Housing, wind, and oysters on the menu

Tisbury selectmen tackle several issues in marathon session.

The Town of Tisbury received a grant to look at possible locations for affordable housing. Island Food Products is being studied as a possible site. — Lexi Pline

The Tisbury board of selectmen heard presentations on two key projects — one involving housing, another focused on a new industry — changed the date of annual town meeting to March 31, approved an oyster festival, pending some details to be ironed out, and set the town’s first aquaculture regulations.

It was an action-packed Tuesday night for the board at a meeting that stretched for more than three hours.

The town is working with a private property owner, Island Food Products, at 299 Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Rd. on a possible mixed-use development.

Jennifer Goldson, a consultant on the project, said in her presentation the town was one of only 14 communities in the commonwealth to receive a grant through MassHousing to look at ways of achieving the state’s goal of 10 percent affordable housing.

A working group has been looking at using the Island Food Products property for a mixed-use development that would include 68 housing units — 50 rental apartments, all affordable (as much as 70 percent could be set aside for Island residents) and 18 market-rate condos — and 5,000 square feet of commercial space on the four-acre site, Goldson said. The initial design incorporates an easement for a connector road that’s been talked about for years.

Selectmen Jeff Kristal and Jim Rogers balked at the commercial aspect of the plan. Rogers said he wants to hear from the community before approving what he called “sprawl” of commercial development. “I don’t want to see an escalation of business running up and down the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven corridor,” he said.

But Loberg pointed out there is already a bank and Verizon nearby. She said in sitting in on working group meetings, the idea was to make it a self-contained “neighborhood feel.”

Goldson said the commercial aspect of the development is not essential to the viability of the project.

The town needs to decide if it wants to create zoning specifically for the development, or it could go through the Chapter 40B process. Chapter 40B is a state law that takes some of the decisionmaking out of the hands of local boards.

The next step in the process is to put out a request for offers to see if a developer is interested, Goldson said. Meanwhile, a memorandum of agreement is being worked on between the town and the property owner. “It basically says we all agree with the vision, and will do what we can to execute it,” she said.

Offshore wind hub

Selectmen got a more detailed look at what’s proposed for the Tisbury Marine Terminal owned by Ralph Packer, including a video simulation of what the final project would look like.

Vineyard Power is looking to create an offshore wind hub at the location. The ambitious plans call for getting permits by the fall of 2020 and building it in early 2021. “If we are able to complete the permitting and construction, then Vineyard Wind has committed to being the first lease holder for this [operations and maintenance] facility,” Susan Nilson, an engineer on the project, told selectmen. “So it’s very much, if we are able to permit and build it, then they will come to the Vineyard.”

The offshore hub would provide a place for operations and maintenance for the wind farms. A pier with room for two vessels would be built, the area around it would be dredged, a bulkhead would be replaced, two barge ramps would be added, and a 10,000-square-foot building would be constructed, Nilson said. A wave fence would provide some shelter from the northeast wave action, she said.

The idea is to provide a place that can provide a base for the offshore wind projects and for Packer’s business, which includes a depot for fuel coming to the Island, as well as shipments of large items like trash and modular homes, Nilson said.

Richard Andre, CEO of Vineyard Power, said the Island co-op reached a “community benefit agreement” with Vineyard Wind that would provide a direct voice in the permitting process and create local jobs.

Within a year, 40 Islanders will be hired to work at the site, he said. On Wednesday night, Vineyard Power was hosting an open house at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School for juniors and seniors, as well as adults looking for a new skill, to work on wind projects, Andre said.

For the site, it’s a return to its roots. A power plant remains on the site, and is still used for storage, Packer said.

“It used to be coal-burning, then oil-burning; now it has a chance to support clean, renewable energy,” Andre said. 

The project requires extensive permitting, and will have to go before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Packer has decided to seek “designated port area” through Coastal Zone Management (CZM), which streamlines permitting, only for his property, Nilson said.

The implications of that designation remains somewhat of a mystery to local officials, so CZM has agreed to come for a site visit to explain it to selectmen and other stakeholders.

No permits have been filed for the project, Nilson said, though an environmental application is likely to be submitted next month.

After showing a video simulation of what the project would look like when completed, Packer said the show was prepared for that meeting. “The first people to see it is the Tisbury board of selectmen,” he said.

When an audience member attempted to get into the details of the project, Loberg stopped him short, and said there would be other opportunities for the public to ask questions. 

The project is not seeking any public funds for the project, Packer told the board.

Much later in the meeting, Loberg pointed out that the town will have to weigh what impact the offshore wind hub would have on a $50 million plan to replace a seawall that protects Beach Road and the approach to Lagoon Pond Drawbridge.

Meeting in March, oyster fest, and oyster farming

On the advice of town clerk Hillary Conklin and town moderator Deborah Medders, selectmen approved moving annual town meeting to March 31 and the town election to April 14.

While town bylaws call for the town meeting to be held on the first Tuesday of April, it often conflicts with the Jewish holiday of Passover. This year, for example, town meeting’s second night would fall on the religious holiday. Pushing it further into April, as the town has in the past, puts the town election during a school vacation, Conklin said.

Conklin advocated for moving the town meeting to March 17 to provide less opportunity for late-filed articles, and to keep departments focused on producing their budgets on time. “Overall, we just need to tighten up,” she said. “If we had an earlier town meeting, we could be the leaders on regional decisions. Let’s give this a shot, and see where this is at.”

Medders said that would stray too far from the town’s bylaw. She said a change like that should be done by voters. “We have to stay mindful of town bylaws,” Medders said. To move it ahead three weeks would be “incongruous and disingenuous,” she said.

Kristal wondered why the town election has to be two weeks later when other towns hold an election within days.

Medders again pointed to the bylaw, which would need to be revised.

When Tisbury School Building Committee chair Rachel Orr acknowledged that an early town meeting and election wouldn’t put pressure on the school renovations in the works because they don’t expect to have a proposal until June, selectmen approved the change recommended by Medders. “We need to give the team we hired enough time to be responsible and do good work,” Orr said.

In other business, selectmen gave conditional approval to a Martha’s Vineyard Oyster Festival on May 8 and 9 at Martha’s Vineyard Museum, promising organizer Nevette Previd that they would work out details of the permitting process for an alcohol license by early December.

Previd said the idea is to promote tourism in May for the Island, which has only one other event going on, while providing some education on the oyster industry on the Island through the partnership with the museum and Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group.

“We’re trying to make this highly interactive, highly educational, super-fun, and exciting,” Previd said.

Kristal appeared a bit irked that Previd was announcing the festival prior to the museum seeking permission from the board. 

“We went from hearing about the festival to hearing that the festival is a done deal to hearing that you need a one-day liquor license,” he said, adding that the museum should be talking to the board about it. He pointed out the museum is limited to 12 events per year by Martha’s Vineyard Commission conditions. “They’re having about 12 a month,” he said.

Kristal pointed out that the town has a process in place for large events after working on Beach Road Weekend. The oyster festival is expecting a more modest 500 to 700 people in the first year, Previd said.

Katie Fuller, operations director for the museum, acknowledged that the museum is only allowed 12 private rentals per year, and the oyster fest would be one of those. The other events Kristal is talking about are museum events. “We’re not doing 12 a month, because I would be dead,” she said.

Previd said there is some urgency because the festival wants to have six months of ticket sales ahead of the event. “In order for this to be a success, we’re going to need cooperation,” she said.

“We’re all supportive of you holding Oyster Fest,” Rogers said. “We just want to be sure.” The only question is the museum’s role, because it’s in a residential neighborhood.

Selectmen suggested the festival organizers work out inspections and traffic details with the police chief, fire chief, and building department.

Kristal, in making a motion to support the festival, sought to demonstrate the town’s support. “It would be magnificent to have it here. There’s just some “t”s we need to cross,” he said. “I don’t want you to think, ‘Oh, the town doesn’t want us.’”

MacAleer Schilcher, a town resident, said the town should make it easier to hold such events. “I’m just excited about people trying to do things in this town,” he said. The town needs to create a process that makes it easier for events, he said.

Later in the meeting, selectmen took a major step toward having local oysters at an oyster festival. The town approved much-discussed aquaculture regulations to allow oyster farms to be created.

Lynne Fraker, a commercial shellfisherman who helped craft some changes to the regulations, criticized selectmen for not having the new regulations go before the newly formed natural resources committee.

Loberg said that committee is just getting up to speed, and can suggest tweaks to the regulations if needed.

The town balked at a $479,000 price tag for 25 decorative street lights on Beach Road, as part of a project being done by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

“They must be made of gold. The prices are crazy,” Rogers said. “Why can’t we bid it ourselves?”

The lights would be part of the shared-use path that’s being added to the road.

The board asked Grande to look at prices and get back to them.

Selectmen agreed to a $206,000 contract with Woods Hole Group. The environmental consultant will work on reviewing the town’s needs for dredging, and will help the town apply for a comprehensive permit for all its dredging projects.

The board also agreed to meet to discuss host community agreements with two proposed marijuana outlets on Mechanic’s Street. The board will invite Geoff Rose of Patient Centric in on Nov. 12, and Noah Eisendrath of Main Street Medicinals on Nov. 19.

If the board approves the host community agreements, it would pave the way for them to apply for a state license.