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.