Rental regulations headed back to voters

Tisbury looks to take aim at unsafe living conditions; selectmen also address a new town hall and Beach Road.

Stakes in front of Tisbury Shell show just how much of the property will be taken if MassDOTs redesign of Beach Road in Tisbury moves forward. - George Brennan

The Town of Tisbury is reviving a proposal to regulate rental housing aimed at improving safety, particularly a tendency to crowd 10 or more people into apartments and houses that aren’t suited for high occupancy.

The proposed bylaw, developed by health agent Maura Valley and fire Chief John Schilling, was first proposed at town meeting last April, but voters tabled the article after concerns were raised that it was a “money grab.”

Valley and Schilling were back before selectmen Tuesday night where they won the support of the board — with chairman Larry Gomez, owner of a bed and breakfast in Vineyard Haven, abstaining — to bring the measure back before voters this April. This time it will contain language that a modest $75 fee will be set for a three-year rental permit or $25 per year.

The bylaw also has the support of the board of health, Valley said, though that board said it wants to make sure there are adequate public hearings ahead of town meeting to answer any questions the public has about the rental regulations.

The three-year permit would be self-policing, with landlords signing off that their rental properties have the appropriate smoke detectors and are not over capacity, Valley said. Properties would have a registration number that would have to be included in any advertisement that promotes renting the property.

If the building inspector, health agent, or fire chief catches wind of an over-capacity apartment or non-registered rental unit, any one of them can call for an inspection, Schilling said.

Town administrator Jay Grande said it would be disappointing if town meeting voters get fixated on the fee again. “This is a life-safety issue,” he said. “This isn’t about collecting some revenue stream.”

Gomez, who has to pay $115 for an annual license to operate his inn, took issue with the rental regulations, saying they did nothing to deal with the burgeoning Airbnb-type rental properties. “I could close my business down tomorrow and just pay a $50 fee and keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “All I’m doing is self-certifying that I’m OK instead through the building inspector or fire chief.”

Selectman Melinda Loberg said the local regs aren’t about leveling the playing field with Airbnb — there are bills before the state legislature aimed at that. “It is really about town safety and public health,” she said.

The board also began discussions of other preliminary town meeting articles. Among the capital projects that are under consideration are $500,000 for a new steeple for town hall, $100,000 to put a solar array at the new fire station, and a proposal to purchase 55 West William St., a historic building that at one point was looked at for affordable housing, as a possible new town hall.

In a separate vote Tuesday, selectmen approved forming a town hall building committee to look at that historic house as a possible location to consolidate town offices. The town has an annex where planning, building, and health offices are currently located.

That raised a question for selectman Tristan Israel about spending money on the current town hall on Spring Street.

“How much money are we going to sink into this building if we’re going to have another town hall?” Israel said.

The idea is to begin the discussions about the possibility of consolidating town offices, town clerk Hilary Conklin said.

Grande, Conklin, building inspector Ken Barwick, Jonathan Snyder, Ann Marie Cywinski, Suzanne Kennedy, and Kirk Metell would make up the committee, which would be in place through June 30.

In other business, the board got an update from the DPW director Ray Tattersall. Selectmen approved a request for a stop sign at the intersection of Spring Street and William Street. The board also agreed to a crosswalk on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road near the Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground.

A proposal to put a new sign on a parking spot set aside as a loading zone near Mansion House was not acted upon after Josh Goldstein, owner of the hotel, told the board that the space is being used effectively — essentially it isn’t broke and doesn’t need to be fixed.

Dorothy Packer, whose family owns a sizable chunk of real estate on Beach Road, was back before the board urging them not to agree to any land takings related to a Massachusetts Department of Transportation redesign of the road.

The Packers had a survey company put up markers to show what the eminent domain takings would look like for a shared-use path on the road and they’re pretty dramatic, particularly in front of the Shell station.

“The planned takings of property at Tisbury Shell and at Winds Up have been staked out to show visibly the impact of these takings, these unnecessary takings voted by the board of selectmen of the Town of Tisbury,” Packer said.

The redesign of Beach Road will have unintended consequences, she predicted.

“This present plan will curtail the operation of existing and future businesses,” Packer said. “The present plan will take land from the working waterfront district, the present plan will devalue property and reduce the services these businesses provide. If that is the objective — carry on.”

Israel appeared to be hedging on the state’s plans ahead of the town receiving the 100 percent redesign plans later this month. He said the plans don’t include what he was looking for, including a sidewalk on the north side of Beach Road. The plans don’t adequately address drainage or sea-level rise, he said.

Gomez took the opportunity to give Israel a good-natured jab. “If you voted the way I voted, we would have a symmetrical route,” he said. In a symmetrical route there would be sidewalks on both sides and a wider shoulder for bikes.

The board also set a $100 fine for parking in a way that blocks a driveway.

A public hearing on rate increases proposed by Bruno’s Rolloff Inc. was postponed until Feb. 20.


  1. The safety and access for pedestrians and bike riders is paramount over all else.
    Get it done….and symetrically is the way to do it.

  2. I have a problem with eminent domain. People never seem to get paid what their property and disruption of their lives is worth. I realize my views will be unpopular with many.

    • Not as unpopular as you think. If the property is being taken for a public purpose that has wide support it can be justified. However, it can be abused when private property is taken and then used to benefit other private parties. The Hall house in Edgartown is such a taking.

      • As I understand, the Yellow House taking was justified by eliminating its detrimental effect on the business district of Edgartown. I doubt I’m over-generalizing if I say every Islander wanted the owner to maintain the property, yet the owner kept giving the impression they would neglect. To further address owner intent, let’s consider another property. When will the Island Theatre be ready for use?

        • There is a big difference between taking property for improving a road, an unquestionably public purpose, and taking a house from someone because you don’t like the way it looks. I doubt if Tisbury has any intention of renting the (improved) road.

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