Tisbury Planning Board reports on vision planning workshop

File photo by Michael Cummo

Main Street in Tisbury topped a list of town treasures named by participants in a comprehensive planning effort led by the Tisbury planning board that was designed to set a path forward into the future.

The planning board held workshops last Wednesday at the Tisbury Senior Center and on Friday morning at the American Legion Hall to report the findings from a series of three community vision planning workshops held in September.

“We had a good turnout at both workshops, probably around 40 people at each,” said planning board member Cheryl Doble, who initiated the vision planning process, on Monday.

“Some were new, and a number of them had attended the first workshop,” she added. “So we’re getting this active group that’s growing, and we’re continuing to get a turnout that leads to really good conversations. That’s what we’re after, along with a better understanding on our part as we start to think about the responsibilities of the planning board and where we should be focusing.”

The goal of the vision planning workshops is to involve the community in town planning by identifying shared values, discussing concerns, and establishing a manageable set of goals and an action plan, according to Ms. Doble.

At the September workshop sessions, members of the Vision Planning Committee led groups seated at four large tables through a series of activities and recorded their responses on charts. Participants were asked to list Tisbury’s treasured places, opportunities the town has to make improvements, and the challenges it faces in doing so. For the last activity, participants were asked to describe their vision of what Tisbury should look like 10 years from now.

Over the past several weeks Ms. Doble and planning board member Ben Robinson pored through the charts and organized the information according to areas of consensus among the responses. Mr. Robinson said that what struck him while helping Ms. Doble with the data analysis was how important it is for people who live in Tisbury and other people who use the town to share their opinions and experiences.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s nice to see that people are willing to put the time in,” Mr. Robinson said.

Community member Steve Zablotny, who participated in the first workshop, helped condense its findings into a PowerPoint presentation for last week’s workshops. In addition to Main Street, Tashmoo overlook and preserve, the harbor and waterfront, Owen Park, a working waterfront, and the Vineyard Haven Public Library received the most mentions, between 30 to 60.

Determining the findings about challenges and opportunities proved more difficult, Ms. Doble said. She and Mr. Robinson came up with eight themes for the challenges and six for the opportunities, and then narrowed them down to the four for each that had the greatest number of responses.

For challenges, the topic areas were financial, town government, condition of property, and community. For opportunities, the topic areas were government, infrastructure, downtown, and community.

Ms. Doble said there were a few surprises in the first workshop responses. For example, biking was listed as a bigger challenge than walking in Tisbury.

“And that’s because people think that the community is basically walkable but that the safety issue of biking is huge, and that it’s critical that we do something,” she said.

Ms. Doble did a narrative for the PowerPoint presentation, which she said will be added as text and the whole package put up online soon on the town’s website at tisburyma.gov. At its conclusion, participants were asked to divide up into groups by choosing one of four topics they thought was most important to them.

The topics included parks, beaches, open space and neighborhood connections; a vibrant and connected downtown; waterfront and harbor; and pedestrian and bike networks.

After a 40- to 50-minute discussion, the workshop participants changed tables to discuss their second choice of topic. The information from those discussions will be incorporated into the next phase of the vision planning process.

“I think we’ll come out of this with some good information to present and be able to say, this is what you want, and here’s a way to achieve that,” planning board chairman Dan Seidman told The Times in a phone call Monday. “Now we need to put our shoulders into it and prioritize.”

Mr. Seidman said the workshop participants had a lot of ideas about opportunities for improving the town, but found it more difficult to figure out planning challenges and how to meet them.

“For example, people said they want more open space, but the challenge is how do you get it; where does it come from,” he said.

Mr. Seidman also pointed out that town planning is not just a matter of making decisions about building new facilities.

“What do you do with the Katharine Cornell Theatre, if town hall goes away? And if we build a new school, what do we do with the old one?” he said. “All of these things are interconnected and some people don’t take into account that when you increase infrastructure, you also have to plan for the costs.”

Mr. Seidman said the planning board would try to start with the goals easiest to achieve, and then move up from there.

“The vision plan helps guide the process, but turning the process into reality is going to be the toughest part of the problem,” he said. “If people have given their input, though, we think they will be more willing to handle the changes required to get to what ultimately will make this a more self-sustaining, viable town.”

Ms. Doble said the planning board is looking at hosting a public forum in January to present a summary of the workshops to date and to discuss what comes next.

“We’re thinking that there should continue to be some presentations followed by workshops over the winter, on topics such as climate change, sea level rise, environment, traffic, and parking, because these are things we need to talk about,” Ms. Doble said. “And we also may need to bring in people who either worked on these kinds of projects in their communities or are from a community that has tackled some of them, to share their experience.”

Future workshop and presentation dates will be announced.