Authors Posts by Michelle Gross

Michelle Gross

Michelle Gross

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The Martha’s Vineyard Commission held its eighth and final public hearing Thursday night before a packed audience. A decision is expected in June.

Marie Laursen, a vocal opponent of the Stop & Shop proposal, expressed her views on the subject to the Martha's Vineyard Commission Thursday night. — Ralph Stewart

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) concluded the public portion of its review of the Stop & Shop expansion project Thursday night before a roomful of opponents and supporters in the Tisbury senior center.

The MVC agreed to keep the public record open until May 8 for written comment. A decision is expected when the commission meets on June 5.

There was little new in the arguments for and against the project, which has ground through the MVC regulatory process as a development of regional impact (DRI) since July. But there was a new twist — opposition to the plan by two of the three Tisbury selectmen, Tristan Israel and Jon Snyder.

Stop & Shop proposes to consolidate three abutting properties and remove the existing buildings, including its existing store, in order to construct a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market. The plans also include a parking lot for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level beneath the market where trucks would unload.

Tisbury planning board member Tony Peak told commissioners his board had unanimously concluded that it could not support the size of the proposed market.

“At this time, the board has come to the conclusion that the project is too big and relied too much on public space and town resources to satisfy the basic elements of DRI requirements,” Mr. Peak said.

He urged the MVC to deny the Stop & Shop proposal. “The inability of the applicant to modify this plan requires us to look at this proposal, not as a template which may be adjusted to fit within the unique circumstances of this location, but as an absolute, which is incompatible with and inappropriate for the heart of a small New England village.”

Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said he would like to see a smaller store.

“I would like them to come back with a smaller, more tasteful plan and spend some time in the community and listen to all the sensibilities on all sides of the issue and then come back,” he said. “So I guess I’m urging you to deny this project.”

Tisbury selectman John Snyder said he spoke not as a representative of the town, but from his own personal perspective. “I find this design simply too large,” he said. “It bothers me that there is so much assumed to come from the town and I would also urge that we would go for a redesign, a smaller store, and not approve it as it is.”

West Tisbury resident Carol Gannon Salguero, one of the few voices of support Thursday, said she is a proponent of the new store, size and all.

“I want to speak very strongly in favor of the new Stop & Shop and I don’t object at all to the new design,” she said. “I hope that the commission approves the project and I hope that we can get on with getting a new Stop & Shop.”

Geoghan Coogan of the Edmond G. Coogan Law Office in Vineyard Haven, who represents Stop & Shop, for the final time described the benefits of the project, which he said includes the revitalization of Vineyard Haven.

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More than 584 Island households receive food stamps. Betty Burton wants to give residents a taste of living on $31.50 for a week.

Just after 12 noon on Good Friday, two hours before the doors of the First Baptist Church on the corner of Spring and William streets in Vineyard Haven were scheduled to open, a line of approximately 50 people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities began to form. Inside, a makeshift food pantry equipped with 8,500 pounds of healthy holiday fixings including ham, ground turkey, bags of apples, oranges, carrots, onions, potatoes, canned pineapple and a dozen eggs, were being prepped by a team of volunteers.

Within an hour, the line outside nearly doubled. By 3 pm, when all was said and done, 378 people, including 67 seniors and 98 children, had filtered through the church doors. Once the food had run out, Betty Burton, coordinator of the Family to Family program and director of Serving Hands, a volunteer run program that provides free food to those in need, handed out gift cards to Reliable Market.

“People don’t realize that there are many people who are in need on this Island,” Ms. Burton said.

Ms. Burton believes Friday’s food distribution is indicative of a larger issue.

“There is an extreme lack of awareness when it comes to food insecurity both on and off Island,” Ms. Burton said.

To date, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, has benefitted more than 47 million Americans, 876,992 living in Massachusetts, and 692 people on Martha’s Vineyard.

To heighten awareness of the issue, Ms. Burton is organizing a food stamp challenge that will ask participants to live on a weekly food budget of $31.50, roughly $4.50 a day or $1.50 per meal from Monday May 5 to Friday, May 9, which equates to the average monthly benefit.

“We want to inform the general public about what food stamps are, and how much, or little, $31.50 per week can get you,” Ms. Burton said. “We also want to let Islanders know where those in need can get extra food.”

As the name of the program suggests, SNAP is meant to be a supplemental form of assistance and is not intended to be the only source of income for food. The average monthly benefit for one person is around $126.

“As anyone who will take the challenge will learn, it is nearly impossible to do and still consume a healthy diet,” Ms. Burton said. “So, in the first place we’re trying to raise awareness of the general issue, which concerns all Americans, not just people on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Ms. Burton said the food stamp challenge is a good measure of the difficulties faced by millions of low-income Americans. “Here on Martha’s Vineyard, we’re lucky to have a place like Serving Hands and the Food Pantry. It’s hard to imagine what would happen if we didn’t have those resources.”

Challenge rules

The food stamp challenge rules are relatively straight-forward. Participants can only spend the equivalent of the state’s average weekly SNAP allowance which in Massachusetts, breaks down to $31.50 per person for the week.

Participants can’t accept any outside food or eat restaurant meals or use anything already in their pantry or refrigerator.

“Living on a food stamp budget for just a week could never come close to duplicating the struggles encountered by low-income families week after week, month after month,” Ms. Burton said. “What it will do, we hope, is give you a new perspective about hunger in America and renewed energy to help transform it from how it is into how it should be.”

Participants are asked to keep all receipts of their purchases as well as keep a running log all of their food and beverage spending over the course of the week. Ms. Burton has set up a Facebook page where participants can blog about their experiences during the challenge.

“The blog is important so we can learn from one another,” Ms. Burton said. “What did you have to give up? Coffee? Did that make you crabby for a few days? Tell us about it!”

Ms. Burton said the challenge is meant as a learning experience for those who participate.

“I think people will learn that it is next to impossible to have healthy meals on food stamps,” Ms. Burton said. “It is particularly difficult if you have children or someone in the home who has a chronic illness that requires a healthy diet.  In fact, we all need the vitamins, minerals and protein we can get from lots of fruits, vegetables and protein items. It’s very hard to do that on a food stamp budget.”

Food stamps MV

According to the state Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), as of  March 1, 2014, a total of 584 households on Martha’s Vineyard received SNAP benefits. The breakdown in the DTA’s report included 282 individuals spread across 195 households in Tisbury; 207 people across 107 households in Edgartown; 158 individuals across 105 households in Oak Bluffs; and 45 individuals across 19 households in Chilmark/Aquinnah.

SNAP benefits are funded by the federal government and administered by the DTA. Eligible residents include families with children, as well as the elderly and disabled, the working poor with limited income, or those who are temporarily unemployed or underemployed.

The DTA processes SNAP applications and confirms eligibility which is determined by a calculation that takes family size, citizenship status, and household income into consideration.

SNAP recipients must be a resident of the state and have a limited income and savings. For example, a single person must have an annual household income of less than $21,660 and a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) under $2,001. For a family of four, the income limit is $44,100.

SNAP benefits are delivered to an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. At a grocery check-out counter, the EBT card works like a debit card. It is used to  provide two forms of public assistance, SNAP funding and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

According to the DTA, participation in the SNAP program has increased dramatically over the past five years. In 2009, there were 211 SNAP households on Island. By 2013, the number had more than doubled to 466 households.

For more information or to participate in the food stamp challenge, email Betty Burton at

Food Assistance Programs

What: Serving Hands Food Distribution

Where: The First Baptist Church Parish House at the corner of William Street and Spring Streets, Vineyard Haven.

Serving Hands is a volunteer-run program of the Vineyard Committee on Hunger that provides free food — usually several bags of groceries — once a month to those in need.Food is distributed on the Friday following the fourth Thursday of the month from 2 to 3 pm, year-round.

What: Family-to-Family Holiday Meals

Where: First Baptist Church Parish House, Vineyard Haven

Family-to-Family is a program that provides the ingredients for a traditional holiday meal including turkey, dressing, squash, eggs, and bags of apples, oranges, onions, and carrots to families in need the Friday before Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

What: Island Food Pantry

Where: The United Methodist Church of Martha’s Vineyard/ Christ Mission Life Center (“The Stone Church”)

Open six months a year, clients receive three bags of groceries, twice a month from October 15 to April 15.  Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday 2–4 pm.

On the firstand 14th day of the month, they receive a $25 Stop & Shop card.

What: Community Suppers

Where: Old Whaling Church, Chilmark Community Church, West Tisbury Congregational Church, Saint Augustine’s Catholic Church, Grace Episcopal Church, Trinity Methodist Church, Federated Church.

A warm dinner is available seven nights a week from January through March.

What: Lunches at the senior centers

Where: Howes House, Tisbury Senior Center, Island Elderly Housing, Oak Bluffs Council on Aging

A nutritious lunch is provided at all three down-Island senior centers and Howes House in West Tisbury during the week.  A $2 contribution is welcome, but seniors can also receive it for free.

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As the Martha’s Vineyard Commission prepares to hold its eighth and possibly final public hearing, opponents have launched an online petition drive.

The most recent rendering of the new two-story, 30,500-square-foot Stop & Shop supermarket. — Photo illustration courtesy of M

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) will pick up where it left off when it meets on Thursday, May 1 to consider a Stop & Shop proposal to build a new, larger supermarket on the site of its now decrepit Vineyard Haven store.

This will be the eighth public hearing in a review process that has ground on since July. The likelihood that the MVC is approaching a vote on the proposal has energized opponents.

Last week, a group of Islanders met to organize and plan a strategy that includes letter writing and speaking in opposition to the project at the public hearing Thursday.

Lillian Robinson of Vineyard Haven created an online petition titled, “Martha’s Vineyard Commission: save the Island from overdevelopment,” on, a petition hosting site created by the nonprofit political action group. Ms. Robinson plans to present the petition to the MVC. By Friday afternoon the petition had received more than 900 signatures from Island residents and people living around the country.

On fire

“The average Trader Joe’s is 10,000 sq ft. and carries about everything a community needs,” a petition signer identified as Don Keller of Vineyard Haven wrote. “Fifty thousand square feet is crazy, especially at 5 ft above sea level. And it all has to be heated and cooled, adding to our carbon footprint. I do not think we need a supersized store at that location.”

A signer identified as Paul Attanasio of Beverly Hills, California said, “Stop this expansion; it will be an eyesore in the harbor and aggravate traffic congestion. Keep Vineyard Haven small!”

A Vineyard Haven resident identified as Allen Birol said, “Martha’s Vineyard Island is not the place for Parking Garages and Supermarkets.”

Vineyard Haven resident Ben Robinson said he and his sister and a group of like-minded Islanders began the petition effort because they are concerned about the size, scale and environmental impacts of a larger store.

“This is the first online petition on the Island and it really just shows the power of being able to give people a voice to say what they really want to say,” Mr. Robinson said. “It’s caught fire, not just on the Island, but also on the Cape and all over the world.”

Mr. Robinson said he was not surprised by the number of signatures, and considers some of the comments under the signatures illuminating. “People on the Cape in places like Falmouth are warning us and I think those comments are really critical,” Mr. Robinson said. “They’re saying, what are you doing, why are you even contemplating something like this.”

Mr. Robinson said he expects the petition to reach over 2,000 signatures by May 1. “I’m not that surprised about how many people have said this project is crazy, because we think it is crazy,” he said. “I think a renovation of the store is perfectly fine, but it has to be within the scale of the downtown.”

The petition states several reasons why the MVC should vote to deny Stop & Shops application. These include inappropriate scale and character, traffic impacts,  economic impacts, environmental and quality-of-life impacts.

The resumption of the hearing process follows a hearing on  March 20. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 6 pm in the Tisbury Senior Center and will be the eighth in the series since the MVC  began its review in July.

Best interests

Stop & Shop proposes to consolidate three abutting properties and remove the existing buildings, including its existing store, in order to construct a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market. The plans also include a parking lot for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level beneath the market where trucks would unload.

Stop & Shop has agreed to fund traffic control officers at the Five Corners intersection, and continue to work with Tisbury on the design of the town-owned municipal lot adjacent to the store.

In an essay published February 19 (The benefits of a new Stop & Shop)

The new market would replace a trio of decrepit buildings.
The new market would replace a trio of decrepit buildings.


Geoghan Coogan of the Edmond G. Coogan Law Office in Vineyard Haven, who represents Stop & Shop, described the benefits of the project.

“Stop & Shop has proposed to replace its current tired and inadequate Water Street store with a beautiful new store that, beyond all measure, will meet the needs of the community, benefit the town of Tisbury, revitalize the center of Vineyard Haven, and in the process encourage future investment in a downtown area that sorely needs reinvestment as the gateway to the Vineyard,” Mr. Coogan, a former Tisbury selectman said.

Outlining the facts of the project, Mr. Coogan said the footprint of the new building is just 6,500 square feet larger than the existing footprint of the buildings currently on site and the height is dictated by new regulations.

“Yes, the building is higher, as will all renovated buildings be along Water Street, given new state regulations for the flood plain,” Mr. Coogan said. “Taller buildings along Water Street are unavoidable, a minimum of eight feet taller. The proposed Stop & Shop building height at 33 feet, in fact, is lower than the proposed new Island Housing Trust building next door and below the current zoning requirements.”

Mr. Coogan said, “Stop & Shop is smartly utilizing the space beneath the building created to comply with the proposed floodplain elevation to provide 42 parking spaces beneath the structure. The proposed plan relocates the truck deliveries from the Norton Lane side of the store to a completely enclosed receiving area to the rear of the building.”

Mr. Coogan said the project would also create new jobs and new opportunities to revitalize the area. “The downside of not moving forward with this project is business as usual in Vineyard Haven, and that is not in the best interest of anyone — the town of Tisbury, its residents, and Stop & Shop,” he said.

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Anita Walker (left), executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Amy Ryan, director of the Vineyard Haven library, take a minute to talk shop in the Bunch of Grapes bookstore on Main Street. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Vineyard Haven wants to get on the map. Literally. On Thursday, representatives of the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) and a handful of town and Island officials toured downtown Vineyard Haven and stopped in at a number of businesses as part of an application process to designate Vineyard Haven a state cultural district.

If approved, the designation would put Vineyard Haven on the state arts and culture map, said Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.

“Because Vineyard Haven is the year-round gateway to the Island, establishing a cultural district is a way of telling everyone who leaves the ferry that they are coming to a special place, a place that celebrates arts and culture,” Ms. Gardella said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse artistic and executive director MJ Bruder-Munafo led the tour that began at 1 pm at the Vineyard Haven Library and included stops at the Playhouse, CB Stark Jewelers, Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, the cupola deck of the Mansion House and The Martha’s Vineyard Times.

The tour culminated with a brief boat ride around Vineyard Haven Harbor followed by a round-table discussion at the Katharine Cornell Theater.

Town administrator Jay Grande, Tisbury selectmen Jeff Kristal, and Martha’s Vineyard Commission economic development and affordable housing planner Christine Flynn joined the outing.

“This designation is something that could be very important for the town and for the local community, especially local businesses,” Ms. Flynn told The Times.

As defined by the MCC, a  cultural district is “a specific geographical area in a city or town that has a concentration of cultural facilities, activities, and assets. It is a walkable, compact area that is easily identifiable to visitors and residents and serves as a center of cultural, artistic and economic activity.”

Communities must apply to the MCC’s cultural districts program in order to be considered. To date, the program has designated 23 cultural districts throughout the state.

“It’s a fairly comprehensive process,” said Anita Walker, the MCC’s executive director. “What’s great about taking the walking tour is meeting the people involved and getting a sense of the community’s support.”

Following Thursday’s site visit, Ms. Walker said the MCC will review Vineyard Haven’s management plan, strategic goals, cultural assets, public infrastructure, and marketing plan.

A decision on the designation will be made as early as May 15.

If the Vineyard Haven plan is approved, the state will provide official signage that the town can post within the designated area. The Vineyard Haven Cultural District would have a searchable online presence among other designated districts on state-sponsored websites, and it would be included in marketing material.

The proposed cultural district would bind institutions like the Playhouse, the Bunch of Grapes, the library and the MV Film Center together with art galleries and local arts-related businesses (like designer boutiques and jewelers) into one unified area.

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Charles Hajjar, of Haven Road Realty Trust, is proposing to construct ten apartments in the existing second floor attic space in Post Office Square. — Photo by Michelle Gross

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) Thursday voted 8-2 to approve a plan by Boston based developer Charles Hajjar to build a total of eight second story apartments in the Post Office Square complex in Edgartown.

The vote on the development of regional impact (DRI) came at the conclusion of the MVC’s second public hearing on a project that had raised objections from neighborhood critics who cited concerns about increased parking problems, traffic, and late night noise.

At the MVC’s first public hearing on the project, Mr. Hajjar presented a plan for ten apartments with a total of 20 bedrooms. Thursday night, Mr. Hajjar presented a revised proposal to build 8 apartments with a total of 15 bedrooms. He also included a 25 percent reduction in the scope of the overall project,  limitations on tenant parking, a revised landscaping and parking plan, a change from exterior to interior stairways and a condition that the units could not be sold or transferred for a period of 10 years.

“This is the right place for this development,” said attorney Sean Murphy, Mr. Hajjar’s representative. “I know people aren’t happy about it, but it’s the right place, we have limited ability to provide multi-family housing on the Vineyard and these structures are already there, all we have to do is dormer them out.”

The complex is located in the town’s BII business district and abuts the Dark Woods neighborhood and the Edgartown Park & Ride lot. Mr. Murphy said the changes to the proposal were a direct result of the April 3rd hearing.

“We listened to what direct abutters and neighbors had to say about it and the concerns that were raised,” Mr. Murphy said.

There are a total of 16 business units in the Post Office Square complex. Edgartown Meat & Fish and Granite Hardware operate in two of the buildings. The apartments will be built above the existing businesses.

Commissioners cite housing need

Throughout Thursday’s hearing, commissioners noted the need for affordable year-round housing on the Island.

“If you’re telling us that the reason we should approve is that we’re creating rental apartments that are sorely needed on the Island on the one hand but then say we’re only going to make them rental apartments for five years, to me, that undercuts your other argument,” commissioner Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs said.

Mr.  Hajjar, who did not attend the first public hearing but was present Thursday night, responded. “I’ve never turned a building condo and I’ve never sold a unit,” he said. “I’m in the real estate business for the long term, we take real good care of our property, we make sure we put the right tenants in, and we manage real well.”

Commissioner John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs asked Mr. Hajjar to define primary residence. “The market is a year-round, 12-month lease,” Mr. Murphy said. “I know you’re worried about enforcement, I understand that, but you have to have some faith that when he [Mr. Hajjar] rents these things, they’re going to be to the right people.”

Commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury noted the benefits and detriments of traffic and parking in the area. “I think there are some obvious problems which we might describe as mixing a sort of urban concept with a nearby neighborhood,” she said. “It’s difficult that these two things are so close to each other, but I actually think that this is the right place.”

Ms. Sibley reiterated what she called an “extreme need” for additional workforce housing on the Island. “The need for this is outweighing the problems,” Ms. Sibley said.

No worse

Unlike the first hearing, few people spoke in opposition. Dan Seidman, representing the Dukes County Regional Housing Association, said there is a need for affordable housing on the Island.

“It would be really nice if the person who had this plan would designate two units, three units to affordable housing, that’s where we have the maximum need on this Island,” Mr. Seidman said. “The problem is there will be people who won’t be able to afford it.”

Edgartown resident Harriet Hoar asked Mr. Murphy for more information on apartment rents.

“I can’t give an actual definition because it’s driven by the market,” Mr. Murphy said. “We anticipate $1,500-$1,700, it depends on what people are willing to pay.”

Edgartown resident Gregory Palermo addressed potential traffic issues in the area. “I think that this project has the potential to have a lot bigger impact on the traffic problems than is being considered,” he said. “Everyone agrees that it’s a nightmare, I think that this project will make a nightmare worse and I urge you all to turn it down.”

Edgartown resident Alice Upham said she has lived in town for 24 years and every year traffic only seems to get worse. “I just don’t want to see this go through,” she said. “I hope you vote it down.”

In his closing statement, Mr. Murphy addressed traffic, parking, and the need for housing on the Island. “We keep hearing about the traffic,  and I agree the traffic is horrible in that area, but these apartments are not going to make it any better or any worse,” he said.

The Edgartown planning board had strongly endorsed the project.  In a letter to the MVC dated June 24, 2013, the planning board asked the MVC to waive a mandatory traffic study, stating that an earlier study was sufficient and that town boards were more than capable of reviewing the project and attaching conditions.

The MVC approved the project with no conditions.

Voting for the project were Tripp Barnes of Tisbury, James Joyce of Edgartown, Douglas Sederholm of Chilmark, John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs, Christina Brown of Edgartown, Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs, Linda Sibley of West Tisbury and Brian Smith of West Tisbury. Madeline Fisher of Edgartown and Lenny Jason of Chilmark voted no.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Edgartown lofts project developer Charles Hajjar, planned to construct 15 apartments. Mr. Hajjar will construct 8 apartments for a total of 15 bedrooms.

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For many Jews on Martha’s Vineyard, Passover evokes tradition, remembrance, and reflection.

Rabbi Caryn Broitman, shown in this file photo from November, discusses the meaning of Passover. Ms. Broitman is the first year-round Rabbi at the Hebrew Center, where she has served since 2003. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Passover is a holiday steeped in symbolism and rich in tradition. And of course, an abundance of food. The holiday’s meaning, depending on who you ask, can be interpreted in many ways. However the story of Passover, marking the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt and their journey to freedom, is a story that will be retold at the Seder tables, synagogues, dining rooms, and meeting places of millions of Jews around the world next week.

This story of Passover remains just as important today as ever, Rabbi Caryn Broitman of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center told The Times.

“Pesach is a holiday that combines the themes of spring — the miracle of rebirth — with the themes of history and contemporary politics, oppression and liberation,” she said. “These themes are as poignant for us today as they were for our ancestors thousands of years ago. It is also a story that has been adopted by many people of many places who are struggling for freedom. The story that the One God hears the cries of the oppressed and takes the side of the oppressed is both radical and powerful.”

Passover, or Pesach, is traditionally observed in the Jewish religion for eight days. This year, it takes place between sundown on Monday, April 14, and the evening of Tuesday, April 22. The date for Passover is determined by the astronomically based Jewish calendar.

Twelve-year-old Rose Herman, a sixth grader at the Tisbury School and a member of the Hebrew Center, has been looking forward to Passover. She said she loves to celebrate just as much for the tradition as the food.

“Passover is my all-time favorite holiday in the whole entire world,” Rose told The Times Monday. “I love Passover; I think it’s so much fun just having everybody at the table. I think it’s a lot of fun just being with friends and family and the food is always really good.”

Rose said she particularly enjoys the symbolism expressed throughout the Seder dinner, including the meaning behind the story of the “four sons.”

“It has some really interesting concepts that we can discuss and talk about as a group,” Rose said. “When I was eight, I learned about the four sons and all their different personalities, and you get into learning about different details about them. I think they’re so cool.”

Other traditions Rose said are particularly meaningful to her, are when her parents play the song “Exodus,” by Bob Marley before the Seder and of course the familiar taste of matzo ball soup. “My mom and grandma alternate making matzo ball soup but that is one of the biggest reasons why I love Passover so much,” Rose said. “That’s like my favorite food in the whole world.”

Seder is a word that means order, and refers to the “order” of the ritual, which includes the meal in the midst of the order as a part of the “offering.” The meal is itself structured to be a part of the retelling of the story of the Exodus by incorporating symbolic items and actions as part of it.

Herb Foster, an 86-year-old member of the Hebrew Center, said Passover is a time to reflect on the past, while catching up with friends of the present.

“You see friends, you talk, I always enjoy a good Seder,” Herb told The Times. “Some people like to bitch, especially if it goes too long, but I always enjoy all of the singing and prayers and eating that comes with it.”

Mr. Foster recounted stories about Passover from his youth spent in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

“Every year we would always do the same thing,” Mr. Foster said. “My father would lead the Seder and we would all sing the four questions in Yiddish.”

Of course the telling of the Passover story is synonymous with the food.

Considered by some to be a culinary delight, and others to be, well, just plain bad, Herb said his favorite food to eat on Pesach is gefilte fish,  a soggy, often store-bought jar of ground fish with onions, starch, and eggs.

“It’s not for everybody,” Mr. Foster said. “But it’s definitely my favorite. Especially with a little bit of red stuff, you know, horseradish. That’s Passover.”

A Conversation with Rabbi Broitman

How are you preparing as Pesach approaches? Do you have a routine? A ritual?

Pesach (or Passover) is a holiday that involves lots of preparation. And it should, because we are reenacting/reliving/recreating a very deep process of moving from slavery to freedom and rebirth. That is not a simple process to relate to. And we are charged with not just understanding it but reliving it.

So the first part of the process is to prepare ourselves spiritually by understanding the places in our lives both physically and spiritually where we are not free or not truly alive, and ask ourselves what we need to do and pray for to become liberated and truly alive.

Alongside this spiritual element is the very physical one of cleaning our homes of what we call “Hametz.” Hametz is anything leavened that we are not allowed to eat over Passover.  This includes breads, cookies, pasta and more. We give all that away, clean all our cupboards, refrigerators and ovens, replace any old food in our cupboards with new, and clean all those corners with which we usually have a tacit agreement to live and let live. It is a very rigorous process. Some of us, like my family, also change our dishes and pots and pans to ones that are special for Passover.  Passover is a New Year when we start afresh and everything is clean and new. Once we finish cleaning and turning over our kitchens, we are ready to prepare the Seder meal which is a meal of both celebration and remembrance. We remember the oppression of our ancestors and people all over the world by eating the Matzah, called the “bread of poverty.” But we also celebrate the freedom and blessings in our lives.

Pesach is celebrated over the course of several days. Why is that? Can you explain the significance/reasoning?

The Torah, in the book of Exodus 12:14-20, says “Seven days you shall not eat unleavened bread” and that the first day and the seventh day of that period is a holiday when we do not work.  According to Jewish tradition, the seventh day celebrates the crossing of the Red Sea.  So Passover spans seven days and is traditionally extended to eight days for those living in the diaspora (outside the Land of Israel).

What are some of your favorite Passover traditions?

Passover is a very food-centered holiday and some of my favorite traditions involve memories of special Passover foods from childhood.  Of course, I love the Seders, with its beautiful singing and discussions of things that really matter.

How is Pesach celebrated on the Island/at at Hebrew Center?

Pesach is very home-centered so many of our members get together with family and friends for their Seders and observe a mix of traditions old and new.  We also have a wonderful community Seder with over 100 people.

Tell me about the Seder.

Seder means order and it is a dramatization through symbolic foods, songs, rituals, and discussions of the going out of Egypt into freedom.

For many Jews, Passover is a time of remembrance and contemplating freedom. How would you say this could be interpreted in modern times?

Pesach is a holiday that combines the themes of spring — the miracle of rebirth — with the themes of history and contemporary politics — oppression and liberation. These themes are as poignant for us today as they were for our ancestors thousands of years ago. It is also a story that has been adopted by many people of many places who are struggling for freedom. The story that the One God hears the cries of the oppressed and takes the side of the oppressed is both radical and powerful.

The specific requirement of Pesach is actually to see ourselves as experiencing the struggle for freedom, not just see it as something that happened long ago. So part of Pesach is to apply the ancient story of freedom to today’s struggles for justice and freedom. Just as an example, I don’t know that many Americans realize that some of our food, including some chocolate and some tomatoes, are harvested in slave-like conditions . And for me, the very unequal access to health care, education, civil rights as well as the uneven treatment in our criminal justice system are crying for change. There are so many of these freedom struggles, both here on the Island, in our country, and around the world. What are these struggles? What struggles to we want to play our part to bring justice and liberation? These are questions to reflect on and discuss at each of our Seder tables.

What is the message of Pesach?

For me, one of the main messages of Pesach is what I said above: God hears the cries of the oppressed and is on the side of the oppressed.  It is therefore up to us to raise our own voices as well as hear the cries of others. This process is a communal one. Oppression usually happens through a system where a lot of people participate either passively or actively. So freedom comes when a lot of people work together for change. Moses was the leader.  But it took a lot of courage for everyone else to get up and go.

Pesach is also about family, community, and connection. We celebrate along with Jews all over the world who recite the same story and partake in the same rituals. We have been doing this ritual for 2,000 years. It is moving for me to be a part of that, and I think there is a message to all of us that as much as we are individuals, we are also part of communities and traditions larger than ourselves.

Favorite family recipe: Ruth Stiller’s Matzoh Ball Soup.

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Voters approved a $30.6 million budget and all but one article in under three hours.

Edgartown voters gathered in the Old Whaling Church were in an approving mood. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Edgartown voters moved swiftly and for the most part efficiently through special and annual town-meeting warrants Tuesday. Gathered in the Old Whaling Church, voters approved a $30,622,163 operating budget for fiscal 2015, which begins on July 1, and all but one article on the annual town meeting warrant.

Voters agreed to help fund regional efforts to save the Gay Head Light and ACE MV, a continuing education program. And they agreed to impose new regulations on fertilizer use as part of an Island-wide effort.

Frustrated by the meeting hall’s poor acoustics, voters continually urged town officials seated at the head of the room to use the microphone.

A total of 190 voters, or 5.8 percent of the town’s 3,262 registered voters, attended to the town’s business.

“It was a very small turnout for town meeting,” Edgartown clerk Wanda Williams told The Times. “There must have been more interesting things on TV, like the Sox game.”

The town got down to business with a special town meeting with a proposal to change the status of the job of town clerk from elected to appointed. The change was approved, 83-66.

On to the annual

Town poet laureate and dock builder Steve Ewing opened the annual meeting by reciting “Town Memories,” in which he recounted life “back in the day,” in and around Edgartown.

Following protracted applause, longtime moderator Philip “Jeff” Norton, who’s held the gavel since back in the day himself, turned the voters’ attention to the annual town meeting.

Voters turned down only one article on the 66-article warrant, a request to appropriate $250,000 for the Edgartown Affordable Housing Committee’s Meshacket Road Project. At issue was progress to date and details on a project that few voters knew much about.

Tim Rush, a member of the housing committee, explained that at last year’s town meeting the committee requested $250,000 to begin the project. Voters approved $250,000 for clearing and utility work on the nine-acre parcel off Meshacket Road but ran into hurdles associated with protected moth species.

“What we’re looking for is we’re trying to get things back on track,” Mr. Rush said.

“This money is going to help keep the process moving forward to accomplish the building on that piece of property, which is what we set it aside for,” selectman Margaret Serpa said.

Speaking to the article, Jim Athearn, owner of Morning Glory Farm which abuts the property, said the housing group had not presented a plan that preserved open space nor consulted adequately with the neighbors about the proposed project.

In a standing vote, the article was defeated by a vote of 86-68.

Yes to DCPC

Voters approved regulations to create a district of critical planning concern (DCPC), known as the Martha’s Vineyard Lawn Fertilizer Control district, which will overlay the entire Island. But they did so only after an amendment to delete an exemption for the application of fertilizer for agricultural or horticultural use.

Selectman Michael Donaroma, owner of a landscaping company and nursery that bears his name, said he supports the DCPC and asked that the article be amended to include horticultural use.

“I just don’t feel that agricultural and horticultural people like myself should be exempt,” Mr. Donaroma said.

The change to an article that is identical in language to one that appears on all town warrants created a wrinkle in the DCPC process.

Town counsel Ronald Rappaport explained that by amending the regulations, the article would likely need to go back to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) for a conformance determination and to the board of health, also.

“It is possible that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the board of health would not approve this change, and if that’s the case we’re sort of in limbo because we would have a regulation that we voted but that they didn’t approve,” Mr. Rappaport said.

MVC senior planner Bill Veno said the amendment will not change the process. “I think the amendment you just approved won’t have any effect on the regulations of the bill,” Mr. Veno said.

The fertilizer measure, which claimed six pages of the 22-page warrant, will create a uniform set of regulations to protect water bodies from the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, through the creation of a district of critical planning concern (DCPC) known as the Island-wide Martha’s Vineyard Lawn Fertilizer Control District.

Voters happily granted $84,000 of free cash to police Chief Tony Bettencourt to purchase and equip two cruisers, as well as $50,000 for radios, cameras, and equipment he said he needed to get the job done.

Edgartown voters unanimously approved several bylaws, including zoning changes to add registered marijuana dispensaries (RMD) as a use allowed by special permit in the B-II Upper Main Street district, and to govern curb cuts and driveways in B-II districts.

Voters agreed with little discussion to approve several Community Preservation Act appropriations for a range of projects that include a $350,000 renovation of the town hall.

Voters said yes to contributing $149,704 to help relocate the Gay Head Lighthouse as part of a regional effort. The article passed with a small round of applause.

Another regional request for support netted ACE MV $27,765.

After nearly three hours, and with just two articles to go, including a request to fund pest management, one voter asked for the definition of a pest, as well as what means are used to trap pests. Town administrator Pamela Dolby responded by saying the traps referred to are used only by the school department and the harbormaster department, not by the town hall.

“You don’t think there’s any rats in town hall?” Mr. Norton quipped. “We should put it to a vote,” he said to a round of laughs and applause from voters.

The meeting concluded just after 10 pm.

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Architect Charles Orlando presented structural plans for Edgartown lofts at a MVC public hearing Thursday night. — Michelle Gross

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) held its first public hearing on the Edgartown lofts project Thursday before a room full of mostly neighborhood critics, who cited concerns about increased parking problems, traffic, and late night noise.

Boston based developer and seasonal Oak Bluffs resident Charles Hajjar proposes to build one three-bedroom apartment, eight two-bedroom apartments, and one one-bedroom apartment, a total of 20 bedrooms in the loft space of the Post Office Square complex, which now houses the Edgartown Post Office and several businesses.

The plan includes a reconfigured parking lot that would add 15 parking spots. The complex is located in the town’s BII business district and abuts the Dark Woods neighborhood and the Edgartown Park & Ride lot.

The MVC has scheduled a second public hearing on April 17.

Year-round rentals

The apartments are intended to be “reasonably priced” year-round rentals, Sean Murphy, an Edgartown lawyer representing Mr. Hajjar, told the commissioners Thursday night.

“What he does is apartment rentals,” Mr. Murphy told commissioners. “He doesn’t do high-end luxury housing, he doesn’t do condos, he just does apartments. The reason he chose this location, while it certainly has drawbacks, because of traffic and parking, is because of the smart growth principles that everybody stresses out here.”

Project engineer George Sourati of Vineyard Haven based Sourati Engineering Group, discussed the redesign of the Post Office Square parking lot.

“It’s a great improvement over the existing conditions,” Mr. Sourati said. “We’re getting 15 spaces, it’s a much safer parking lot. It works.”

Architect Charles Orlando presented commissioners with draft elevations and hand-drawn designs of the lofts and the lot.

The height of the structure will remain the same, and the apartments will be separated by “dormers” or wall separators, Mr. Orlando said. The proposal also includes planting 10 14-foot trees to mask two new exterior sets of stairs.

“The units are quite nice. They range from 900 to 1,400 square feet; they’re quite large,” Mr. Orlando said. “There’s going to be more insulation and more sound proofing between the retail space below and the housing units above.”

There are a total of 16 business units in the Post Office Square complex. Edgartown Meat & Fish and Granite Hardware operate in two of the buildings.

MVC, planning board views

Throughout the presentation, commissioners asked few questions.

Commissioner John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs asked if there would be a space for children to play.

“We don’t anticipate children,” Mr. Murphy said. He said the complex isn’t family oriented. “We do not anticipate families. We anticipate younger couples. There’s not outdoor space here; it’s not really family oriented.”

Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs asked about subletting restrictions on the year-round rentals.

Mr. Murphy said management would be onsite regularly. “If you rent from him (Mr. Hajjar) that’s it, there no subletting, you’re the tenant.”

Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, MVC hearing chairman, questioned how much space existed between the complex and Dark Woods Road.

Trip Barnes of Tisbury asked if the apartments might later become condos and be sold. The answer was no.

The Edgartown planning board has strongly endorsed the project.  In a letter to the MVC dated June 24, 2013, the planning board asked the MVC to waive a mandatory traffic study, stating that an earlier study was sufficient and that town boards were more than capable of reviewing the project and attaching conditions.

The planning board has come under fire from opponents of the project, a fact that planning board chairman Robert Sparks noted in his comments.

“We are elected public officials, we give our time, our expertise at no compensation, and two of the letters in your packet are from people complaining about the board and call us at best unprofessional and at worst probably criminal and that we make decisions on the planning board based upon a sliding scale of chumminess with people that come before our board,” Mr. Sparks said. “Just so everybody knows, none of us has ever met Mr. Hajjar before he applied. We do our job, based on what we think is best and what is in the best interest of the town, and we thank you for going over this. We have lot to say about traffic, but I just wanted the board to hear that, because frankly, I find it outrageous. So far this year we’ve been called Nazis, communists, murderers, and now we’re corrupt public officials.”

Edgartown planning board member Michael McCourt noted that Post Office Square business owners support the project.

“I do have some questions on the parking situation. That is a concern of all of us, especially when we live in Edgartown,” Mr. McCourt said. “In hindsight, if this plan has been approved by the businesses in the triangle, they know their businesses better than I, and if they feel this parking plan is good, then I’m all for it.”

Lofty objections

Several abutters spoke about the existing congestion at The Triangle, where traffic from Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven merge to enter downtown Edgartown, as well as the regulation of the public lot.

Fred Roven, whose real estate office is located on the north side of Mariners Way, said parking was among his biggest concerns.

“I’m concerned about a number of things, but one has to do with the nature of the parking in the current area,” Mr. Roven said. “Most of it is short term parking.”

Kevin Ryan of Edgartown had many concerns. “I have such a long list, I’ll try and keep it to the five things I’m most concerned about,” Mr. Ryan said. “I’m here just because none of this project makes sense to me as somebody that lives in, drives through, and utilizes these areas in Edgartown.”

Mr. Ryan’s concerns centered around the parking lot.

“It is short term parking already,” Mr. Ryan said. “I really have an issue with the idea that we only need to add 14 spaces. It’s unrealistic, and I think it’s crazy to think that that’s going to solve the problem.”

Mr. Ryan also recommended that snow removal be a requirement in the lot.

“Snow removal should be a requirement,” Mr. Ryan said. “The owner should have to be responsible for having the snow removed from the site going forward.”

Abutter Dianne Smith also expressed concern about the lot. “My concern, aside from the issue of enforcement, is that there is no way to really enforce parking, traffic, or anything else in this lot with regard to public officials, because this is a private lot,” Ms. Smith said. “And currently it’s not being very well taken care of by the current owner, who’s had it for a year.”

Jeff White, also an abutter, said the loft project is the right idea, but in the wrong location.

“I don’t think it’s the right place,” Mr. White said. “This area in Post Office Square is just too dense. The density of this area and the resulting congestion has already, in my opinion, exceeded acceptable levels.”

Mr. White implored commissioners to flesh the project out as thoroughly as possible. “We have the opportunity through this Martha’s Vineyard Commission DRI  process to control what happens, and I hope, and I encourage, the commission to look at all this data very carefully so that the best can be done for the most people.”

Fred Fournier, a landscape architect who is also an abutter to the project, said, “Its our neighborhood, and we’re concerned about it, and that’s why we’re here to discuss it.”

Mark Saccone, a direct abutter, took a diplomatic approach. “It’s impossible for me to say anything without sounding petty,” Mr. Saccone said. “This ends life as I know it for my house, it does. But if we’re very sure that the whole town is going to benefit from this, if we’re very, very certain, far be it for me to come off like some parochial jerk. I’m not that kind of person. But, I just want you to know that somebody does live back there, and I’ve been sitting here thinking, how do I go home and tell my wife that by her garden is going to be a sewer grinder pump station not five feet away?”

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— Ralph Stewart

Edgartown voters will gather in the Old Whaling Church on Main Street Tuesday, April 8, at 7 pm, to take up a 66-article  annual town meeting warrant and a $30.6 million operating budget for the 2015 fiscal year (FY15), which begins on July 1.

The annual meeting warrant includes a slate of Community Preservation Act committee funding requests and several articles related to purchases and town repairs, as well as regional requests for money to support adult education and the Gay Head Lighthouse relocation.

The warrant and budget underscore the town’s reputation for conservative management. Edgartown’s FY15 operating budget will increase from $29,925,936 to $30,622,163, a modest 2.3 percent.

Edgartown selectman Arthur Smadbeck said he expects a relatively straight-forward annual town meeting, because there are no capital projects or borrowing requests on this year’s warrant.

“My guess is that the only thing that’s going to cause a lot of discussion next Tuesday is article 48, which deals with fertilizer regulations, because it’s very long and very complex,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “It’s kind of a giant enigma at this point. As far as how it’s going to be enforced and who’s going to do the enforcing, that’s a whole other side of it altogether.”

On Thursday, April 10, voters go to the polls between 10 am and 7 pm in the town hall. There are no contested jobs on the Edgartown ballot this year. Incumbent selectman Margaret Serpa is running for re-election, as is incumbent assessor Alan Gowell. There are no candidates on the ballot for the one seat on the board of health or a seat on the planning board.

Budget bumps

Town spending will increase slightly in several departments.

Education represents 36 percent of the total budget. The high school assessment decreased slightly from $4,050,582 to $3,996,893. However, Edgartown School salaries increased, from $4,929,950 to $5,176,129, and expenses rose also, from $686,159 to $702,459. The total cost of educating town children will increase from $10,704,330 to $11,134,353.

In general government — town administrative functions that include the offices of the selectmen, treasurer, clerk, zoning board of appeals, and council on aging — there is a modest hike proposed, from $2,252,927 to $2,265,452.

Protection of persons and property, which includes the police, fire, and shellfish departments, will increase by $108,973 from $4,375,600 to $4,484,574.  Police department salaries will increase by $35,227, from $2,492,964 to $2,528,192.  Edgartown ambulance service salaries will rise from $583,169  to $603,760. Fire department salaries will increase from $193,624 to $204,897.

The cost of the Edgartown Public Library, often in the news over the past few weeks, will increase modestly from $526,712 to $541,781.

Unclassified expenses including employee retirement, pension fund and insurance benefits, including health insurance and Medicare, will increase from $4,862,034 to $5,240,593 in FY15.

Edgartown’s share of regional services will also increase. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission assessment will jump by $47,710, from $336,333 to $384,043.


Mr. Smadbeck said he expects voters to move briskly through the warrant.

“There are no overrides this year, so I think this should be a relatively easy and straightforward town meeting,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “It’s mostly just stuff that we have every year, like getting the roads fixed and taking care of the shellfish department.”

The fertilizer article, which claims six pages of the 22-page warrant, will be placed before voters in the six Island towns, and would create one set of regulations to protect water bodies from the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, through the creation of a district of critical planning concern (DCPC) known as the Martha’s Vineyard Lawn Fertilizer Control district, which would overlay the entire Island.

Roadwork is anticipated. Voters will be asked to spend $95,000 to pave a portion of Aero Avenue, from the intersection of Katama Road to the parking lot at Katama Farm.

“It gets very dusty, and people that live along there have been raising hell about paving that road for a long time,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “So that’s definitely going to be a good thing, if it’s approved.”

Voters will be asked to spend $84,000 in free cash to buy two new police cruisers and $50,000 from free cash to buy  new equipment for the police department, including radios, cameras and interview room equipment.

A series of 16 articles on the warrant would direct the appropriation of CPC funds. They include a request to appropriate $648,000 to the community preservation budget reserve, $350,000 for interior capitol improvements to town hall, and the restoration and display of the Enid Yandell plaster, which used to hang in the Old Edgartown School.

Edgartonians, along with taxpayers in all Island towns,  will also be asked to support efforts to preserve and move the Gay Head Lighthouse. Edgartown’s share of that cost would be $149,704.

Voters will be asked to appropriate $200,000 in free cash to reduce the tax levy in FY15. “It’s a modest amount, but it’s better than nothing,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

Taxpayers will also be asked to appropriate $27,765 of free cash to fund Edgartown’s share of administrative expenses for Adult Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV). The program, which forecasts a deficit of $130,000, asked town leaders to place funding articles on annual town meeting warrants this spring that would generate funds to offset that deficit.

The program has nearly doubled in size since it was started in 2008, and the nonprofit organization’s fees and tuition do not generate enough income to fully fund administration and overhead at the current level, ACEMV leaders said.

Edgartown voters will decide if they want to amend zoning laws to allow for a registered marijuana dispensary (RMD) in a BII business district.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) last January, announced the statewide recipients of a limited number of RMD licenses. None of the four Martha’s Vineyard applicants for a license in Dukes County made the list.

Voters will also decide if they want to spend $25,000 for an integrated pest management program to be administered by the town.

“This service used to be provided by Dukes County, but they no longer provide that service,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

Dukes County suspended the Integrated Pest Management program last June after officials in several towns raised questions about the value of the taxpayer-subsidized county program when much of its activity focused primarily on private accounts. Edgartown leaders were particularly irked when the county said it would not remove skunks from the downtown area.

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On Monday afternoon, workers began erecting the post and beam frame for the Bad Martha’s Brewing Company's new microbrewery on Upper Main Street in Edgartown. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Construction on the microbrewery located on Upper Main Street in Edgartown is underway.

Despite high winds and a little light snow and sleet Monday, the Bad Martha’s Brewing Company began construction of its new post and beam microbrewery in Edgartown.

BM_Brewery_Logo-2Edgartown architect Patrick Ahearn designed the 1,905-square-foot structure to resemble an old barn. The brewery and retail store is on the former Donaroma’s Nursery display area and greenhouse on Upper Main Street in Edgartown. Unanimously approved by the Edgartown planning board on January 7, the brewery is to open on June 21.

Edgartown resident Jim Carleton, former brewmaster for Boston Beer Works, will serve as the master brewer. “It’s very exciting,” he said on Monday. “It’s all been coming together so quickly.”

Mr. Carleton said there will be 10 brews on tap at the brewery, including a changing selection of seven created on site and three of the Bad Martha beers that are brewed by Mercury Brewing in Ipswich.

Mr. Carleton said he and the Bad Martha’s team are committed to working with the local community. In the works, Mr. Carleton said, is a collaboration with Vineyard Haven chocolatier Not Your Sugar Mamas to create a rich chocolate stout, as well as Martha’s Vineyard Honey Company, to create a light and sweet, but not too sweet, honey-infused beer.

“It will be a good place for people to come and experiment with different flavors and different types of beer,” Mr. Carleton said.

Bad Martha Brewing made its product debut in bars, restaurants, and package stores last summer with the introduction of two ales: Vineyard Summer Ale, and Martha’s Vineyard Ale, the company’s flagship amber ale, both brewed and bottled in Ipswich. The beer is distributed in 24 restaurants and nine stores on the Island.

The new building will be used to brew small batches of seasonal beers as well as a tasting and testing facility for the company. The microbrewery will also include a retail area and outdoor seating in the summer months, as well as freshly baked pretzels and spicy beer mustard to taste with seasonal brews.

“Craft beer is definitely booming right now,” Mr. Carleton said. “I think every community needs a place like this.”