State of the Union (Street) in Tisbury

Select board agrees to keep tax classification the same.

Union Street is one-way, but is it one-way the right way? That's an answer the select board is grappling with. — Dave Plath

Should the town switch directions on Union Street? That was a topic put on the Tisbury select board’s agenda Tuesday, but no decisions were made.

The one-way street heads south from Water Street, taking traffic from the Steamship Authority through residential neighborhoods before finding their way to State Road.

Select board chairman Jim Rogers said he’s concerned that the direction of the road adds to the traffic, and takes too many cars past the Tisbury School. He added that he thinks it hurts Main Street businesses, because if they can’t find on-street parking, drivers can’t turn to find a spot in either the Union Street lot or next to Stop & Shop.

Christine Redfield, who lives on William Street, said while she sees a lot of traffic in her neighborhood, she thinks the direction of Union Street relieves pressure on Five Corners.

“I love it the way it is, and I think anyone going up-Island also loves it,” she said. “I don’t know that changing Union Street back would make any difference in that, but I do know it relieves a lot of people heading up-Island — the nightmare that is Five Corners.”

But selectman Jeff Kristal said the uptick in traffic Redfield talked about corresponds to the change made by the select board in 2015

Pete Bradford, who lives in Oak Bluffs and drives a taxi on the Island, said he posted about the possible change on the Islanders Talk Facebook page. He said about 500 people responded, with 90 percent of them saying the direction should remain the same. He said there are advantages and disadvantages, but he’s happy to hear that the town will engage a traffic engineer before making a decision. “It would be interesting to see what the actual numbers of cars [are] we would be injecting back into Five Corners by changing the direction,” he said.

Rachel Orr made a case for not changing the road’s direction. With Beach Road work over the next three years and flooding that already occurs, Orr said, she would hesitate to add more traffic to Five Corners. “Until we resolve those issues, I think you should leave it as is,” she said.

Rogers said the flooding is a good point, but added that the town could change the flow of traffic on Union Street during a storm event, if necessary.

Kristal said if the town could solve its parking problems, it might make sense to open Union Street to two-way traffic.

“I’m going to leave this open,” Rogers said. He urged community members to send in their comments by email.

No change in property tax classification

After a public hearing, the select board voted unanimously to keep the town’s tax classifications as is. Tisbury is the only Island town, and one of only 21 in the state, that provides a residential exemption for property owners who live on the Island year-round.

About one-third of the town’s 2,923 residential property owners qualify for an 18 percent exemption, finance director Jon Snyder told the board.

Town administrator Jay Grande suggested increasing the exemption to 20 percent (the town has the option to exempt as much as 35 percent), but Kristal said he feared that it would seem as if the town was punishing property owners who don’t use a lot of the town’s services because they are only on-Island seasonally.

Kristal said the seasonal homeowners donate to projects in town. “The truth is, we have to find a happy medium where we are trying to offer some relief,” he said.

Gomez said the town needs to do something to assist taxpayers: “We need to give something back to the residents of this Island.”

“So who are the residents? Is that the half to three-quarters of people who have second homes here, or is that the half or less than half who live here year-round?” Kristal responded.

Josh Goldstein, co-owner of the Mansion House, was the only taxpayer to speak out during the public hearing. He urged the select board not to charge commercial taxpayers more than residential property owners. “After months of being closed [because of the pandemic], the last thing that the business community in Tisbury can handle is a tax increase,” he said.
Towns also have the option to split the property tax burden between residential and commercial property owners, but select board members decided not to do that.

Goldstein said he supported an 18 percent exemption for year-round residents, but didn’t think that should be increased. “I think that’s fair,” he said. “I agree with Mr. Kristal that we don’t want to penalize and kill our golden goose of seasonal residents,” he said.

Snyder said the tax rates will be $9.17 for residential property owners, and $8.58 for commercial properties. 

Ann Marie Cywinski, the town’s principal assessor, said there are other exemptions available to taxpayers, but many Islanders don’t qualify because of the state’s qualifications. She said those qualifications haven’t changed in many years.

The select board agreed to write to the town’s state legislators to see if those could be changed to make more taxpayers eligible.

In other news, the town heard a report from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on climate resiliency. The MVC has been making the rounds to discuss its Islandwide planning process. In Tisbury, they found an enthusiastic select board, as well as others who would like to see the town form its own climate resiliency committee to work in cooperation with the MVC and other towns.

“I certainly would support a resiliency committee of some kind to work with the rest of the Island, and try to get some cohesiveness among the towns,” Gomez said.

The town’s burgeoning marijuana industry also played a prominent role Tuesday. Patient Centric was back to update its host community agreement, because timelines in the initial one had not been met. Meanwhile, the competing Main Street Medicinals received approval to hold a remote public forum, scheduled tentatively for Dec. 7.

Josh Silver of Silver Therapeutics, which is acting as a consultant on the project, was asked by Kristal if he was done “kicking the tires” in other towns.

“We took a swing in Edgartown. I don’t think they’re too keen on it,” Silver said about a project that was floated for a plot of land near the Triangle in Edgartown. Selectmen there, pointing to traffic, said Silver couldn’t have picked a worse spot.

Silver did say finding another outlet on the Island could ultimately benefit Tisbury, saying a planned cultivation facility “does have the ability to serve other dispensaries, which will bring more revenue to Tisbury.”

Retired Fire Chief John Schilling made a brief appearance in his role on the town’s personnel board. Schilling said 17 employees not covered by contracts will receive a 1.4 percent cost-of-living increase. There was some question about whether the select board has any say in that decision. The board ultimately voted to support the personnel board’s decision.

Reade Milne, Edgartown’s building commissioner, was appointed as temporary building commissioner. The appointment will allow her to assist Tisbury building commissioner Ross Seavey as needed. Seavey will also help out in Edgartown in a similar role, though he has not yet been appointed by that town’s board.