West Tisbury ZBA rolls with food trucks

Board overturns decision by building inspector. 

The West Tisbury zoning board of appeals said food trucks are not fast food restaurants. — Randi Baird

A decision by West Tisbury building inspector Joseph Tierney that would have blocked food trucks from participating in upcoming Climate Action Week events has been overturned by the zoning board of appeals. Giulia Casalino, a representative of Dolce Vita Events and the event coordinator for Climate Action Week, had applied for food trucks to be a part of the festivities planned for Saturday, May 14, at the Grange Hall property in West Tisbury.

The zoning decision is just one step in the process. “You will still need to have a vendor list approved by the zoning official and get the event permit from the board of selectmen,” board chair Lawrence Schubert said. 

Tierney, who was absent from the meeting, denied Casalino’s application to bring in food trucks to the event. In the denial letter, Tierney said the food trucks are considered fast food restaurants, which are prohibited under the town’s zoning bylaws. 

Over 20 supporters of the food truck owners showed up at the small meeting room at West Tisbury Town Hall, and a number of letters were sent to the board supporting the food truck owners. Schubert read aloud letters that were sent their way about the issue. The West Tisbury planning board wrote that they reviewed and discussed the issue, and believe since this is a special event, the food trucks should be allowed. The planning board also plans to meet with the select board on May 18 to discuss food trucks in the town. 

West Tisbury considered making amendments to the town’s food truck regulations in 2020, but nothing came of it. 

Vineyard Trust executive director Nevette Previd, whose nonprofit owns Grange Hall, expressed disappointment about Tierney’s reading of the bylaws, saying it is too restrictive. Additionally, Previd wrote that food trucks help to stimulate the local economy, and relieve the needs of West Tisbury, which she wrote is a “food desert.” Multiple letters pointed out what seemed like an inconsistency in bylaw enforcement, since food booths and trucks have been used at events in the town before, such as during the Vineyard Artisans Festival and the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair. A collective letter by local business owners said the fast food prohibition bylaw was meant to prevent chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Dunkin from entering West Tisbury and damaging the town’s rural character. 

“To be thrown into the same category as these restaurants is a complete misunderstanding of the care and attention we take in crafting homemade food and beverages, as well as creating unique local brands that enhance the character of the Island,” Schubert read. “Unlike fast food chains, our businesses are owned and operated by year-round Island residents. Fostering a culture of supporting mobile foods is employing Islanders, raising revenue for the town, and keeping more money in our local economy.” 

Casalino agreed with the sentiment that Tierney had a “restrictive” reading of the bylaw. “I do think the bylaw doesn’t specifically state food trucks, and it is an interpretation,” Casalino said. 

Other people also expressed their concerns about Tierney’s decision. Longtime member of the Vineyard Artisans Festival Laura Silber said West Tisbury is struggling to keep its small businesses, and that the “bigger implications” of the denial may bring to the Island economy need to be considered. 

Zoning board of appeals vice chair Julius Lowe said the “restrictive” interpretation of the bylaws comes from Tierney needing to use definitions that may not meet what voters would like. However, he said, there can be some leeway in what qualifies under a definition. The definition of fast food in the West Tisbury bylaws excludes “bakeries, delicatessens, and similar retail food businesses.”

After Schubert closed the public comment period, the zoning board of appeals reviewed Tierney’s denial letter. Schubert went over the definition of a fast food restaurant in the bylaws, which describes it as “an establishment where the principal activity is the service or sale of food items packaged in disposable containers for immediate consumption on or off the premises, and where staff do not serve customers at tables,” with some exceptions. The word “establishment” is what Schubert thinks is the crux to the decision. 

“How established is a food truck? It has wheels … it’s not a place,” he said. Shubert also said that Tierney did say an update to the bylaws may be appropriate, but that is not within his authority. 

Board member Andrew Zaikis said this decision feels different from past positions about food trucks, mentioning how food trucks have been signed off for events in the past.

Lowe said it was hard to justify upholding the decision. 

The board also waived the $200 appeal fee for the case. 

The Times reached out to Tierney, who said he still needed to talk with the board about the meeting.


  1. Better not let Mr. Tierney know what goes on at the Ag Fair. True, the food booths don’t have wheels, and the service may not be exactly “fast,” but still . . .

  2. What’s the carbon footprint of these gas/diesel guzzling vehicles traveling to the Climate Action week festivities? Shouldn’t those participating be encouraged to make a lunch at home and have a picnic at the Grange Hall?

    • John– I will awarded you the “most hypocritical desperate attempt to lamely criticize others”
      prize this month.
      This one is definitely in the running for the most hypocritical award of the year.

      • When do we start to make the hard choices to actually do something about climate change? Banning the trucks and having a picnic is one small step to actually doing something about climate change.

        • John, as the owner of one of these food trucks I can say that our business has a pretty small carbon footprint relative to a restaurant. Our equipment is state of the art and runs on liquid propane (like any commercial kitchen) and an efficient gas generator. For an event like climate change week we drive about 15 miles roundtrip with a clean burning diesel engine. Compared with a landscape or construction company our fossil fuel emissions are miniscule. I don’t see you criticizing other businesses that rely on large vehicles to provide services across the island…

        • John– Individuals taking cool showers and eating tofu burgers will not do it, although both are good ideas.
          Government policy has a shot.
          Let me cite an example for you:
          In August of 2012 the Obama administration raised the “Corporate Average Fuel Economy” ( CAFE) standard to 54.5 MPG for all new cars and light trucks by the year 2025. Automakers said it was doable.
          In August of 2018 the trump regime rolled that standard back to 37MPG
          That decision by the trump regime will waste over 80 BILLION gallons of gas and at current prices cost Americans $400 BILLION a year.
          It will also allow for over 1.4 TRILLION pounds of carbon to be released into the atmosphere per year in the United States.
          Don’t criticise hard working people for having a mobile kitchen to feed people good food, while you support any climate denying politician.
          My guess is you would support any and all politicians who would never dream of requiring Americans to be even slightly inconvenienced to do anything to reduce the impacts of climate change.

  3. Food trucks are often owned by a local business owner and chef. The menus are smaller and centered around the local ingredients. Fast food restaurants may be part of a chain, and their menu planning and owners are located elsewhere often designed in a corporate office.

  4. Tierny must go. He is so anal he counts nails in plywood. We need an inspector that understands reality and that some people have lives.

  5. Mr Tierny — You have a job to do. I understand that you want to do it in the best way you can.
    I know you take it seriously.
    As a carpenter with 35 years of experience mostly building houses on this island , I will take this opportunity not to criticize you or talk about how unreasonable you are when dealing with contractors on a daily basis, rather I will offer you some free advice.
    Perhaps you don’t know it, but you are viewed negatively by most in the construction industry . We, in the industry, understand the need for building codes, and we understand that it is your job to enforce them. But really, Joe, you have to understand that every contractor does not need to have a “nurse diesel” checking every detail about every single insignificant thing. There is an element of trust that you just don’t get.
    But to get back on point about the food trucks–
    Take a look at where you live.
    Take a look at the community here and what it represents.
    For you to equate food trucks participating in a community event with McDonalds or Burger King is pretty over the top. What harm do you think will befall the community if a food truck feeds people at a social event ?

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