Tisbury selectmen debate flags and signs for businesses

The Scottish Bakehouse's sign formerly caught customers' attention with an "open" flag attached to it, flapping in the breeze. — Photo by Susan Safford

Although the Tisbury selectmen discussed flags at their meeting on Flag Day, their focus was on the commercial type rather than Old Glory. Their almost three-hour meeting included lengthy debates on signs and flags, fuel deliveries to commercial fishing boats at Lake Tashmoo, and town committee appointments.

At a selectmen’s meeting a few weeks ago, building and zoning inspector Ken Barwick asked them to review the town’s signage zoning bylaw in regard to sandwich board signs, as well as advertising flags versus national flags.

In follow-up at Tuesday night’s meeting, Mr. Barwick said the bylaw does not prohibit the hinged, two-sided, freestanding sandwich board signs, but does give the selectmen authority to determine whether they are appropriate or not.

“Are you coming to us because you don’t want to make these decisions anymore?” selectman chairman Geoghan Coogan asked Mr. Barwick.

“No, the position of the building and zoning department has always been the public safety aspect and visual aspect,” Mr. Barwick said. “Previously the selectmen have said they don’t want to see them. I’ve suggested before that maybe they should be prohibited.”

Recently a few people who asked him about using sandwich board signs said that, based on the bylaw, they would seek the selectmen’s opinion, he added.

“If that’s the case, I would forward the applications to you for review,” Mr. Barwick said.

Selectman Tristan Israel suggested it might help to set criteria for construction and visual safety for the signs. Mr. Kristal, however, said the bylaw was fine the way it stands, because no matter what criteria was set, someone would be offended.

Mr. Coogan agreed with the status quo, as long as there is a mechanism to appeal Mr. Barwick’s decisions.

“The only real criteria right now is safety,” Mr. Coogan said. “So if Ken makes a decision that a sign is completely safe but he doesn’t like the looks of it, a business can appeal to the zoning board.”

“Open” country

In answer to Mr. Coogan’s question about whether flags also fall under the signage bylaw, Mr. Barwick said he recently discovered they did.

Someone asked him whether an establishment on State Road that displays a flag that says “Open” was in violation of the bylaw, he said. Mr. Barwick checked with the Planning Board, which agreed that based on the bylaw, such a flag is considered a hanging sign and subject to restrictions based on location.

“If someone wants to display an ‘open’ flag that is less than eight feet in size, they can apply for a permit and get one,” Mr. Barwick explained.

He subsequently asked Daniele Dominick, owner of the Scottish Bakehouse, to remove the “open” flag she displays on her sign on State Road.

“The issue, as I understand, is that because I’m in a residential community, I have less allotment for a sign,” Ms. Dominick said at the meeting. She questioned why she is allowed a three-square-foot advertising flag, while someone in the business district is allowed an eight- to nine-square-foot one.

“Could she have an eight-foot American flag?” Mr. Kristal asked.

“Daniele’s business is located in a residential zone, where signs are limited to three square feet,” Mr. Barwick replied. “She can fly any other size national flag.”

“Is there a country called ‘Open’?” Mr. Kristal retorted.

Long-time community activist Harriet Barrow said she thought the issue seemed arbitrary.

“If you can have an American flag as big as this building, it is certainly more distracting than a sign that says open,” she argued. “As long as an American flag is not in the category of hazardous or unattractive, who is to say that ‘open’ is distracting? On top of which, I think it’s good that businesses in Tisbury have the opportunity to say look at us, here we are, please come and visit us.”

Mr. Kristal pointed out that removing “open” flags from businesses in the middle of June is bad timing, because people will be wondering if they are indeed open.”

Little House Café co-owner Steven Carreiro said he thought his establishment and its flag out front is at the root of the problem.

“I’d like to know who dug up this bylaw,” he said. “It seems a little foul to me. Somebody’s got an agenda.”

Mr. Israel encouraged him and Ms. Dominick to petition the Planning Board for a bylaw change.

Seeking an answer to his initial question, Mr. Barwick finally asked, “Where are we on the sandwich board signs?”

“Business as usual,” Mr. Coogan replied.

Fueling boats on Lake Tashmoo

The topic of fuel delivery to commercial fishing boats on Lake Tashmoo prompted another lengthy discussion.

Jeffrey Canha, representing the Commercial Fishermen in Tisbury (CFIT), informed the selectmen that the community-organized group would hold an emergency oil-spill drill at the end of Lake Street at the commercial bulkhead on Lake Tashmoo today at 10 am.

Under new fueling regulations for Lake Tashmoo that the selectmen approved in June 2010, the harbormaster, shellfish constable, fuel vendor and commercial fishermen must conduct a yearly drill.

The new fueling regulations added as an amendment to Tisbury’s waterways regulations allow a commercial fuel dealer in a truck to fuel commercial fishing vessels at the dock. The Tashmoo Management Committee and harbor management committee had recommended against allowing fueling of boats at town docks, piers, and landings.

The selectmen agreed to issue one fuel-vendor permit annually. For several years, Jay McMann of Island Fuel has delivered fuel at the dock. The selectmen said they would issue a request for proposals (RFP) and select a commercial fuel vendor on the basis of price and eligibility criteria. In addition, they agreed to issue five commercial permits to commercial fishermen who want to refuel their boats at the Lake Street dock.

Assistant town administrator Aase Jones said the town put out a request for proposals twice last year and once earlier this year. No one responded, including Mr. McMann. Since no vendor was selected, the selectmen did not issue commercial permits to two commercial fishermen who did apply for them.

With renewed interest this summer from commercial fishermen in fueling their boats on Lake Tashmoo this summer, Ms. Jones said, “Now we need to reactivate this by running another ad and ask Mr. McMann to respond to it.”

Selectman Jeff Kristal chastised CFIT for giving the selectmen only two days’ notice about the drill. Mr. Canha apologized. He said CFIT moved to schedule it quickly when they found out fueling at Lake Tashmoo was on the selectmen’s agenda.

Mr. Canha said the scheduled drill is also tied to the availability of the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Otis Emergency Spill Response Team this week. The drill will be videotaped in case there are town officials who are unable to attend, he added.

Mr. McMann also apologized to the selectmen, for not responding to the RFP. “I had a lot going on,” he said. “I just really didn’t see it. If I had seen it in paper, I would have responded.” Mr. McMann said the process to get financing and federal permits was a lot of work and he only recently received the last required permit.

Code Red test, public hearing

In other business, the selectmen agreed to schedule a test of the town’s “Code Red” reverse 9-1-1 emergency notification system by July 1. Mr. Bugbee said he would make sure the date is well advertised in advance.

The selectmen also scheduled a public hearing on July 12 to consider changes in the waterways regulations recommended by the Tashmoo Management Committee. They include a dinghy sticker program and overnight commercial mooring rentals.

Selectmen’s discussions

In the selectmen’s discussion session, Mr. Israel said a Dukes County commissioners asked about the Tisbury selectmen’s opinion on the roundabout proposed at blinker intersection on Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road in Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Israel said he thought adding right-hand turn lanes at the intersection would work better. Mr. Kristal said he was reluctant to comment because he didn’t know a lot about it, and then concluded that he agreed with Mr. Israel. Mr. Coogan said he has driven in many roundabouts and has no problems with them.

The selectmen admitted they had not read a report about the proposed roundabout by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) or testimony from a public hearing held in Oak Bluffs in April.

On another topic, Mr. Coogan suggested that in light of the financial difficulties and personnel shortages Oak Bluffs is facing, Tisbury should offer to lend a helping hand. For example, Tisbury town employees might help their counterparts out in Oak Bluffs if they have some occasional spare time during the work day, he said.

Housekeeping business

The selectmen also voted on a long list of appointed town officers, and board and committee members. Mr. Kristal objected to reappointing the Tashmoo Management Committee’s current members and said he would like to interview three new applicants to “see if we can get some new blood” to make the committee more functional.

“I’m tired of our harbormaster getting beat up every time he walks into a committee meeting,” Mr. Kristal said.

Long-time member Lynne Fraker objected to his characterization of the committee and pointed out its many accomplishments. The selectmen voted to take no action on the committee’s appointments and to interview the new applicants and talk to the current committee members at their next meeting.

In addition, they voted to approve a resolution in support of a state bottle deposit bill; a request to MassHighway for rough-cut granite curbing in the William Street Historic District to match Main Street’s; and a street license application for Martha’s Vineyard Excursions, a new Oak Bluffs-based charter tour service, to drive passengers up Main, Union, and Water Streets.