Select board won’t hear of noise restrictions

Contract signed with owner’s project manager for Howes House. 

Marc Rosenbaum proposed a noise restriction idea for West Tisbury during a Zoom meeting.

The West Tisbury select board took a laissez faire stance on a noise restriction idea presented to them during a meeting on Wednesday, August 10.

Marc Rosenbaum, West Tisbury resident and founder of Energysmiths, advocated for a “construction noise ban” similar to Edgartown’s zoning bylaws or Newton’s zoning ordinances

“If the board is in favor of this, the next step would be at whatever town meeting we have next to create a bylaw to present to the voters,” West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said. “It would be a general bylaw, not a zoning bylaw.” 

Rosenbaum began introducing himself as having “over 40 years of experience in the design and construction industry.” He is a licensed engineer, and has a Massachusetts unrestricted construction supervisory license. 

“I’ve been responsible for more construction noise than anyone at this meeting times a hundred,” Rosenbaum said. “What I have noticed — I live on Great Plains Road, about a mile down across from Greenlands, [a] fairly dense neighborhood for West Tisbury — is just the increase in summer and holiday work by contractors and landscapers.”

As an “avid cyclist” who also paddles on the Great Ponds, Rosenbaum noticed the noise increase all over the Island. “I’ve only been here 12 years, but the increase in work on Sundays and holidays seems pretty noticeable to me,” he said. 

Rosenbaum presented this noise restriction idea to the West Tisbury planning board in July, and he said there was a general agreement that there was an increase in “unrestricted noise” during the meeting. He continued that much of this noisy work is being done when the property owners are not around, so year-round residents take “the brunt of it.” Rosenbaum told the select board there are landscaping trucks in his neighborhood on Sundays at houses where he knows the owners are not present.

“It feels to me like there has been a line that’s been crossed in terms of when people are considering their neighbors,” Rosenbaum said. “We gutted our house and renovated it in 2013. We ran around the neighborhood and talked to everybody ahead of time. We told them what we were doing, and we said, ‘Call us if we’re bothering you.’ I think that’s also gone by the by. It just doesn’t happen anymore here.” 

Hearing a backup beeper “in an abutting property all day on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend” was the catalyst for Rosenbaum’s noise restriction quest. Rosenbaum said he used an app on his iPad to catch how loud the beeping was from the deck of his house, which he said was several hundred feet away from the property line, and it showed the sound at 60 decibels. Rosenbaum said the zoning ordinance restricts personal wireless service facilities’ sounds to 50 decibels at the property line.

Rosenbaum said if he were to propose a bylaw, it would consist of “no exterior construction and landscaping on Sundays and holidays, with a homeowner exemption,” “no offroad equipment running with the backup beepers,” and “set a limit at property lines on sound levels so that we have something enforceable and not subjective.”

“I’m not trying to prevent people from mowing their lawns or anything like that. I’m trying to prevent the incessant construction and landscaping work that is seven days a week in our town,” Rosenbaum said.

After Rosenbaum presented his case, the select board took time to ask questions and make comments regarding the idea. 

Select board member Skipper Manter said the issue is noise, but the subjectivity would still remain. Rosenbaum said it is based on the intensity of the noise, such as the homeowner mowing the lawn versus contractors coming in with more equipment. However, Manter said it could be difficult to differentiate, since someone getting work done on their property, including lawn mowing, could be receiving help from neighbors. Manter also pointed out the question of who would enforce this noise restriction. He does not think the role should fall on the police department. 

“It’s challenging as it is, it’s certainly broadly written without specific ways to decide whether it was just two neighbors who don’t get along, or whether or not there was an actual noise issue here,” Manter said. 

Select board member Jessica Miller agreed with Rosenbaum that there is a problem in West Tisbury that there is a “constant” stream of noise from construction and landscaping. However, she also agrees with Manter about the difficulty of enforcing this restriction.

“My neighbor has a Bobcat, and Sunday is when he can use his Bobcat to work on his property,” Miller said, referring to Rosenbaum’s homeowner exemption part of the idea. Miller expressed interest in learning more about the “quantitative way of measuring sound.” A possible enforcement body Miller suggested was the homeowners associations, rather than have the police responding to every single noise complaint, which would be a “waste of resources.” 

Rosenbaum later said there are multiple homeowner associations that manage batches of properties in close proximity to one another.

“The neighbor with the backup was not in my homeowners’ association, even though they’re an abutter,” he said. “In theory, that’s a nice idea, but in practice, it’s a bunch of different homeowner associations, and some [properties] may not be incorporated.”

Rand said if Rosenbaum’s idea was to pass as a town bylaw, it would fall under the police department’s list of responsibilities. But she expressed concern that this could be “weaponized” during “neighbor-on-neighbor” disputes.

“You get neighbor-on-neighbor issues on the regular,” Rand said. “I worry in some aspect that there will be a number of calls for enforcement for individuals who are either professionals who happen to be working on their yard with their professional equipment on a Sunday with one of their buddies, or someone has a landscaper who is not a landscaper.” 

Select board chair Cynthia Mitchell told Rosenbaum that while the board will be hands-off when it comes to drafting a bylaw for this idea, he can work toward getting the idea in front of voters for the next town meeting. Mitchell said Rosenbaum can receive guidance from Rand for this, on such matters as getting signatures from voters. 

In other business, the board voted 2-0 to use funds from the compensated absences reserve to pay up to $38,585.60 for accrued liabilities, compensated absences, and unused vacation time and sick leave to Manter, who recently retired from the West Tisbury Police Department. Manter abstained from voting. 

The board unanimously approved the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair’s request for an entertainment license and a license to operate on a Sunday from Thursday, August 18, to Sunday, August 21. 

The board unanimously approved Rand to sign a contract with ACG based on the recommendation from the Howes House feasibility study committee. Manter disclosed he is a member of the committee. ACG will act as the owner’s project manager for Howes House, and the town originally entered into contract negotiations with the company in July.


  1. Good luck. The push by many to get late light ferries and fast ferries for more and more commuters (like landscapers who mow, power cut hedges, and blow around leaves on Sundays and all week long), plus, the constant promotion for housing (a housing bank!) for more and more builders and tradespeople wielding loud power tools, not to mention the wish to encourage more money to be made by servicing the wealthy who hire the biggest and most frequent building and property enhancement noisemakers, is an impossible mindset to change. We need more weekend festivities that bring noise and crowds, too. Noisemakers need a place to be housed, (and fed in restaurants) or at least a way to get here more easily and more frequently. There’s money to be made here, and that takes precedence over quality of life– according to this newspaper’s editorials, the loudest restaurant and business owners, and part of the real estate community.

    • Right.

      And let’s also encourage people to drive through town with their car stereos blasting their music out for other visitors and residents (wow, who’da thunk people actually live on Main Street in Vineyard Haven?!) to “enjoy.”

      And while we are on the subject, is there any reason for leaf-blowing on Vineyard Haven sidewalks—that is, transferring the leaves and debris from one spot on the sidewalk to another? Why not just use rakes? Apart from the noise issue, when do we start getting serious about conserving our dwindling supplies of energy for important stuff?

      Asking for a friend.

  2. Why are they making it so complicated it should just be a ban of commercial work on Sundays and limit the hours when work can be done by commercial companies the rest of the week. That would be very easy to enforce and do not understand why they cannot be incorporated into the police departments duties. Downtown edgartown has a restriction in R5 district no construction noise from 5 PM to 8 AM Memorial Day to Labor Day and the world has not ended.

  3. The West Tisbury Select Board’s response to Marc Rosenbaum’s carefully considered plea for noise restrictions, as reported by Eunki Seonwooof the MV Times (8/11), sounds a bit tone-deaf to me. Rather than putting their energy into testing whether there is a town issue with noise and how residents feel about that, most of the Board’s commentary was instead about finding problems with enforcement should the town vote in favor of a bylaw. To me, that’s putting the cart before the horse. It is all too easy to point out difficulties with implementing any new initiative. Instead, let’s start with an open-minded assessment and, then, if the town is in support of noise restrictions, find creative ways to implement them.

  4. I never understood the mob wanting to ban gas powered leaf blowers. Should be ban circular saws and require carpenters to use handsaws? Should we ban chainsaws and mandate arborist’s use axes and hatchets? Should we get rid of the string trimmer in favor of the sickle? And those pesky motor boats should be replaced with oars or sails. And for those in favor of battery power, those tools are very loud and stir up the same amount of dust and pollution. Ah, the darn affects or effects (I’ll never get which one is correct) of the industrial revolution.

    • I would encourage you to visit a retailer of power equipment on the island and ask for a demonstration of 2-stroke, 4-stroke, and battery operated machinery, and get back to us with the decibel levels of each.

      • Why, I use noise canceling ear protection. The noise doesn’t bother me. The battery powered equipment can’t handle the amount of leaves I need to move.

    • Jeesh Carl – please read that aloud to yourself, and you will agree that your comment is not reasonable.
      When a deafening gas leaf-blower keeps roaring for an hour, filling the air with nasty particulates that you cannot avoid inhaling, and you know that raking would take half the time, and would be good for the worker, instead of highly toxic – and would reduce the air pollution by 90% – well, you just gotta stand up to do something to STOP IT.
      Thank you Mark, for standing up for this issue – we have all wanted to bring it up ever since this obnoxious public disturbance started (a couple of years ago?)
      And we will certainly ask Tisbury to do the same.

      • Just read my comment again out loud while listening to my neighbor using his backpack leaf blower. My comment is still reasonable. I would add that if you restrict the use of these leaf blower the alternative is to cut trees down. I promise you that I’ll cut all my trees down with a very loud chainsaw so I’ll never have to rake leaves again. We are not California or Florida with a change of season with minimal leaves falling. And as I said before battery powered leaf blowers stir up the same amount of dust and pollutants as gas powered. Not giving up my leaf blower or ear protection.

    • Carl– affects can have effects– effects cannot have affects.
      I think— ?
      Usually affect is a verb, effect is a noun.
      It’s raining– affect
      I got wet– effect.

      I think ? 🙂

      • Mr. Keller. Clear as mud. I’m actually laughing out load. Always appreciate your comments. A tip of the hat to you sir.

  5. Let’s look at who is doing this work and who is complaining. Obviously it’s people of color usually performing the work and the nimby’s are not happy. Nothing new here.

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