About two dozen West Tisbury officials and small business owners besieged a public hearing of the planning board to protest a proposed amendment to the town zoning by-law. After hearing objections to the proposal Monday evening, the planning board voted to withdraw the proposed change and consider other ways to address the problem it was intended to solve.
The presenting problem was described by planning board chairman Murray Frank in vague terms: "We on the planning board have become aware of a number of situations having to do with the use of land by home businesses and home occupations [in residential zones]... and to what extent their existence is an infringement upon the privacy of their neighbors...." In the ensuing discussions, it became clear that the complaints which sparked the amendment were made by neighbors of a landscaping business on Vineyard Meadow Farms Rd., which was generating high truck traffic and noise.
The solution proposed by the planning board was to "require a minimum lot size of three acres for service businesses in [a residential district]." A service business is a business that provides services to the public on or off the premises, such as electricians, plumbers, hair dressers, caterers, landscapers, and on through a long list of examples. Most businesses in West Tisbury, except retail stores and restaurants, could be described as service businesses.
Mr. Frank commented that there was so much controversy generated by the announcement of the proposal, that the members of the board had considered withdrawing it from the public meeting in order "go back to the drawing board before presenting anything to the town."
"We then decided," Mr. Frank said, "better still, let's have a discussion with those who are here and find out what you all think about it." They got an earful.
Bill Haynes called the proposal "ridiculous." Another speaker said that the zoning by-law already provides recourses for neighbors. Enforcement of existing regulations, in his view, would solve the problem.
Whit Manter said he was shocked when he first heard of it. "People need as much opportunity as they can to get by on this Island," he said.
Tucker Hubbell called the proposal "highly discriminatory" against the working class, and John Powers pointed out that the master plan for the town allows and encourages small businesses to operate in ways the proposed by-law would prohibit.
Michael Colaneri complained that the proposal would make drastic changes in the town. "The by-law would destroy the fabric of this community ... and hurt all the working-class people of the community."
Others challenged the planning board's research before making the proposal. John Powers, health agent, said that he had received only one complaint against a service business in the past five years, and asked if the planning board had surveyed other town boards to determine the scope of the problem. They had not.
Zoning inspector Ernest Mendenhall asked the board if they had counted how many lots the proposal would affect. They had not.
Mr. Mendenhall estimated that the planning board would be "disenfranchising three-quarters of the lots that people, like these people here, might possibly be able to buy."
The members of the planning board accepted the criticisms of the audience with aplomb, and Eileen Maley eventually moved that the board table the question and seek other solutions to the problem. She called the meeting, "an evening of avoiding unintended consequences."
No one in attendance had suggested that there were no problems with growing businesses in residential parts of town. Perhaps some said, the list of permitted businesses should be revisited. Perhaps the business owner should be required to live on the premises. Nevertheless, the consensus of the meeting, including members of the planning board, was that the proposed solution had been ill-considered. The board will go back to the drawing board.