Putting a municipal sewer system in its place


Tisbury voters, led by the planning board and a variety of opponents of growth, chose to build a municipal sewer system in 2004 that was designed to do something a sewer system is not supposed to do — namely, control growth and change.

Zoning bylaws, abetted by the accumulation of rules associated with proliferating districts of critical planning concern, have largely accounted for the preservation of Tisbury’s shabbily stagnant waterfront district and limited business development elsewhere in town. The combination of a limited sewage system and these limiting regulatory overlays has effectively blocked necessary and reinvigorating growth and change in town.

The apparent need to allow increased sewage flows now revives this old, lame debate. We hope the debate this time will put the horse before the cart. Tisbury’s zoning approach to downtown, especially the waterfront and most especially what’s called for zoning purposes the shore zone, where The Times office sits, is self-defeating. Better, well-planned, and desirable expansion and fresh development may be encouraged in these areas, but not with the rules that now govern.

Attending to sewering requirements ought to follow refreshment of the system of development rules. This page suspects a careful review of rules in these critical areas could inspire desirable growth and erase undesirable decay.

There are certainly financial and parity issues, affecting the currently sewered, who may be entitled to increased flows but who do not need the increased flow allowance at present. And, the customarily tough question of who pays what shares for expansion of a municipal sewer system is standing by for resolution.

But, the key to clear thinking on this matter is to divorce the town’s vision of desirable and undesirable growth from the design and capacity of the sewer system. The municipal advantage will be a system that is judged capable of accommodating growth that may be reasonably anticipated and even encouraged by the town. Such a system ought to be designed, first of all, with ground and surface water protection foremost. By itself, this is a challenge for any municipal sewer system design.

Growth regulation must be considered and reconsidered by towns such as Tisbury, first and apart from how great is the sewer capacity. What Tisbury needs to do is match its zoning regulations to quality change where it is needed and desirable. Along the waterfront, for example.

Zoning laws that limit change and growth strictly to uneconomic business activity in an area designated for business uses lead to poor outcomes for property owners, business owners, entrepreneurs and, just as important, for the town itself.