Chilmark chooses character over restaurant beer and wine

Squibnocket zoning change also gets the nod from voters at town meeting.

Chilmark will remain a bring-your-own-bottle town, as voters overwhelmingly rejected a petitioned article that would have allowed town leaders to issue up to five licenses for beer and wine.

At the height of Monday’s town meeting, 276 voters squeezed into the Chilmark Community Center to vote on the town’s annual business. By a vote of 162-93, voters rejected the proposal to allow restaurants with 50 seats or more to seek beer and wine licenses. Chilmark remains the only dry town on the Island.

Proponents pointed to West Tisbury and Aquinnah, where beer and wine are now served at restaurants with few problems, while opponents brought up Tisbury, where just three years after voters supported allowing beer and wine at restaurants, a ballot question now seeks to add liquor to the menu.

“Chilmark is not a dry town, it’s a BYOB town,” Jenna Petersiel, owner of Chilmark Tavern, said in making an impassioned plea to allow beer and wine. Ms. Petersiel said it would allow her business to be more competitive, to control the drinking of patrons, to stay open more, and to provide steady income for her 25 employees.

But as passionate as she was about the need, there were other speakers who talked about keeping Chilmark’s character intact. Kevin Oliver said he might eventually benefit from the change as proprietor of Menemsha Market, but said the tradition of Chilmark is too great to make the switch.

“Did you think we were waiting for you to get here to pop the cork?” asked voter Jane Slater. “Chilmarkers have been drinking successfully for 300 years.”

Beer and wine wasn’t the only issue creating a buzz at the nearly five-hour session.

By a vote of 109-51, voters approved a zoning change that essentially paves the way for a causeway to Squibnocket Farms. While the bridge had been approved at a previous town meeting, and moderator Everett Poole tried to steer debate away from that specific project, voters couldn’t help themselves.

Doug Liman, who filed suit in an attempt to block the project, kept referring to a photograph of the proposed causeway that he said showed it would tower over the beach. The image provoked emotions on both sides of the debate.

“If we allow this change to our zoning bylaw, this is how our beach will look,” he said, holding up the image.

Selectman Jim Malkin, in his presentation, referred to the image as a turtle’s point of view, saying it skewed how the finished product would look. In exchange for allowing property owners of Squibnocket Farms to build the causeway, the town gets beach access and an improved parking lot.

A second, similar amendment also passed by a similar vote, the two-thirds necessary to win approval of a zoning change.

The Squibnocket zoning was on a special town meeting warrant that opened the night. But at 7:30 pm, debate was halted abruptly to open the annual town meeting. That upset some voters who arrived, children in tow, to debate the issue.

Mr. Poole took a vote to see if voters wanted to go back to the special town meeting, but they approved pressing on with the town’s other business. It would be nearly three hours before debate returned to that hot-button issue, some of the young families having retreated to their homes.

Also approved at Monday’s town meeting was a $9.57 million budget, a 5.67 percent increase over the current year’s spending. It passed without a single question.

But when it came to spending $10,152 on the Healthy Aging Task Force’s First Stop MV program, the program’s leaders were forced to provide rationale for the spending. First Stop is a website that helps match the Island’s senior citizen population with services. Ultimately, voters approved it.

Voters also approved several Community Preservation Act funding articles, including $31,512 for the town’s portion of a new roof for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum at the 1895 Marine Hospital Building in Tisbury.

Chilmark became the latest town to endorse a nonbinding vote urged by We Stand Together that calls on the town not to spend any money in support of federal immigration policies.

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