New harbor regulations floated in Tisbury

Jeff Canha's floating art studio in Tisbury harbor. The waterways committee is considering regulations for houseboats and floating businesses.

Attempting to clarify the murky waters of Tisbury harbor regulations, the waterways and harbor planning committee held a public meeting on Monday afternoon at the Katharine Cornell Theater to discuss potential changes to accomodate modern uses of the centuries-old harbor.

Jack Wiggin and Allison Novelly from Urban Harbors Institute (UHI) at UMass Boston were on hand to share the results of a recent harbor use survey, and to discuss potential regulation changes.

The survey, taken earlier this year, sought opinions on the present and future of the town’s waterways and waterfront, including questions about houseboats, liveaboards, and floating businesses — the topics that are largely driving the regulation reboot. In November 2016, Tisbury selectmen adopted an 18-month moratorium on living aboard vessels to allow time to draft new regulations. The moratorium expired on Tuesday.

According to Novelly, response to the survey was higher than expected, with a total of 344.

Respondents largely took a dim view of houseboats, liveaboards, and floating businesses. “Houseboats were largely perceived unfavorably, with the top three primary negative perceptions being in the categories of water quality, harbor use conflicts, and visual impacts,” the survey summary states. “In general, nonresidents perceived the impacts of houseboats to be less detrimental than residents.”

A 25-page UHI memo was presented to the committee which summed up the work of the past six months, and offered a range of definitions and regulations used by other port towns.

The definition of “houseboat” dominated the discussion.

Most attendees, including Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker, spoke in favor of the houseboat definition used by Newport, R.I.: “a building constructed on a raft, barge, or hull that is primarily for single or multiple-family habitation; if used for transportation, this use is secondary.”

“It’s simple and it’s enforceable,” Crocker said.

The waterways and harbor planning committee will meet again on Monday, May 14, at 4 pm at Katharine Cornell Theater.

“We have to take quick action in the next few weeks,” chairman Tristan Israel said. “If we do anything that requires a change, the selectmen, harbor management, and the appropriate boards will all weigh in on this.”