Emotions flared at the continued public hearing of Brad Tucker and Liz Ragone’s request for a special permit to install a second curb cut at 844 State Road during the West Tisbury planning board Zoom meeting on Monday.
A total of 132 people attended the public hearing, many of them supporters of the family, who came after hearing about the situation by word of mouth or via Tucker’s Islanders Talk Facebook posts about how much he needs the second curb cut for their farmstand at Radio Farm, and the recent loss of his dog Ralf.
The board discussed the second curb cut request during a previous public hearing in August, and conducted a site visit.
Before the hearing began, board member Leah Smith extended her condolences to Tucker and Ragone. The Zoom chatbox was already chiming with people’s messages of support for the farmstand and the second curb cut.
“I’m sure I speak for all of us on the planning board when I say how very sorry we are for the loss of your dog, Ralf,” Smith said. “I personally have lost beloved dogs and know what a devastating emotional blow it can be, so I really sympathize with you. I think that’s very tough and hard to have all of these things happen at once.”
“Thank you,” Tucker said, choking up.
Smith continued by saying the board is “really here to discuss just one matter,” which is the location of a curb cut to access the farmstand. She said the board has “read many letters people sent in support of Brad and Liz’s farmstand,” and they made it “obvious people are under a misconception on what the planning board is doing in this public hearing.”
“We have not at any time opposed the farmstand itself, and that issue is not before us now,” Smith said. “Whenever a new curb cut is requested on a state road, the planning board must review the request before it is sent on to the state, which has the final say … the planning board is simply trying to carry out our duties to consider the impact of a new access on public safety, and on the neighborhood and the appearance of the town of West Tisbury.”
Smith said the board has “consistently turned down” a second curb cut on the same property that has a curb cut nearby. According to Smith, the board suggested “alternative arrangements” for the farmstand after the site visit, such as making the curb cut “at the farmstand, and have that serve both the house and the farmstand.”
Board chair Virginia Jones echoed Smith’s points, emphasizing the board’s role is to “judge the adequacy of ingress and egress for a particular lot and the proposed use.”
“Farmstands come under a different part of the law, but they’re not affected by that [which] would require a curb cut from the state,” Jones continued. “However, there are very narrow conditions that guide farmstands just because it’s agricultural, which I will tell you that the town supports absolutely, does not mean you can do anything that you wish or you plan or think you can do.”
Jones said while she was on the board, about 30 years now, the properties around Tucker and “through that part of town” are “protected in perpetuity for agricultural purposes.” However, there are some exceptions, and Jones said she thinks Tucker’s property is not covered by this protection. She also listed other issues with State Road, such as a need to reduce speed limits and intersections alongside visibility problems. One way Jones was in favor of increasing safety was “consolidating curb cuts into just one.”
Tucker addressed some of the points made by the board. He started by correcting Jones’ statement that the farmstand was not an agriculturally protected property.
“In fact, we are perhaps more agriculturally protected than the other farms in the neighborhood. This is the first building and farm on this entire stretch of roadway, built in 1890. The farmstand has been active since 1910,” Tucker said. “We are chapter 16A, an agricultural preserve, ‘in collaboration with the [Martha’s Vineyard] Land Bank.’”
The board may also have a misconception about the property, according to Tucker. “Trying to use an alternative entrance, it just doesn’t work. Not only does it not work, it’s dangerous, because it’s one lane, it’s long, so people trying to exit and people pulling in, they naturally back out onto the state highway with not much visibility at all,” he said. “There’ve been dozens and dozens of people that have intended to stop by, but they’ve driven by and seen the fence up or the gate closed, per the order of the planning board, and they pass right on by.”
Tucker said people assume the farmstand is nonoperational when they see the closed gate, but he said, “We’ve been able to operate for almost two months now.” However, the farmstand has lost its opportunity to sell during the bulk of the season.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to move forward. We don’t have funding, we don’t have a lot of resources. Liz and I started this mid-COVID just out of passion,” Tucker said, adding his ties to Martha’s Vineyard as an 11th-generation Islander whose family has been active in the community and have also farmed. “I just feel obligated as a member of said ancestors to do this. It makes me feel great. I think we’re doing a great thing for the community, and it’s very discouraging that the fact something as simple as an entrance has become this much of an issue … the cut is paramount to operate.”
West Tisbury highway superintendent Richard Olsen agreed that the visibility would be better with another curb cut, and a friend from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, who wished to remain anonymous “so we can apply with them,” had no issues with another curb cut for the farmstand, according to Tucker. Tucker added that between where his farmstand is and Cronig’s, there are 17 driveways with double entrances.
“I really appreciate you guys mentioning Ralf, because Ralf has been right beside me the whole way, and now it’s become something that I want to do for him,” Tucker said to the board. “I know I wasn’t supposed to even bring that up … but I truly appreciate you saying that to me, because this has been one of the most difficult times in my life.”
Tucker said if he can’t have the second curb cut, he will need to find other options, which would most likely mean moving off Martha’s Vineyard.
After some back-and-forth between Smith and Tucker about the viability of a second curb cut against an alternative method, Tom Hickie, who is the landowner of farmstand property, began the stream of public comments that supported Tucker and Ragone.
“A farmstand isn’t the mall. You’re not going to have 50 cars at a time. The traffic is not going to be that big. People at the [Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair] might stop by to get something, or whatever. I just don’t understand why we’re so against a little driveway,” Hickie said. “Brad’s done a wonderful job down here.”
A number of attendees said that West Tisbury is a town struggling to keep residents. People also supported the idea the curb cut would increase safety on the property.
“It’s just heartwrenching that this farm is failing and in West Tisbury, our agricultural town, because of a curb-cut issue,” Candace Nichols said. She added her difficulty finding the entrance to the farmstand during the summer. “This family needs your help, and we Islanders, we don’t have a lot left.”
“He’s a son of West Tisbury,” Josh Goldstein, who was classmates with Tucker at West Tisbury School, said. “I spent nine years on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and I know about curb cuts, I know about traffic studies, and I know Brad. I know that he will work hard to make his place as safe as can be.”
Attendee Nour S. Langendorfer pointed out that in regard to “state authority versus the administrative agency,” the board has the authority to allow the curb cut, even if it needs to later go to the state. Additionally, the state “actually must show deference to the board’s decision.”
“This is the only time they’ll say no to you. It’s if the board’s interpretation of its statutory mandate will be disturbed only if … the interpretation of this board is patently wrong [or] unreasonable,” Langendorfer said, citing the 2010 case Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound Inc. vs. Energy Facilities Siting Board. “The board here has complete authority to authorize this curb cut and vote on that during this meeting. It’s not something that needs to be kicked back to the state.”
Langendorfer also said she doubts “this board conducted any sort of traffic or safety study,” so she is siding with what Tucker said about the curb cut as someone who sees the vehicle volume daily. When Langendorfer was talking, an attendee whose Zoom name was “Bubble” interrupted and said points made based on the 2010 case were “total BS,” forcing Smith to mute people. Langendorfer continued by saying the board should respect the “will of the neighborhood.” While Langendorfer was saying there is a need to “protect the small farmers and artisans” because they are “a dying community on the Island,” a sharp “Oh, bulls___” from Jones prompted people in the Zoom chat to erupt with comments of shock. Langendorfer concluded her points. Jones later said she thought she was on mute, and highlighted her “lifelong support of agriculture,” adding she was “horrified and hurt” by some of the comments made in the chatbox toward her.
Jones was not the only board member who attracted the ire of Islanders. After making comments about the board’s site visit, board member Amy Upton made a comment about Ralf that prompted another flurry of comments in the chatbox.
“The death of your dog is shocking and alarming, and so sad for everybody here. What an awful story,” Upton said. “But, in a way, doesn’t it indicate just how dangerous this stretch of road really is?”
“Please do not use that,” Tucker said, lifting his face from his hand.
“Your dog was killed by a hit-and-run driver —” Upton began.
“I’m well aware of that. Please do not use that, I’m begging you,” Tucker said.
An attendee member shouted, “That’s wrong! Totally inappropriate.”
Smith interjected to bring order to the meeting. She also made a point that the pre-existing curb cuts were made before West Tisbury zoning bylaws were established in 1972.
After many more comments from the public and the board, Smith suggested moving to allow the second curb cut. Board member Matt Merry agreed, but wanted to add the conditions of having any areas disturbed be seeded with grass, that woodchips must be “removed from the edge of the road,” a narrow 10-foot entrance to the farmstand with a gate that is to be closed during nonworking hours, and the parking area is to have no more than five cars at a single time.
Merry added he was unhappy with “the attack that has been placed on the planning board via Islanders Talk.”
“I’m happy for your curb cut and your business, but the way that you’ve handled yourself in this board has not been very professional, in my opinion,” Merry said, referencing the posts Tucker made asking people to join and support him during the board meeting. “This planning board’s site visit has been nothing but supportive of your attempt to get a curb cut, and the language used in this particular Islanders Talk — that’s what social media does. You’ve rallied these troops, which I agree are supporting you, but the way you went about it is just completely out of character.”
Tucker apologized for the Facebook post, saying it was a difficult time.
“I don’t think we’re ready to have a vote. I think that we’ve been strong-armed as the planning board into this through a campaign on Islanders Talk, getting everybody and their pitchforks to show up at this meeting,” Upton said, saying they tried looking for other options. She also said Tucker made this a “very emotional matter.”
“I didn’t turn this into anything. It is a very emotional matter, and people feel very passionate about this community, myself included,” Tucker said.
The board eventually voted 4-0 to move the curb cut forward with Merry’s conditions. Upton abstained. “I felt like I don’t have enough information,” she said.
Tucker and Ragone still need to go to the state and meet its requirements for the final decision. Board administrator Jane Rossi said there is a 20-day appeal period “in case anybody wants to appeal it.”
“Thank you for giving us some hope,” Tucker said to the board.