Some neighbors object to outdoor dining proposal

Potential wedding rental venue under review.

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Lambert's Cove Inn owner Jon Saunders (front left) and innkeeper Bridget Sampson (front center) presented why the inn should be allowed outdoor dining. — Eunki Seonwoo

The West Tisbury zoning board of appeals decided to continue Lambert Cove Inn’s public hearing to Oct.13 after listening to testimony about the inn on Thursday, Sept. 8. 

Jon Saunders, who owns Lambert’s Cove Inn, located at 90 Manaquayak Road, with his wife Stephanie, is applying for a special permit to allow outdoor dining in the inn’s English garden. Dining will be limited from 5 pm to 9 pm, with a maximum occupancy of 25 to 30 guests at any single time. Additionally, there will be no amplified music. Saunders said that the inn’s long-term goal is to limit the number of “outdoor wedding disturbances,” and to “build a top-notch, fine dining experience.” All weddings happening this year were contracted by the previous owner. 

“We feel that the outdoor dining would be a significant value to our guest experience, and would not in any way disturb our valued neighbors,” Saunders said. “We’re zoned for 70 seats. We’re not asking for more seats.”

Board chair Lawrence Schubert asked since the inn was using the garden to comply with COVID regulations, whether the number of guests had been limited to 25 to 30 people. Saunders said “yes,” and that the inn does not even have 30 seats in the garden, which is currently the only place where people eat outside at the inn.

“Once we understood that the neighbors might be worried about [COVID], we stopped seating people after they ate outside,” innkeeper Bridget Sampson said. 

Saunders also made an effort to distance the current establishment from the previous ownership, but Schubert asked him to not bring personal matters into the hearing, and to just answer the questions. 

After Saunders and Sampson answered some more questions from the board and presented additional material, Schubert moved on to correspondence and public comments. The correspondence the board received about this proposal showed mixed reactions. Some letters, such as one from Katherine Gagnon and Brian Leistman, expressed support for outdoor dining at the inn. However, there were abutters who were concerned about the disturbance outdoor dining might create. Some, like Martha and Tucker Hubbell, worried that this special permit could set a precedent that would bring back the noisy days of the previous ownerships if Saunders decides to sell the property. 

After hearing what was in the letters, Saunders responded by saying he and his wife own four other lodging properties, and developed strong relationships with each of those communities.

“What the previous owners did is not what we will do,” Saunders said. 

Dan Scherlis, an abutter to the inn, started off public comment by saying the neighborhood has become a “qualitatively better environment” for his family after Saunders took over ownership. However, he said the noise and lights from the garden do travel to where he lives, and cause disturbance for him. 

“This would be a substantially increased detriment to the neighborhood,” Scherlis said. He also echoed the Hubbells’ worries about what would happen if property managers who did not consider the neighborhood took over. Ultimately, he was against outdoor dining. 

Other abutters who spoke during the meeting were also against outdoor dining, although not always for the same reasons.  

Jonah Kaplan-Woolner, a neighbor to the inn, was the sole voice of support for outdoor dining. 

“It’s really nice to have a place we can dine within walking distance from our house,” Kaplan-Woolner said. “But, also, sort of on a more community-based scale, if it’s indeed true that the continued existence of the inn depends on allowing outdoor dining, I would hate to see the inn stop existing.” 

In other business, the board discussed with West Tisbury zoning inspector Joe Tierney whether a proposal by David Reed to rent his property as a wedding venue was permissible. Reed was not present. This request was also considered by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Land Use Planning subcommittee during a late August meeting. 

After further discussion among the board and meetinggoers, with the board behind schedule, Schubert suggested continuing the public hearing to allow more time for interested parties to weigh in with an appropriate amount of time allotted. 

Schubert said under the use table, Reed’s request only really fit under the “home occupation” category. Tierney agreed, but when he discussed this with town counsel Ron Rappaport, Rappaport pointed to a Truro case where even five weddings were not allowed. “Ron seemed to say that it’s up to the board to decide what the level of use is incidental,” Tierney said. 

Reed was looking to rent out his property to “over 15” weddings, according to Schubert. He was hesitant to make a decision without Reed being present at the meeting. Tierney pointed out that Reed is not a year-round resident, so the board would not be able to give permission for the property’s wedding venue rentals. 

Board member Jeffrey Kaye said the number of proposed weddings “does not seem to be incidental.” 

After more discussion, Schubert said he did not want to “discuss the merits” of the application without the applicant present, and asked Tierney whether there was “anything we can do to help the commission with their request, or is it just going to be an answer from Joe after speaking with us?” Tierney said he will double-check what the email said, and get back to board administrator Kim Leaird.

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