Marjorie Spitz addresses the floor at Aquinnah special town meeting Thursday.
After a lengthy and emotional debate Thursday, Aquinnah voters narrowly approved the purchase of two properties near the spot where the Gay Head Light is expected to be relocated next spring.
The two properties, known collectively as the Manning-Murray property, consist of about .37 acres and will be purchased for $590,000. About half the cost will be paid for by community preservation act funds and the half will be borrowed in notes and bonds.
The final vote on the article was 29 in favor, 12 opposed and 1 abstention. The article required a 2/3 majority vote, and passed by two votes.
Town clerk Carolyn Feltz counts Australian ballots for vote on Manning-Murray property. — Ivy Ashe
A total of 42 voters attended Aquinnah’s special town meeting Thursday evening at the old town hall. There were seven articles on the warrant.
Discussion focused on purchase of the Manning-Murray property, specifically the importance of the property to the heirs of the original owners and the property’s value for tourism.
June Manning spoke passionately about her sister Jill’s childhood home, which stands on the land. “Our family built that property,” she said. “That was our legacy.” She said the property, which was owned by her stepmother, Helen Manning, had earlier been placed on the market for $2 million.
Ms. Manning said her stepmother had intended for the property to be left to Jill Manning but that she had been coerced in a “fragile state” to sign a will stating otherwise.
Some voters sympathized with Ms. Manning, but others argued that purchasing the two properties would prevent unwanted development in an area that is central for tourism.
“As tourism comes to Martha’s Vineyard, everybody benefits,” said Berta Welch, who owns a shop at Aquinnah Circle.
“It’s a trickle down effect,” she said. “It’s for all of us to benefit, to have and to enjoy.”
Wendy Swolinzky questioned whether .37 acres was worth the price. “We’re not a rich town,” she said. She also worried about the cost of further development at the site. “It’s just the beginning of a money pit,” she said.
Bettina Washington argued that $590,000 was a relative bargain. “That’s a million dollar view, and I think we need to think about that,” she said. She worried that a private development might detract from the site’s appeal to visitors. “We need to start bringing money here,” she said. “We need to put our minds together to make this a place that people want to see.”
Len Butler also worried that a private development could ruin the site. “This is an opportunity to protect that land by making it part of the town. And what better tribute would it be if the town decided to make its use connected with the lighthouse?” He suggested using an existing building as a museum dedicated to the heritage of Aquinnah residents who had connections to the lighthouse.
The vote on the land purchase was done by handwritten Australian ballot.
All other articles passed easily.
Voters unanimously approved an article asking for up to $2.5 million for the restructuring of the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse District transfer station in Edgartown. Based on an assessment, Aquinnah’s contribution is 3 per cent, or up to $75,000 over the life of the bond. The project needs approval from all four refuse district towns; Chilmark approved the project at a special town meeting this fall, while Edgartown and West Tisbury have not voted. The district is aiming to begin the project next fall.
An article allocating $5,000 in community preservation money for restoring a historic stone wall behind town hall and $20,000 for restoration and emergency repairs to the Old Parsonage Building had one abstention, with all other votes in favor. The Old Parsonage is rented for affordable housing.