The fate of the historic Tea Lane Farm will come before Chilmark voters for a fourth time at a special town meeting on Monday. Voters are being asked to decide whether the town should enter into a long-term lease with a tenant farmer.
The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center. Moderator Everett Poole will preside over the special session.
The three-article warrant includes one article for leasing the Tea Lane Farm property and a second to approve $100,000 of community preservation act funds for renovations to the 1755 farm house. The third article asks voters to approve $24,000 from the waterways improvement fund to purchase a new harbormaster boat.
The town collaborated with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank in 2001 to purchase the farmhouse and surrounding land at the intersection of Tea Lane and Middle Road. Bobby Silva, who lived in the house, was given a life estate. When he died in February 2010, a farm committee developed a plan to return it to a working farm.
That farm committee has proceeded in fits and starts for the past two years.
Voters most recently nixed a request in September to spend $550,000 to restore the farmhouse to living condition. Prior to that, they rejected a request for $150,000 at the annual town meeting in April 2011, and a $300,000 request at a special town meeting in October 2010.
The farm committee now feels confident leasing the farm long-term is the right solution, selectman and farm committee chairman Warren Doty said at the selectmen’s weekly meeting on Tuesday.
Selectmen this week hammered out details of the lease, which calls for a 75-year agreement, with a required $20,000 up-front ground lease. The tenant farmer would assume ownership of the farmhouse and four outbuildings. If approved, the $100,000 community preservation grant would have to go directly to the renovations of the house, and the tenant would receive 5 per cent of the grant per year.
If the tenant were to sell the house and outbuildings before the 75-year lease is up, the buyer would have to present a farm plan also to be approved by the farm committee.
The town land bank advisory board and selectmen will review and approve the final tenant and the historical commission will oversee renovations to the exterior of the farm house. If the farmer wants to build a farm stand it must be located in the back of the property.
Following an open house in January, the farm committee received approximately 40 letters of interest about the lease, but has yet to begin the process of selecting a tenant or finalized the terms of the prospective lease. Pending outcome of Monday’s vote, the committee will solicit formal applications and farm plans.
“We didn’t want to ask farmers to get excited about it and develop a plan unless the town approved of this direction, that’s the attempt to call this special town meeting,” Mr. Doty said. “Another part of the schedule is we would like to make a decision about this by the spring, so by May 1 a farmer can be in there and thinking about a plan and performing some of it.”
Chairman of the board Frank Fenner said if voters said no to this plan again “We’ve got to change gears completely here,” he said.
“We need to know from the town’s point of view — do you support this concept?” he said.
Tea Lane Farm House Committee member Leonard Jason Jr. said he was worried the town was moving too fast on the lease agreement when the details still have not been finalized.
“I understand the attempt . . . but now we’re going to bring something else to the town with more unanswered questions,” he said. “If they say no, then what are you going to do? You have to give them something that has more answers than questions.”
Police chief and farm committee member Brian Cioffi took a different view.
“If we don’t go to a meeting then we don’t know what the town wants,” he said. “The reality is, does the town want to lease the property to a farmer or not? It’s a simple question . . . let’s just figure out where we’re going, because the farm committee has done a lot of work and we keep running into roadblocks.”