As Youth Tennis Plans Changes, Selectmen Have Questions
Planned changes to the Vineyard Youth Tennis program will require cooperation from the Oak Bluffs selectmen, and they were full of questions at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Vineyard Youth Tennis has been funded for 20 years by a single benefactor, who has invested some $12 million in the program that provides free tennis instruction to Island youth. It was announced late last year that Gerald DeBlois will continue his support through the summer and then bow out in September. The program operates out of a facility off Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs. Early talks are under way with the YMCA about a possible merger.
“We are going to need to evolve,” Chris Scott, the program’s board chairman, told the selectmen this week. “We’ve given a lot of thought to various options, and we feel that the best for the community, for the kids, and for the program long term is to merge with the YMCA.”
He said the merger would require changes to the special permit with the town zoning board of appeals and also will require approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which reviewed the facility as a development of regional impact (DRI). The biggest change would be expanding use of the tennis facilities to make them available to adults during the day. The facilities are currently available only to Islanders under the age of 18, usually only after school lets out. Mr. Scott said allowing adults to use the courts would help offset the cost of free lessons for kids. There are more than 150 YMCAs across the country that offer tennis programs.
Mr. Scott said more than 300 Island children participate each year. Vineyard Youth Tennis is often credited with the high school tennis teams’ consistent success in the state championships.
He said the South Shore YMCA in Hanover could serve as a model to follow. And he emphasized that there are no plans to expand or alter the existing facilities.
Selectman Kathleen Burton was supportive, sharing that her daughter had learned to play tennis through the program.
“It’s a wonderful program, and I would certainly like to see it continue in some form,” she said.
Other selectmen agreed, but were much more skeptical about the process.
“I personally have a tremendous amount of concerns around this,” said selectman Brian Packish. “This board as of late has talked a lot about that corridor [around the high school, ice rink, Y and Community Services] and our need to really begin to manage it in a different way.”
He said the YMCA and Community Services, which serve the whole Island, are a burden on Oak Bluffs taxpayers, and he was concerned the merger could expose town taxpayers to more expenses. He was also concerned the merger could result in requests down the road to further develop the property despite Mr. Scotts assurances to the contrary.
“Personally, I need some information from town counsel . . . what our rights are and what in fact we would be relinquishing,” said Mr. Packish.
Selectman Gail Barmakian was involved in the original process two decades ago. She said many of the same concerns came up then too: traffic, expansion and funding.
“The fact that it was going to be perpetually funded was key to allow this to happen,” she said.
The agreement allowed the tennis program to pay the town an amount every year based on assessment of the property as vacant land, rather than paying taxes, in return for the community benefit of the free lessons.
Selectman Gregory Coogan added one last concern: “Has Hanover ever won a state championship?”
With seven months before funding runs out, selectmen agreed to consult with their attorney and review the existing agreement more closely. They also requested a more detailed outline of the proposed merger plan