West Tisbury says yes to carbon reduction

Pot tax, zoning changes, artifact preservation pass special town meeting.



Tuesday afternoon, at a special town meeting held at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury voters came across nothing on a 29-article warrant they wouldn’t approve. In what was the second historic West Tisbury town meeting held outside town boundaries due to venue complications brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, most votes were unanimous and without deliberation. 

Changes to animal control and zoning bylaws, a tax on recreational marijuana, funding for a shared-use bike path, preservation of historic objects, and a pledge to reduce carbon emissions were among the items approved. At the height of the meeting, 114 registered voters were in attendance, handily satisfying a 30-person quorum.

In a first for the Vineyard’s six towns, voters unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution to limit West Tisbury’s reliance on fossil fuels so that by 2030, usage would diminish by 50 percent, and then 100 percent by 2040. The same article resolved to boost renewable electricity 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040. The article also sought to promote biosphere carbon capture through “adoption of regenerative agriculture and landscaping; protection and expansion of wetlands; and preservation of woodland resources.”

West Tisbury energy committee member Ron Dagostino spoke in support of the article. “We’re threatened by climate change,” he said, “Perhaps the most obvious threat is rising sea levels, increased storms and flooding.” Dagostino also said wildfire was a “big threat” to West Tisbury. “There’s a map you can get from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission that shows all the town buildings that are potentially threatened by wildfire, and it’s currently 60 percent of the buildings in the town. My house is on that map, and likely yours is too, given the odds. The way to combat climate change is to stop burning fossil fuels and to stop emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The state is in the process of adopting a 100 percent renewable electrical grid by the year 2040. So we could piggyback off that, and make the town 100 percent renewable if we convert everything over to electricity by the year 2040.”

Dagostino went on to say much of the technology to help convert the town is already available. And for those who worry about the cost of switching over, buying an electric car for example, he said the markets continue to support electrification, and in the next 20 years, “it will become financially feasible for you to participate and make this change.”

Voters unanimously approved changes to town bylaw relative to dogs and the animal control officer that eliminate some of the necessity for the owners of problematic dogs to be brought to court, and affords the animal control officer more direct control over enforcement.

By majority vote, $19,000 was approved to erect “a blinking speed radar sign” on Old County Road near the West Tisbury School.

In a vote of 89-4, clerical and substantive changes were made to zoning bylaws that collectively provided better opportunity for the creation of affordable housing units. Among the changes was the adoption of an enhanced classification of multifamily structures up to 32 feet tall (three stories). These structures would only be allowed through a special permit.

Through a majority vote, an excise tax on recreational marijuana was adopted at 3 percent. Medical marijuana will not be subject to the tax.

After reservations were expressed by finance committee chair Greg Orcutt about the extravagance of some museum festivities and what they may have cost, voters said yes to $4,015 for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to preserve and restore an 1866 booklet made by Nancy Luce, a.k.a. the “Chicken Lady,” a 1955 panoramic school photograph, and a “large format” World War II–era photograph of Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Voters also said yes to $3,500 for the restoration of various Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society artifacts. 

The most comments went to two articles meant to convert a strip of land along Old County Road into a segment of shared-use path (SUP) that can continue to be extended — specifically, $125,000 to fund construction documentation and designs via the town’s Complete Streets Committee to develop the SUP. Some voters questioned whether the project had been thought out enough, and shared with the community for feedback sufficiently, while many more voters expressed a desire for the safety the SUP would bring bicyclists. The first of the two articles, which converted the intended land to recreational use, passed 86-1, while the second article passed unanimously.