Is Dover Amendment in play for Tisbury School 2.0?


The $56.7 million renovation-and-addition project for the Tisbury School voted forward by the Tisbury School Building Committee in June may require use of the Dover Amendment to be realized. Monday night, the committee deliberated over design variations for the gymnasium without arriving at any decisions. During the discourse, it came to light that either of the two main design iterations for the school would violate setback requirements. Committee member Reade Milne, who is Edgartown’s building inspector, asked architect Chris Blessen what options were available for setback relief, especially because there’s already a nonconformity at play.

“I would say that you’re not allowed to create a new nonconformity,” Milne said.

“Except in Massachusetts, there’s the Dover Amendment,” Blessen said. “And that would probably be where you would go with this. And some towns deal with that better than others, but under the Dover Amendment, this should be allowed. But there’s political things there too.”

As The Times previously reported, the Dover Amendment is what school officials are utilizing to circumvent zoning issues in Oak Bluffs that stand in the way of a controversial track and field project.

The Dover Amendment refers to a Massachusetts General Law that permits agricultural, educational, or religious organizations to bypass building codes and zoning regulations for certain projects. Committee member Jim Rogers, chair of the Tisbury select board, asked if the Tisbury zoning board of appeals could handle the setback issue.

“Yes,” Blessen said.

“But only because of the Dover Amendment,” Milne said. “Only because it’s an educational use, and educational uses can get away with breaking the rules. If it was not educational, then no.”

Committee member Rachel Orr said whatever iteration of the school is chosen, she believes the ZBA will have to be consulted. 

Milne reconsidered her position, and said she thought the ZBA wasn’t part of the equation if the Dover Amendment is used. 

“I think it’s a conversation with the building inspector first,” she said. 

The committee made no determinations on the Dover Amendment, and will take up the school project again next week.