Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank commissioners agreed to open a preserve on Chappaquiddick on Monday, although it won’t be with some of the planned improvements the Land Bank was hoping to add.
Commissioners voted unanimously to open the Caleb’s Pond Preserve to the public, despite a denial from the Edgartown conservation commission last week for approval to build earthen steps to the bank of the pond.
Land Bank officials say that abutters to the property raised concerns about additional traffic to the area and that a boardwalk could have detrimental environmental impacts, which ultimately sank their request.
While commissioners ultimately voted not to appeal the recent conservation decision to the state, they decided to wait about a year before circling back with a similar application. “To let the dust settle,” as Edgartown Commissioner Steve Ewing said at Monday’s meeting.
Caleb’s Pond Preserve is a three-acre piece of land spanning the distance from Litchfield Road to the shore of Caleb’s Pond, which includes some woodlands, shrubland, and marshes.
In June, Land Bank staff submitted a passive recreation management plan to the local conservation commission that included an approximately 300-foot, universal access trail to a bench with views of Caleb’s Pond. They also proposed installing earthen steps down to the bank.
Originally, the Land Bank had proposed installing a raised boardwalk over a salt marsh in the area. But the land superintendent with the Land Bank, Harrison Kisiel, said that the proposal received heavy pushback from residents in the area. The conservation commission did receive a number of letters objecting to the boardwalk and the Land Bank’s overall plan. Some worried that allowing the boardwalk would set a precedent for other applications.
“Caleb Pond has its own unique and peaceful character that sets it apart from Katama Bay,” reads a letter from a group of landowners in the area to the commission. “This beautiful environment, which has remained largely undisturbed for many years, is enjoyed not only by us, but also by folks entering the pond on all types of watercraft, the many motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists traveling daily to and from the Chappy Ferry, and now visitors to the Land Bank’s new Caleb’s Pond Preserve.”
The Land Bank staff was advised to meet the town’s marina advisory board; Kisiel told the commission there’s a special protection against piers in the district. After meeting with the advisory board, the Land Bank staff then amended the application and dropped the boardwalk.
But before the conservation commission last week, Kisiel said the commission denied their plan to provide public access to the water. The ConCom argued that earthen steps would negatively impact the resource area, and then encourage more foot traffic.
Land Bank commissioners on Monday said that a boardwalk would be more environmentally friendly than the public walking in the area. But instead of deciding to appeal the decision, commissioners voted to have the Land Bank reapply later.