Keeping it local

OBPD advocates investing in Island staff; neighbors of the Alley bar express complaints.

Oak Bluffs Police Chief Jonathan Searle, shown here being sworn in as chief in June, introduced department policy changes during the Oak Bluffs select board meeting. — Abigail Rosen

The Oak Bluffs select board unanimously approved police department policy changes requested by Chief Jon Searle during a lengthy meeting Tuesday evening.

The policy changes are needed regarding the recruitment and retention of personnel, Searle told the board, “to reflect our housing crisis [and] employee shortage.” He recommended enacting an open enrollment, whether or not positions are available, to be able to pull from a pool of candidates. Additionally, he said, it would allow flexibility in considering current community/public safety employees that have “dedicated years to the town [and] have an aptitude for the job.”

“What’s important to me,” Searle said, is “[potential candidates] with local roots and the ability to harness a long-term commitment to the town.” Additionally, he said the town should “invest in those employees to get them the training that they need, and then bring them on board as full-time officers for the town.” This would ideally be for Islanders who expect to remain on the Vineyard, and with OBPD, for the entirety of their career, Searle said. 

Meanwhile, the select board heard from frustrated abutters to the popular Oak Bluffs bar the Alley, following the granting of bar owner Kelley Morris a trial period regarding an altered premise request over the summer. 

The initial application submitted by Morris requested use of outdoor seating for a maximum of 10 people, not to exceed the total approved bar patrons allowed for the business. 

Neighboring residents took issue with the outdoor seating, noting the noise levels and close proximity to nearby homes, and asked the select board to deny the altered premise application. 

“I urge you to recognize that the location [of the bar] is not compatible with the neighborhood,” said Oak Bluffs resident Lynn Vera. 

Abutter Teresa Clark said that in the past, she’s taken issue with the noise from Offshore Ale, but because of the Alley’s outdoor area being closer to neighboring homes, the noise has been “worse than anything [she has] ever experienced.”

Resident Sheila Harding added, “We are a residential area against a commercial business,” and because the Alley’s outside seating is at the back of the property instead of the front — on Kennebec Avenue — the noise is in fact particularly loud. “I don’t think anyone would be OK with a bar in their backyard,” she said. Harding said the noise was “a problem” even before the temporary outdoor seating, and the bar’s neighbors “all have a right to have a reasonably peaceful residence … we can’t even open our windows or screen doors because the noise is so loud.” 

Representing Morris was attorney Howard Miller, who said the town ought to encourage young business owners who are working to immerse themselves in the Oak Bluffs business community. 

Among those testifying in support of Morris and her business were Larkin Stallings of the Oak Bluffs Association, J.B. Blau, and Jimmy Seas owner Will Craffey. 

Stallings said Morris and the Alley have been “a great addition” to the community, and the bar is “an asset” to the town. 

“The entirety of Kennebec Ave. is commercial,” Craffey argued, emphasizing that Morris is not solely responsible for town noise. “I’d believe that the town’s goal [would be] to utilize the commercial space,” he said.

Miller stated that Morris has been cooperative with the select board, and has welcomed any feedback from neighbors, but the claim was met with opposition. Sheila Harding proceeded to provide what she said was documentation of her phone records to show that noise complaint calls were made to police.

Select board chair Ryan Ruley said there are no police records of noise complaints throughout the entire summer. “When we look at the statistics, and the facts,” he said, “we didn’t have one noise complaint … it’s probably one of the only establishments in town that didn’t get one the entire summer.” 

Select board member Jason Balboni said that the trial period granted to Morris proved to be unsuccessful. “I’m all for giving people a chance,” he said, but regarding solutions to alleviate the frustrations of neighbors, “the things that we suggested weren’t done.”

The select board subsequently voted to deny Morris’ request in a 3-1 vote, with Ruley opposing. Select board member Brian Packish had recused himself prior to discussion of the agenda item.

Meanwhile, the board approved an application for a business and entertainment license submitted by Austin Grande, chef and owner of the upcoming Bombay Indian Restaurant, slated to open by the end of October, at 7 Oakland Ave. 

In other business, the select board approved a request from Your Taxi company owner Diane Habekost to transfer the business license to Chevar Gordon, contingent upon securing space for the vehicles to be kept in the long term. The license allows for up to 10 vehicles, but there are currently only three taxis in the Your Taxi fleet. As of now, the vans sit at Vineyard Haven Park and Ride, Gordon told the select board. 

Ruley expressed brief concern about approving a license for a business that operates, and keeps its fleet in another town. 

“I feel very strongly that we need to have something solid,” Balboni said, regarding a consistent parking place, and advocated for the conditional approval, which was then agreed upon by the board. 

A request by Oak Bluffs resident Guinevere Cramer to close Vineyard Avenue for the peak trick-or-treating hours on Halloween was also approved by the select board


  1. While not one documented complaint of noise against the Alley bar and the selectmen still vote against a business in a business district. The island has lost its way but the moniker of the island of NO exists. Shame on the selectmen

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