W.T. refers food truck questions to counsel

Select board prefers keeping Zoom for their meetings.

West Tisbury plans to meet with town counsel for guidance regarding food trucks. — Lucas Thors

The West Tisbury select board held a joint meeting with the planning board and zoning board of appeals to discuss retail sales at events, particularly in regard to food trucks. Questions and concerns will be referred to town counsel, who will join the three boards during a future meeting to provide guidance. 

Select board chair Cynthia Mitchell said this will be a part of a series of meetings on this topic. 

“I believe this is the beginning of a larger discussion, of which food trucks are definitely a hot topic subset, and maybe really serve as the impetus to get this moving as, you know, summer is coming,” Mitchell said. “I am hearing, and I am also hearing from town counsel, that the quicker we get it together, the fewer onetime events we’ll need to approve under old practices.”

The meeting was called because of a recent issue regarding food trucks and West Tisbury building inspector Joseph Tierney. When Climate Action Week organizers applied to bring Goldie’s Rotisserie onto Grange Hall for a community celebration, Tierney said food trucks counted as fast food, and denied the one-day event permit. His decision was overturned by the zoning board of appeals, and the food truck was later approved in a 2-1 vote by the select board

The select board and planning board discussed possibly changing food truck regulations before in 2020, but nothing came of it. 

Planning board member Leah Smith said the common practice in “recent years” has been to allow one-day event permits, which included food trucks, despite the zoning bylaw regulating retail sales. “We have every week in the summer the Artisans Festival, and we’ve had the Farmers Market, which are retail sales. Even though there may not be a broad permit for these things in our existing bylaws, in practice we’ve been doing it for a long time,” Smith said. 

“Some believe we’ve been doing it in violation,” Mitchell added. “Hence the need to clean this up and get it straight and right.” 

Smith continued by saying that the section prohibiting fast food in West Tisbury was “designed to not permit things like McDonald’s.” The intent was not blocking local businesses like food trucks, but for “mass-marketed fast food establishments,” according to Smith. 

Planning board member Matt Merry pointed out it would be beneficial for a workable definition of fast food to be established, considering food trucks are Island businesses that will not be going away. Planning board member Amy Upton agreed, saying the question of what counts as fast food may spread to other establishments. “Is 7a considered fast food? We do need to dial that in, the definition,” she said. 

“I’m wondering if one of the words we might be looking for is ‘franchise.’ You know, fast food can be anything, but it’s the franchise of McDonald’s or the franchise of Dunkin Donuts that we’re intending to prohibit,” select board member Jessica Miller said. 

A series of other questions and concerns were also raised by West Tisbury officials seeking guidance from town counsel. Energy committee chair Kate Warner wondered whether a food truck that consistently shows up at the same location should be treated as a restaurant. Mitchell pointed out that the board of health will need to be brought into the loop of these discussions. Multiple officials brought up the need for regulation and permit clarifications.

The meeting with town counsel is expected to occur in June. 

Before the zoning discussion occurred, the select board voted 2-1 in favor of a one-day beer and wine event permit for Vineyard Trust’s fundraiser on Wednesday, June 29, from 4 to 7 pm at Grange Hall. Select board member Skipper Manter was the only dissenting vote, saying retail sales should not be happening in the village residential district, per current zoning bylaws. 

The board also held a discussion on whether to return to in-person meetings or to do a hybrid model. Keeping Zoom was a favorable option to the board members, even if COVID was not a factor. 

Manter said keeping Zoom helps to reduce the town’s carbon footprint, and allows more accessibility for people.

“It makes it much easier for people to attend. What do we have on the screen, a couple dozen people here this evening? I don’t know for sure, but a) it is a lot easier for them to participate, which I see more and more of these days, and b) just think if those 20 or 24 people drove to town hall. It may not seem like much, but we increase the carbon footprint, and again in the big picture, it isn’t much, but every little bit helps,” Manter said. He added that COVID has reared its “ugly head” again. 

The hybrid model has been difficult during the school committee meetings, despite being run by professionals, according to Manter. 

Miller said she personally prefers in-person meetings because sometimes there are distractions at home. However, she recognized the increase in West Tisbury’s carbon footprint through in-person meetings. “I’m comfortable with either, it’s fine,” Miller said. “But the board of health has been meeting in person, and has been for the past month.” 

West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said she “loves Zoom,” but has heard from residents who would like in-person meetings because they don’t have the technology or want to be in the same physical space with those they are interacting with. 

“I think the right thing to do is some sort of hybrid, and we have to get good at it,” Mitchell said. “Given where this community is at the moment with [COVID] risk, the board of health daily report has us as high risk now. I think we should be able to, as an ongoing matter, shift back to Zoom when such an environment exists, and not beholden to having it hybrid just in the interest of greater safety.” 

Rand said she will be running some hybrid meeting tests in the next few weeks before a commitment to the format is made.