Town counsel weighs in on West Tisbury food trucks

Situation at a ‘tipping point,’ as zoning bylaws are still undefined.

Town counsel Ron Rappaport explaining his overview about food trucks to West Tisbury officials.

The West Tisbury select board, planning board, and zoning board of appeals received guidance from town counsel Ron Rappaport with his analysis about food trucks and zoning issues, which has been a hot topic for the town

The boards previously met during a joint meeting in May to draft a series of questions and concerns to send to Rappaport about retail sales at events, particularly in regard to food trucks.

Instead of going over each question, Rappaport gave his overview based on the list concerns. 

“Giving my overview, I’m gonna be careful, because we have decisions by the zoning board that I may or may not agree with, and I’m not going to get into that because I shouldn’t,” Rappaport said. “If there’s an appeal, I don’t want anything that I say to prejudice an appeal of a decision.”

Rappaport focused on the food trucks in his overview. He said it is clear that “there is a plain need for regulation in the town,” listing two ways of making this happen: making changes to either the zoning bylaws or the select board regulations. Rappaport said in his own experience with other towns, food trucks “may or may not implicate zoning.” 

“For example, if you have a wedding at your house and instead of having a caterer you want a food truck, there is not a zoning issue there. But if there’s enough frequency, at some point it’s going to be a traveling restaurant, which, in my view, would violate town zoning as is,” Rappaport said. He described West Tisbury’s current situation as a “tipping point,” since the zoning bylaws are “undefined” and up for interpretation. He pointed out how zoning inspector Joe Tierney and the zoning board of appeals have had different interpretations

Rappaport continued by saying select boards have the authority to regulate vendors, such as food trucks. He listed Wellfleet and Tisbury as towns that have regulations West Tisbury can use as examples for the food truck issue. Wellfleet does not list food trucks under zoning, but Tisbury does, according to Rappaport.

“There are two routes to go. I think you should explore both of them. I think there should be zoning amendments so there’s clarity, and I think there should be regulations by your board when it comes to giving out these — I think you call them event permits or whatever they’re called,” Rappaport said. “We don’t have to create the wheel and spend a lot of time on it, because there are documents from other towns.” 

The main difference, according to Rappaport, is the necessity of a town meeting. If the select board chooses to adopt regulations used by other towns, a vote would not be needed. However, making amendments to the zoning bylaw would require a vote by voters. Either way, Rappaport recommended gaining public input. 

There was time for town officials and the public to ask Rappaport questions after his overview, including what the best procedure for the amendments would be, and how to approach events that have historically sold food. Rappaport said each case still needs to be looked at individually as the amendments are pursued, and repeated his recommendation to seek public input for the changes. 

“We’re in a process, frankly, we’re right at the beginning, and it has to be done so we don’t deal with this again next year in a haphazard way,” Rappaport said. 

The select board plans to return to this topic during its next meeting, potentially with draft regulations. 

In other business, the Coalition to Create a MV Housing Bank coordinator Laura Silber presented to the select board what the next steps are for the housing bank legislation, which was voted on favorably during all six Island towns’ elections. Among the variety of steps to consider, the most immediate was for the towns’ select boards to appoint someone to be a member of the housing bank review committee. 

The select board unanimously approved the West Tisbury highway department’s request to transfer $14,320 from the reserve fund. West Tisbury town accountant Bruce Stone said this was to restore money to the department’s budget from invoices for two contractors who did work on storm damage, such as tree cleanup and cutting. 

The select board voted 2-0 to sign a memorandum of understanding between the West Tisbury Police Department and Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Select board member Jeffrey (“Skipper”) Manter abstained from voting, since he is currently the lieutenant at the department. The memorandum, which can be found on the town website, states the airport will pay the town for having law enforcement officers at its location. 

The select board unanimously approved the Vineyard Conservation Society’s event permit for its annual meeting on Thursday, June 23, from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm, at the Grange Hall. 


  1. This island doesn’t need any more old white people making decisions that don’t effect them based on their FEELINGS

  2. Town select boards will now be appointing “someone” to be a member of the housing bank review committee. What could possibly go wrong with that?

    Thank goodness there’s never an old boy/girl network, favoritism, conflict of interest, personal agenda, or bias in anyone from any town on MV, especially among those running the show.

    But things could always be worse. There could be a stoplight, heaven forbid, at 3 different island intersections where accidents and 30 minute traffic jams regularly occur in season. Good thing voters know what they stand up for and are so adept at noticing likely consequences of their decisions.

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