The second floor of Grange Hall in West Tisbury was nearly full, with roughly 60 people for the community listening forum hosted by the Vineyard Preservation Trust. Islanders, many from West Tisbury, came to discuss their desires for the present and future use of the Grange.
The forum was moderated by West Tisbury town moderator Dan Waters with Vineyard Preservation Trust executive director Nevette Previd and the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival executive director Brian Ditchfield, whose organization partners with the Trust, available to answer questions.
“We want to get people talking as much as possible,” Waters said.
There were some voices of concern over possible expansion of the Grange’s use, but most Islanders shared ideas on how to continue or add to the property’s activities.
The Grange has been the focus of discussions about whether its events need special permits after a certain amount. John Klein, chair of the Vineyard Preservation Trust’s board of trustees, wrote a letter ahead of the forum stating that the Grange needs “significant investment” and called West Tisbury’s requirement for a special permit “inconsistent with our deeded rights.”
The first question Waters asked was how the Grange should be used. Heather Capece, Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) lower school drama director, said MVPCS students use the Grange for theater, and hopes that partnership continues.
“For us, this has been our students’ [stage],” Capece said. “As a kid myself, theater was … a place where I felt safe. I see that with my students, who get on this stage and perform. It gets rid of a lot of anxieties in their life.”
Nicole Cabot, a private chef, said working at and attending events at the Grange brings her “a lot of joy.” However, the allowed use of the Grange’s kitchen is unclear, and she needs to use another commercial kitchen to bring food to the property. “I think the town has been very difficult to appease … on every front, and I would love to know how to make it easier for people who are hard workers of this town,” Cabot said, adding that her husband and his brother have reminisced about how the Grange used to be a hangout location. “People are struggling, and for small business owners to not be able to utilize this beautiful space makes me sad.”
West Tisbury established a zoning bylaw working group to consider possible changes to the town’s zoning bylaws that could allow more retail activity in the town.
After hearing Cabot’s comments, Waters added another question: What should be changed to meet Islanders’ Grange desires?
Triva Emery, a private chef, “tagged onto” Cabot’s comments by saying she believes any necessary remodeling to the Grange would “pay for itself” from various revenue sources, such as weddings and private chefs using the venue.
“The caterers have to set up a whole kitchen because it’s not a licensed commercial kitchen. I think that’s really the weak link,” Emery said.
Marjory Potts said she hoped the Grange would act as a community center for West Tisbury. Although that didn’t exactly happen, she enjoys the offerings from the film festival.
“I’ve been to a bunch of movies already. It’s like being back in the old-fashioned days when people just went to the neighborhood movie theater on a Saturday night,” Potts said. “It’s a lovely thing to get away from Netflix.”
Potts also said the Grange is where a memorial service took place for her husband after he died eight years ago, and this property allowed a “more intimate” celebration of his life.
Sarah Young, a member of the Vineyard Artisans Festival, said she would like the Grange to be used more during the off-season for “social gatherings,” such as potlucks or community game nights.
A couple of Charter School students added to their comments. “The school I attend, and the school my mom works at and my sisters go to [doesn’t] have a lot of space to put on a school production,” Charter School student Emery Fullin said. “As a person who likes to be able to express their feelings in theater, I would really like to see the Grange Hall … used in more [partnerships] with schools to put on more productions.”
“I think we can use this place, as [Emery] said, as a performing arts studio, and also a way to shine it on … other arts,” MVPCS student Morgan Caruso said.
Linda Cohen, a retired architect, asked whether the special permit would be for each event. Previd said the Trust is “in conversation with the town” about this, alongside talks about needed upgrades like a new fire sprinkler system (estimated cost of $500,000) alongside the language in the deed.
“We’ve been trying to work with the town and figure out what they meant exactly,” Previd said about “the use comment” for the special permit. She said the Trust is “really trying to not escalate this.”
When Waters asked the audience about potential concerns for year-round use of the Grange, West Tisbury resident Judith Fisher said worries for neighbors, if the property expands its activities, include “the noise, the traffic, and the lights.”
“The issue would be thinking about how to control those things for the neighbors,” she said.
Harriet Bernstein said the West Tisbury select board expressed concerns about the “overcommercialization of the town,” adding that “it is a travesty” that the Grange is “no longer our community center.”
Caruso lives near the Grange, and said she “hasn’t been personally bothered by the noise at all” but acknowledged that it could be a problem for others. “I think we should make this place more of a celebration of the Island by bringing more life here,” she said. “Some noises could be annoying, but I think that … it’s great our Island community is coming together.”
Kelsey Biggers said making the Grange a “more thriving part of the community” should be pursued “excitedly and aggressively.”
At the end of the discussions, the panelists invited people to reach out with more questions or comments. Previd can be reached at email@example.com and Ditchfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previd told The Times after the forum that it was “super-exciting” that so many people showed an interest in the Grange’s future. Previd said the next steps are making a use-list based on the community feedback and to continue discussions with the town.
“To be real honest, we’re not real clear about the path, so what we’re doing on the backend is talking with our neighbors, talking to our different partners of the Preservation Trust, getting it all on paper, and kind of creating a clear path for ourselves to best represent what the community wants. And then, I suppose we’ll be invited to a meeting to discuss,” Previd said. “I hope we can get to a mutually reachable place sooner rather than later.”