MBL Plans To Sell Lot, Tennis Court Next To Stony Beach

A property adjacent to Stony Beach, the public beach in Woods Hole for over 100-years, might soon be for sale.

The Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole owns two adjacent properties on Gosnold Road directly in front of Stony Beach. Together those properties equal 1.26 acres and are assessed by the town at $3.5 million. On the properties are a 14,400-square foot tennis courts and 27-space parking lot between the road and the beach.

“MBL is considering the sale of a portion of the property for a single-family dwelling where the tennis courts are presently located,” wrote Andrea Early, MBL communications director in an e-mail to the Enterprise. “The beach and access to the beach would remain for public use.”

The Town of Falmouth has deeded rights to a 10-foot wide access strip and the 264-foot wide beach between two stone groins that would not be for sale. Stony Beach is often used by scientists and families who enjoy the shallow water and protection from the wind.

President and Director Gary G. Borisy said the MBL is undergoing a strategic planning process and is evaluating which of the assets are critical to their mission. “At this point we are gathering information to see what we can and cannot do,” Dr. Borisy said, but no final decision has been made to sell the land.

“My personal belief is that the beach and access to it is part of the life of the village,” Dr. Borisy said. “But I don’t see that the beach-front tennis courts are an integral part of the scientific mission of the MBL.”

Ms. Early said it is not yet clear if the property could be divided so the parking lot would remain. The MBL does not have a buyer for the property, but would consider selling to The 300 Committee or the Town of Falmouth so the property could be maintained for public use. The properties could be developed for residential use, Ms. Early said, according to the deed dating back to 1928.

MBL To Meet With Neighbors

Dr. Borisy and Ms. Early will meet with the Woods Hole Community Association on Tuesday at the Old Fire Station in Woods Hole at 7:30 PM to discuss the plans.

My personal belief is that the beach and access to it is part of the life of the village. But I don’t see that the beach-front tennis courts are an integral part of the scientific mission of the MBL.

                                               Dr. Gary Borisy  

The MBL tries to be a good neighbor to the people of Woods Hole and Falmouth, Dr. Borisy said, which is why they scheduled the meeting with the community association.

The Woods Hole community reacted quickly after word got out about the possible sale. Community members started a Facebook page called “Save Our Stoney” (SOS), a website - savestoney.org, and a petition to stop the sale on change.org, which collected more than 500 signatures.

“Generations of Woods Hole residents, students, scientists and their families have been raised on the aptly named not quite perfect white sands of Stoney, and the beach has been as vital a part of the intellectual life of the town and its institutions as Lillie or Redfield auditoriums,” reads part of the petition. “While we are heartened that the town of Falmouth apparently has a right to the beach itself, we disagree strongly with the contention that this vital landmark would be unharmed by the development of the MBL land directly facing it. The beach has always been a public and open one, and to limit access to a narrow corridor and place residential development running up to the high water mark would completely destroy that character.”

Dozens of petitioners took the opportunity to recall their memories of swimming at Stony Beach as children.

The news that MBL was considering selling the Stony Beach property came to light for the first time last week, when neighbors William A. and Andrea B. Rugh of Gosnold Road, Woods Hole, saw surveyors working on the property. They contacted MBL and met with Dr. Borisy and Ms. Early in their home last Friday, where they heard the MBL point of view. Ms. Rugh, who is on the Woods Hole Community Association board of directors, asked the MBL representatives to speak to the community about the plans.

Mr. Rugh has been coming to Woods Hole for his entire 76 years and said he thought selling the property was short-sighted and would change how the community used the area. “I’ve been coming to Woods Hole since 1936 and all that time there has been a beach and tennis court as part of the MBL,” Mr. Rugh said. The tennis courts are not used very much anymore, but that is because they are in disrepair, he said, but have been a part of the small college atmosphere of MBL.

Falmouth Beach Superintendent Donald L. Hoffer said Stony Beach is run in partnership with MBL. The town provides two lifeguards and a parking attendant at the beach during weekdays. MBL provides security guards at night to deter late night use of the beach which is close to homes. The situation has worked well from the town’s point of view, Mr. Hoffer said.

Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy Jr. said he is looking into what rights the town has to the beach.

MBL May Sell Other Properties

The Stony Beach property is just one of several properties that MBL is investigating divesting. MBL placed two single family homes on F.R. Lillie Road for sale earlier this summer for $275,000 and $265,000. A two-acre parcel of land on the bike path side of Fay Road has been for sale since 2005 and recently entered into a purchase and sale agreement, Ms. Early said.

Overall, the financial statements of MBL are solid, Dr. Borisy said. The MBL started the Catalyst Campaign five years ago to raise endowment and program support for research and education programs. The campaign raised a cumulative total of $127.7 million at the end of last year, surpassing the $125 million goal set five years ago.

But according to the MBL annual report for 2011, the organization’s $115 million in net assets declined by over $7 million primarily due to the volatile stock markets in 2011. “A strengthening of the MBL’s cash reserves is in order and is the top management priority as we move into 2012 and beyond,” wrote treasurer Mary B. Conrad in the report.

While some of the people commenting on the change.org petition, recognize the MBL position, others are emotionally connected to the long history of the beach as a public asset.

WOODS HOLE COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION MEETING

WHEN: Tuesday at 7:30 PM

WHERE: Old Fire Station in Woods Hole

Both Gary Borisy, president and director of the MBL, and Andrea Early, communications director for the MBL, will be present to discuss the laboratory's plans for its two properties adjacent to Stony Beach.

The history of Stony Beach dates back to 1911, when the track of land along Buzzards Bay owned by the Fay Family was divided into 43 buildable lots, according to the Enterprise archives.

“Near the middle of the lots a strip of beach 200 feet was reserved and all of the lot owners were given the rights to bathe and land boats there,” according to a column written by Dr. Edward B. Meigs and published in the Enterprise in 1932.

But the relationship between homeowners in the area and swimmers was not always peaceful. Dr. Meigs described “disagreeable incidents” that occurred when some permanent and summer residents of Woods Hole used the beaches in front of residences. “The owners were annoyed through the day and far into the night by noisy bathers, some of whom used objectionable language and insulted the owners when the latter asked the undesirable bathers to be quiet or keep off the premises,” Dr. Meigs wrote. For that reason, public bathing was limited to what is now Stony Beach.

The public beach rights were established in perpetuity by Henry H. Fay and Sarah B. Fay in 1913 and 1927 to “people who make Woods Hole their home.” Dr. Meigs purchased the 200-foot section of beach in 1928 for $8,000 including the deeded beach rights. The smaller piece of land was later purchased by Dr. Oliver S. Strong.

In 1934, Falmouth Town Meeting unanimously accepted deeds of trust from the two owners making the beach public for Woods Hole residents and their summer guests only. The two properties were transferred to MBL in 1936 and 1939, according to deed documents.

For years, only Woods Hole residents were allowed to use the beach, but now anyone with a Falmouth Beach sticker or an MBL sticker can park there—if they can find a spot.

The town built two stone groins 200 feet apart in 1955 and placed 3,000 cubic feet of sand on the beach, making the name Stony Beach somewhat of a misnomer.

“It used to be covered in stones,” Mr. Rugh said, ”and then they put sand on it and since then its been sandy.”

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