres to them for a term that currently runs through 2040. That’s why the Trustees has sent multiple proposals to the Glasgows, including one last week that would, among other things, extend their lease to 2060. The Trustees also worked with Grey Barn this past spring to approve and submit a request to the state for the Glasgows’ proposal to create workforce housing and make other improvements to the property, which both the Trustees of Reservations and the state of Massachusetts have approved. The Trustees looks forward to reaching an agreement that will strengthen our existing partnership and continue to enhance the agricultural heritage of this cherished property. As stewards and owners of thousands of acres on Martha’s Vineyard — including many miles of coastline — we are honored to work to conserve and protect these places for generations to come.”
Glasgow acknowledged that the Trustees offered to extend the lease, but at a steep price. He told The Times that the offer to extend the lease is contingent on Grey Barn being willing to spend what he called a “significant sum,” even though the lease is paid in full through 2040. The Glasgows purchased the property in 2009 for $300,000; as part of the agreement they took over the lease, which David Douglas negotiated in 1980 for $60,000. “Because they’re making a concession, they feel it’s warranted to ask for more money to negotiate beyond 2040,” Glasgow said.
Glasgow said he’s asked to speak to the Trustees board, which is meeting in Edgartown on Friday. Thus far, he said, they have not responded to that request. “My goal and the reason I wrote a letter and reached out to the community is that there was some public outcry to oversand vehicle and draft management plan, and that prodded them to change their position,” Glasgow said. “If they heard from the community that Grey Barn is a valuable institution and they should perhaps be more engaged, perhaps it would prompt them to negotiate.”
Special town meeting Monday
Voters will be asked to support a $44,000 appropriation from the town’s waterways fund on Monday, Sept. 26, at 7 pm at the Chilmark Community Center. The money will fund Phase II of the town’s commercial wharf project in Menemsha.
The funds are the town’s portion of the $176,000 Seaport Economic Development Grant from the state.
At Tuesday’s select board meeting, Peter Neilly, who has worked on the project, told the board he’ll be well-prepared to present the proposal to voters, but pointed out that because it involves Menemsha, the public will want a say in what the final design looks like.
“This phase of the replacement is the design phase, and there are likely to be many different opinions about what the final design should be — history has taught us that on this similar project, and others around town, that it can be …”
“Interesting,” Malkin said finishing the sentence. “It is very interesting down in Menemsha, particularly when there is any change afoot, and everybody who is interested in Menemsha, which is just about everybody in town, has an opinion and wants to be invited to the discussion.”
Doty said it needs to be emphasized that change is coming. “We can’t rebuild a wooden dock and make it last for 50 years,” he said. “The important thing to emphasize to the town is that change has to come.”
The process will go through the harbor advisory committee, with Neilly involved, and ultimately will come back to the select board, who will hold public hearings to get community input.
Meanwhile, Neilly, harbormaster Ryan Rossi, Jeffrey Maida of the harbor advisory committee, and Doty will work on a mission statement for the project.
“This has to get done, and it has to get done right and in the best interest of the commercial fishing village in Menemsha,” Malkin said. “It may not be exactly the way it is now, but it needs to be right so it is something that lasts and serves its purpose.”
In other business, the select board accepted the invitation of Nantucket select board to meet with them and other Island towns to talk about issues of interest — housing and climate change among them — on Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 4 pm. Chilmark will schedule its regular meeting that night for 6 pm.
Doty updated the board on a meeting with the Massachusetts School Building Authority on Monday. Discussions centered on the regional agreement for Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Doty also reported that the district could get 39 percent reimbursement from the MSBA, and the committee is looking at projects that could range from renovations to a completely new school with prices ranging from $80 million to $200 million. He added that discussion to cap any regional school budget increase at 2½ percent could not be in the regional agreement. Instead the towns will have to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the regional school district.
Meanwhile, the select board approved the dates recommended by shellfish constable Isaiah Scheffer for the bay scallop season for commercial fishing on Monday, Nov. 14 — Monday through Friday commercial limit, two bushels — and recreational season on Monday, Oct. 9. Oyster season will be delayed until the end of February because the market for oysters is better in the springtime, he said.
Scheffer gave a brief update on the condition of Chilmark ponds — essentially saying that Tisbury Great Pond is “really unhealthy,” and that Menemsha is in better shape. As for Quitsa Pond, Scheffer said that dredging needs to be done.