West Tisbury deals with Trust issues

Select board expresses frustration toward owner of Grange Hall.

Miscommunication led to a conundrum relating to the Grange. — MV Times

The West Tisbury select board found itself in a pickle during its Wednesday, August 31, meeting over a botched permission process for an auction.

According to West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand, resident Sue Whiting requested a special permit to hold an auction at Grange Hall on Friday. Rand said West Tisbury building inspector Joseph Tierney signed off on the permit but backtracked on Monday realizing he “made a mistake thinking it was another type of event” and “rescinded” his signature “due to the commercial sales aspect.” The decision was also made because the Vineyard Preservation Trust, which owns the Grange, has been told the limit of events that can be done on the property without needing “some sort of zoning relief for an expansion of pre-existing nonconforming use” has been reached. 

“I’m really between a rock and a hard space here,” Whiting said. She lost her husband, Flip, four years ago and was left with various items from his avid fishing days, such as rods, reels, anchors, and many more things. Whiting said around 2½  years ago she contacted Phil Stanton, a friend and an auctioneer, to pull together an auction. “Phil and I had it all set up for the PA Club, but then COVID hit, and once COVID had subsided the area we were going to run the auction had been leased to the Island Food Pantry. I then suggested the Grange Hall.” 

Whiting said Stanton contacted Sandy Burt, the Trust’s event and venue manager, in mid-July and “arranged for the rental of the Grange” for the auction on September 21 and 22. She signed a license agreement and paid for a fee, cosigned by Trust executive director Nevette Previd on July 27. Stanton double-checked with Burt on whether everything was set. 

“We were never told we needed an event permit from the town,” Whiting said. She said the first time she heard about needing one was from town clerk Tara Whiting-Wells when they reached out to ask if she could help with the auction. 

When mentioning Tierney signing the permit “not being aware it was not a fundraiser,” Whiting said said if there was money left over after paying the Trust, auctioneers, and helpers, she would “be making a donation” to the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust. 

“We spent many hours and money sending out flyers [and] information,” Whiting said. “This is the only day Phil Stanton has available. I’m asking that you allow this auction and hopefully work out a system in the future that will work for profit and nonprofit events at the Grange.” 

Rand said while there have been nonprofit auctions at the Grange before, this is irrelevant “upon further reflection” because “the cup has run over” on how many events of this type can take place. 

“We’re in a situation where Joe [Tierney] has explained to the Grange that until and unless they apply for a special permit to somehow codify changes to what goes on there, there’s nothing else that can be added,” Rand said, adding that the only exception would be a noncommercial event. “We’ve reached a limit, by [Joe’s] mind, cannot be crossed without them going to the zoning board of appeals.”

It was also unfortunate that Vineyard Preservation Trust decided to move forward with the auction, according to Rand.

“This has been an ongoing conversation with them since May and they know full well where we are standing at this moment,” Rand said. “To send something forward like this when they know that is, frankly, quite frustrating to us here in town hall because we are consistently put in the position of being the bad guy.”

Rand said Vineyard Preservation Trust has “appealed at the ZBA” to add more activities “but they did not prevail.” The only way for this “logjam” to be cleared is if the Vineyard Preservation Trust appeals to the zoning board again or to take the previous decision to court. 

Select board member Skipper Manter said he “felt bad for Sue” and “there’s lots of blame to go around,” but he was troubled by Tierney rescinding his signature. Rand pointed out the mistake was “rectified” before it went to the board for final approval. 

“Sue, we’re also between a rock and a hard place with this,” select board chair Cynthia Mitchell said. “I think we are being advised that there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Select board member Jessica Miller said she did attend the zoning board meeting in question, and “the point of the hearing” was that Tierney told Vineyard Preservation Trust they needed to apply for a special permit while the trust disagreed, but the zoning board of appeals sided with Tierney. This public hearing took place on August 4

“Well, what does that mean to me?” Whiting asked. “Shouldn’t I be grandfathered in?”

The town’s answer was “no.” 

Manter raised the issue about Tierney’s signature again, and Rand said since the select board did not give approval it did not count as an “actual event.” 

“I’m not trying to find fault with him, I know he’s got a lot on his plate. He had the information available to him when he signed the permit and nothing’s changed since then. That troubles me,” Manter said. “I feel bad for her.”

“How would you go forward with this, Skipper?” Mitchell asked. “Or Jessica.”

“Historically, Skipper would say no because it would be a retail sale in a zone that’s not zoned for retail sales,” Miller said. “No matter what, whether or not Joe signed it or not, during this vote Skipper historically, if we are following his pattern, may say no.” 

Miller added it is “very unfortunate” Whiting is “stuck in this” since it is a “convoluted issue that we shouldn’t be adding to by allowing something that’s already in such a gray and dangerous area when we are actively trying to reform what we are doing,” referencing the zoning bylaw changes for incidental retail sales the town is considering. 

“I’ve put so much time and money into this, it just makes me crazy,” Whiting said. “Especially when other people are selling stuff there and, you know, they’re not necessarily putting it to the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust or whatever.” 

Manter said he “didn’t know what the solution was,” and asked whether there was “any legal way we can allow this to happen.” Mitchell said Rand has been in contact with town counsel Ron Rappaport, who said the event could not take place at the Grange.

Up-Island Council on Aging administrative assistant Jennie Gadowski asked whether the event could be moved to the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society’s hall, but that suggestion was shot down since it was not agricultural in nature. Ultimately, after more discussion, the select board unanimously approved Sue Whiting to hold her auction at Whiting Tree Farm on September 22. 

Neither Burt nor Previd were not immediately available for comment. 


  1. This is clear collective punishment against the people of West Tisbury by town officials as a result of their war on the historical and cultural use of the Grange.

    • The people of West Tisbury elect the West Tisbury officials.
      This is what happens when you allow democracy to flourish.
      Majority rule.

  2. I have listened to so many Complaints about this building inspector since he started. Can we please fire him?

  3. It’s time to vote these guys out! The Grange Hall should be used for the community. They took
    the farmer’s market away and now they are gunning for everything else. Sue should have her sale!

    • Keep an eye out. They’re going to be rewriting the bylaws soon, likely to solidify their oppressive policies that they’ve been creatively projecting onto the existing bylaws. The community needs to be involved in this process.

  4. The Auction will be set up at the L and W tree farm across from the Ag Hall fair grounds – a.k.a. the fair parking lot. Panhandle Rd. Tent rented. Tables and chairs rented. Costs are up, for sure. Let’s make this work for Soo and the memory of Flip. THURSDAY Sept. 22. Preview at 9. Auction with Phil Stanton at 10:30. Onward we go.

  5. There is going to be a yard sale today on Old County Road. Perhaps the authorities should be set on them for running a retail space in a residentially zoned district

  6. I remember going to, and helping at, an auction at the Grange many years ago. It was mostly items from Katharine Cornell’s estate, so you know it was awhile ago.
    I’m glad there was a solution found, although it’s hard to know if it was equitable. I too am not happy at all about the way things were handled. A long time West Tisbury resident is told that she can and then she can’t hold her long deferred auction there? Things definitely need to change! How much is the ongoing Sunday artisan’s sale helping anyone but the vendors? Lots of questions, time for some answers.

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