West Tisbury voters convened at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs for the third time since the start of the pandemic, and handily surpassed a 30-person quorum for 2021 annual town meeting.
Town clerk Tara Whiting-Wells said the count topped off at 217 registered voters.
By far the most time-consuming and contentious item on the warrant was a transfer of town-owned property at 401 State Road to the affordable housing committee to “sell, ground lease, or otherwise dispose of” for the purpose of affordable housing. Town moderator Dan Waters designated one microphone in favor and one microphone against. Queues formed at both. The line in favor was longer.
Susan Silk told voters affordable housing was needed now more than ever, and asked for approval of the article. Former longtime conservation committee member Prudy Burt questioned whether a protective area around an adjacent well hampered the area’s development potential. John Abrams, who said he consulted someone who had studied the land, said well encroachment wasn’t an issue. Nikki Patton, who described herself as a renter who wasn’t likely to own a house, and was sympathetic to the cause of affordable housing, evoked land regulation in the Tuscany region of Italy. She said the strictness has preserved the beauty of the region. With that in mind, she said she could not back something that ran the risk of harming the beauty of West Tisbury.
Laura Silber, campaign coordinator for the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank, said she’s seen what happens to other places like the Vineyard where housing has become unbalanced, and stressed time was of the essence to act. Debate continued after a motion to end discussion on the article was shut down by voters. Several further arguments voiced against the article revolved around the land being in the gateway area of the town, and therefore against the area’s rural character.
Several people stressed the urgency of the housing crisis on the Vineyard. The article ultimately passed with a two-thirds majority vote.
Voters said yes to $100,000 worth of repairs to the Tiah’s Cove Road culvert. Conservation commission administrator Maria McFarland spoke in favor of the article, and planning board member Matt Merry questioned the cost. Highway superintendent Richard Olsen described the culvert as in a partial state of disrepair. Amelia Smith said she used to shimmy through the culvert as a kid, but it has become too constricted for her kids to do the same. The article survived a vote to postpone it indefinitely, and was approved by a majority vote.
Voters also said yes to town observance of Juneteenth. In a one-article special town meeting held just before the annual town meeting, voters said yes to changing the selectmen’s name to the select board.
Selectman Skipper Manter paid tribute to outgoing Fire Chief Manuel Estrella III. Waters read aloud the West Tisbury citizens who passed away in the last year to honor them, including John Alley. The town report was dedicated to him.