Conserve West Tisbury for the future

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To the Editor:

In an effort to preserve West Tisbury’s rural, cultural, and natural character, the intention of the Conserve West Tisbury bylaw is to clarify and further establish parameters for the design and construction of residential buildings. The bylaw addresses the size of houses in relation to lot area: their scale, proportion, and relationship to the existing community; as well as their visual and environmental impact. It also calls for responsible and conscientious building practices. 

Over the past two years, we have acted as a subcommittee of the West Tisbury planning board and given careful consideration to all these criteria. We feel that voting in this bylaw will equip our town planners with the tools they so pressingly need to preserve the characteristic qualities we have all come to know and love about the town of West Tisbury, our shared home. 

Each one of the six Island towns has its own unique personality. In his collection of essays about Martha’s Vineyard titled “Singing in the Morning,” Henry Beetle Hough spoke of West Tisbury in these terms: “Here one finds the impress of all our generations. Unbroken for some three centuries, the love and labor of our people comes down to us in homes they built, fields they fenced and tilled, the not yet forgotten husbandry of earthy kinds, their sunlight, soil, and flowing water that are ours too, for use and pleasure.”

While sounding somewhat romantic, happily, much of the sentiment held in these words still rings true. We see the fingerprints of our town history in the paths our roads take, in the fields, fences, walls, houses, and barns that speak to each other across the land that holds them. The topography of West Tisbury — not as coastal as down-Island, not as hilly or wet as further up-Island — has given rise to this long agricultural tradition, and left us with a legacy of buildings and their surrounding landscapes in symbiotic relationship, one sustaining the other. 

Today, even in the routine of our daily lives, we are able to experience the luster Hough evokes and feel a connection across these many years. This is thanks to the work of our predecessors, making choices and sculpting the development of our town. As a community, it is wonderful to be able to look back and feel that continuity, but it is at least equally as important to look forward. 

Particularly as Islanders, we live within the definition of limits. A finite amount of buildable space is available, and that space won’t be available for much longer. Our community is growing at an incredible rate. Change is inevitable, but change of any one kind is not. We want to make sure that our decisions today do not further exacerbate the ability to make our community affordable, to keep it farmable, to make it resilient in the world of a changing climate. Building houses that require an uncommon use of resources and have an outsize impact on the land and water around them, and on the affordability of the town, may not be in the best interest of the community at large. To underscore a portion of Hough again, “the love and labor of our people comes down to us in the homes they built.” What will future generations say as they look at the legacy we leave them in the built environment we are creating today? 

It is clear that as a community, we must raise our voices if we want a hand in shaping the future of West Tisbury. We are neighbors of one proximity or another, and when the need arises we work together to make choices big and small, thus determining the community we foster and the promise or burden we leave to coming generations. 

Prior generations put care into planning, and looked ahead to how the town was evolving. We continue that tradition now, by proposing this bylaw in an effort to keep the built environment from overwhelming what brought and keeps us here — the richness of the community and the beauty of the unique, rural island landscape.

Amy Upton
West Tisbury

Upton is the planning board liaison to the Preserve West Tisbury Committee.  –Ed.