Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society executive director Kristina West came before West Tisbury selectmen Wednesday evening for approval of a list of events slated in the Agricultural Hall for 2020. West informed the board that both the Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS) and the West Tisbury conservation committee had signed off on the list.
Chairman Skipper Manter opposed the event permits. Per a 1998 agreement, the Ag Society ostensibly agreed to hold no more than six weddings and three commercial events at the hall. The number of community, Ag Society, and town events it can hold is unlimited. Manter took special aim at the artisans fairs slated for Labor Day weekend and Thanksgiving weekend, describing them as commercial events that are a violation of the agricultural preservation restriction (APR) previously placed on the Ag Society property by the Woods family.
“It seems like commercial activity is prohibited,” Manter said.
West did not agree, and said commercial activity “is not prohibited.” She said some types of commercial activity are.
“It says limited commercial agricultural purposes. How is the Artisans Show a limited agricultural purpose?” Manter asked.
“This discussion started 25 years ago with the town and the Woods family and town counsel [and] Brendan O’Neill. And we’ve been over this both with Brendan O’Neill and the conservation commission and both of those organizations, who are the interpreters of the APR, signed off on this list.” West went on to say, “The Woods family was involved in the negotiations 25 years ago, and they were aware that these things were happening, and they did not object.”
“As to the characterization of the events,” Cynthia Mitchell said, “when I think of both the artisans fairs … while they’re technically commercial, they’re really community and, you know, supporting local artisans, some of whom take their materials from agriculturally grown [products].”
“Not that I don’t support what they’re doing,” Manter said, “I think my concern is the use of the property, the APR, and the zoning issues.”
“Which we’ve been over about a gazillion times,” Mitchell said.
“And we will once more,” Manter said.
“[We met] about two weeks ago, with Ron [Rappaport] and Brendan [O’Neill] and Maria [McFarland] and Tara [Whiting],” said West, “and Ron specifically stated that that approved list from 1998 was not made in a vacuum, that he and attorney Small and the Woods family were in contact — everyone was aware of the negotiations, and everyone basically agreed to that group of activities. So the Woods family at that time did not have an issue with those events.”
Manter remained skeptical.
“He said he was certain they were aware and agreed to this,” town administrator Jennifer Rand said of Ron Rappaport, West Tisbury town counsel.
“I can confirm that as well,” Mitchell said. “I was on the board of selectmen at that time.”
Manter was unswayed, and decried what he described as the “continued expansion of the use of the property.”
West rebutted Manter’s assertion, and said in 1998 there were 60 events planned, versus 30 for 2020.
Rand reiterated VCS and the conservation commission found the list of events “is in keeping” with the APR. “They’ve stated it quite clearly in their letters,” she said.
“I disagree,” Manter said. He asked if horse shows would return to the Ag Society grounds. “The horse shows to me,” he said, “they’re busy with big trucks and things, but the public address system that goes on at about seven o’clock in the morning to whenever the horse show is over — is a long day to have to listen to that.”
West said she had met with abutters about any issues they might have with what goes on at the Ag Society.
“They were surprised we were having such issues with the town,” she said. “According to them, they hadn’t raised any concerns.”
“Well, I’ve rambled on long enough,” Manter said. “I’m sure Cindy would agree.”
“Yeah, I would,” Mitchell said.
The board went on to approve the list of events with a 2-1 vote. Manter was the dissenting vote.