The Mathews County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to turn over ownership of Williams Wharf to the Mathews Land Conservancy, vacating a road and public landing on the property. It also approved a conservation easement over the property that provides public access in perpetuity. These actions pave the way for the land conservancy to complete its plans for the site, including building a proposed boathouse.
Mathews County Attorney Richard Harfst explained to the crowd that packed the historic courthouse for the public hearing that the property was being held by the county as security for a federal grant, but that under contract, it was to be conveyed to the conservancy once the terms of that grant were fulfilled.
He explained further that the document’s public access clause had been modified to include a provision that spells out citizens’ right to walk, fish in designated areas, and have individual and family picnics during normal operating hours without having to pay a fee. During an earlier public hearing, which was also heavily attended, residents had expressed concern that the property would be gated and that public access would be cut off. Supervisors’ chair Janine Burns told those gathered Tuesday that the board had listened during the previous meeting and had responded to those concerns.
"We do not want to put restrictions on Williams Wharf’s ability to have fees," she said, "but we wanted public access defined in a way to make sure there were some activities that did not require a fee."
The conservancy will retain the right to close the landing at night and during special events. The conservation easement will be held jointly by Mathews County and the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority.
During a public hearing, residents voiced both support for and opposition to the action.