Tisbury selectmen look to redefine harbor regs

Jeffrey Canha's 270-square-foot art studio, which currently floats in Vineyard Haven Harbor — Photo by Sam Moore

Spurred by expanding definitions of harbor use, Tisbury selectmen will hold a public hearing at 6:30 pm Tuesday night to consider amendments to the Tisbury Waterways Regulations in an effort to define what kind of vessels should be permitted to moor in the inner harbor area. The hearing will address the “prohibition of non–water dependent uses in waterways and barges,” according to the meeting agenda.

The board will consider a temporary moratorium of up to 18 months to prohibit “any new non–water dependent use or vessel in Tisbury waterways not currently addressed by Waterways Regulations.”

The spur was the appearance of a floating art studio in Tisbury Harbor owned by Tisbury artist and commercial fisherman Jeffrey Canha. Mr. Canha said he believes his opponents are a small but powerful minority in town government.

He also said the state inspection sticker on the “hull” of his floating studio means his studio complies with strict state marine standards and should allow him to moor in the harbor, just as it would any other vessel. Mr. Canha said floating buildings are common in Annisquam Harbor and Essex Bay Harbor in this state, also in the Pacific Northwest and Sausalito, Calif.

In 2013, following the loss of rental space for his boat building and carpentry workshop, Rick Brown built a floating workshop now moored in the Lagoon.

Tisbury Harbor regulations specify, “The use of vessels in Tisbury as a permanent or long-term abode is specifically prohibited. Sleeping aboard vessels is allowed as a secondary use to the vessel’s principal commercial or recreational use (i.e.: cruising).”

Tisbury selectman Melinda Loberg said the moratorium is intended to give the town time to examine all options when it comes to regulating floating workshops or domiciles in the harbor.
“Some people say this can help with our housing problem and they like the way they look, some people are strongly against them, it’s all in the eyes of the beholder” she said. “We just went to get out ahead of this. We need to look and see what activities are appropriate and where.  We haven’t had a thorough process. There are infrastructure issues. We don’t have pumpout in the winter. How would we deal with this? I know there are some people who live on boats in the harbor, even though there’s a regulation against it, it’s very scarcely enforced. The planning board has already begun to explore this further. We’re proposing a moratorium to give the town time to get a better handle on it.”