In a trio of back-to-back-to-back votes Wednesday evening, the West Tisbury select board voted unanimously to approve an outdoor dining permit, an entertainment license, and a seasonal wine and beer license for the Lambert’s Cove Inn. The votes were contingent on special permit approval from the zoning board of appeals. The ZBA is scheduled to deliberate on the inn on April 22.
In October, the inn was the site of a wedding that resulted in a cluster of eight COVID-19 cases — the Island’s first cluster. The wedding was featured in a Vogue online piece that made no mention of the Island’s struggle with a surge in coronavirus cases after that weekend, and instead had an upbeat tone, with the headline, “This outdoor wedding on Martha’s Vineyard was all fall elegance.” Photos showed very few people wearing masks, and guests sitting elbow to elbow. It was quickly pulled down by the media company.
Questions about that event came up during the discussion, as did concerns raised by neighbors about noise at the inn.
The entertainment license restrictions voted in by the select board largely mirrored conditions previously placed on the inn by the zoning board of appeals. These stipulated:
- 10 outdoor speaking events or weddings per year
- Three outdoor speaking events or weddings with up to 50 guests per year, “but not from July 1 to Labor Day”
- The seven remaining outdoor speaking events may not have more than 100 guests
- Only two outdoor speaking events or weddings allowed from July 1 to Labor Day, with no more than 75 people
- No outdoor amplified music from July 1 to Labor Day; amplified music is not to exceed three consecutive hours, and may continue up to 9:45 pm on Friday and Saturday and up to 8:30 pm Sunday to Thursday.
- Outdoor amplified speaking events are allowed, “provided that the noise generated is not plainly audible to neighboring properties”
- During any outdoor speaking events, the restaurant will be closed
- For any outdoor speaking event with over 70 guests, owner will employ the use of an offsite shuttle service to limit traffic on Manaquayak [Road]
When a question arose on how state restrictions could affect what’s stipulated in the entertainment license restrictions, town administrator Jennifer Rand said, “They will ultimately have to comply with the state regulations about gatherings, however those evolve.”
The select board added adherence to evolving state guidelines as a condition of approval.
Inn co-owner Keya Cain noted that rule is essentially already in play. “We have in all of our contracts that they have to comply with whatever the state regulation is,” she said. “And so if we have a contract for a wedding and that number of people is not allowed at that point in time, then they are given the option to reschedule for later, or to reduce their head count so it does comply …”
Neighbor Nick Puner raised a question about what oversight if any there would be. “I mean, the entertainment license list is nonspecific,” he said. “There are no dates. It’s just general. We’ve seen how the inn operates, and I think there is a need for some kind of specific oversight when an event is scheduled and the town is notified, and that it’s checked off the list.”
“I think it’s a reasonable suggestion,” Rand said. “We don’t have a specific way laid out so far. I think it’s not so difficult to have their property manager just let me know as they have things scheduled, and between Joe [Tierney] and I, we can keep a running list of what’s
going on. I think that’s reasonable. I don’t think that’s too much of a hardship for Lambert’s Cove.”
“I concur,” select board member Skipper Manter said. “In order to keep count of the number of events there that Mr. Puner has pointed out that we need to have a tally of what’s going on there so if they reach capacity, that everybody knows …” He recommended adding that to the conditions.
“It’s in their best interests to give me as much notice as possible,” Rand said.
“Is 30 days reasonable?” Manter asked.
“Yeah,” John Cain said. He qualified that response by saying it could be a “little fluid,” because bookings can come in on short notice.
Thirty days was sealed into the vote.
“Would it be appropriate, given the COVID events of the inn last fall, that Omar [Johnson] be asked to pay special attention to their seating arrangements and the like, so we don’t get another one of those?” ZBA member John Rau said.
“I’m just a little uncomfortable asking an individual to pay particular attention to one address and not all of them,” Manter said. “I think Omar is well-versed in what goes on in different places in town, and will [direct] his attention accordingly to where he thinks is best.”
“I see your point, Skipper, but it just seems where somebody has a history of violations, it might behoove the town to keep a special eye on that property,” Rau said.
“Let’s be clear, everybody,” John Cain said. “There were no violations. Let’s be clear there were no violations. Jen [Rand], you can confirm that. Omar can confirm that … I don’t want anything false and inaccurate and any defamation to take place. There were no — running a business is not easy at all, and employing everybody at a loss through a pandemic — there were no violations. And that was on the record.”
“OK,” chair Cynthia Mitchell said.