Historic district commissioners seek town guidance

A joint meeting between the Tisbury select board and the town's historic commissions took place Wednesday in the Katharine Cornell Theater. -Rich Saltzberg

Reeling from the loss of their longtime captain, Harold Chapdelaine, who passed away in April, the West William Street Historic District commission and Tisbury historical commission met with the select board and town administrator Jay Grande on Wednesday for advice and resources to further the commissions’ duties. 

The joint meeting, which was originally slated for the Tisbury Senior Center, convened in Katharine Cornell Theater, long closed as a public venue during the pandemic. The board and the commissions met against the backdrop of two office spaces that were set up in the theater. Ahead of the meeting, town administrator Jay Grande said he was considering bringing his office up into the theater too. 

Commissions chair Christine Redfield told the board the commissions wanted access to town counsel to ascertain, among other things, potential conflicts of interest. Redfield also said the commissions were in dire need of administrative help, and wanted an update on the Caleb Prouty House.

Redfield told the board the commissions were advised years ago that they couldn’t work in the historic district, because that would be a conflict of interest. 

Judy Federowicz, who noted she’s served on the commission since 1983, said she was informed she wasn’t allowed to practice real estate in the district, nor could Chapdelaine (who was a builder) practice his trade in the district. 

Grande appeared skeptical, and suggested that as for the select board, a simple ethics form to the Ethics Commission might suffice. In any event, Grande said, town counsel would be available to guide individual commissioners, if need be. 

“We desperately need a secretary to take minutes,” Redfield said. “We have no one available as a volunteer to do so.” Redfield also said the commissions’ numbers were “dwindling,” and there are no alternates. Redfield said it has been a busy year, with seven projects in the district. The clerical work “all falls on me currently,” Redfield said. “And it’s a lot of time.”

Grande said, “Everybody is looking for staff support — we are having trouble filling positions that are vacant.”

Grande suggested applications that come into the commissions might be routed through the building and zoning department, where someone can coordinate them. 

Grande said the select board can fund a “floating” administrative assistant to address the clerical needs of key meetings.

When asked about the Caleb Prouty House, Grande said the town had no appetite to invest in it. Grande said after a review by himself and building commissioner Ross Seavy, it was determined to be impractical as a municipal building. Grande also said the house appears to have been stripped of a lot of its architectural elements. “I think everyone needs to revisit the condition of that building,” he said. 

Federowicz said Stop & Shop has the capacity to conserve the building, and should do so because, among other things, the house is a remnant of Tisbury’s waterfront past.

The board took no action on the Prouty house or anything else. The board and the commissions expressed the desire to continue to work more closely. 


  1. Before Mr Grande thinks of putting perminent offices up in the Katherin Cornell theater, he might ask one of his staff to look through the conditions Mrs Cornell had for her donation to renovate the grand hall. These conditions then must be presented to the WSHDC and others about the legality of a change of menu for that space.

  2. I agree “nothing is forever” yet legally, Mr Hess, the process to change the usage of the theater, needs to go through the proper channels. Just for example if I wanted to build an addition to my house to within 2 ft of my property line, I would have to go through the proper channels to try and do so. Petition, zoning brd, building inspector, neighbors notified etc.
    Such is with the town hall which is tax payer run and owned. As well the WSHDC as part overseer of the building as is the MVC, both would have to be part of the process.

    I am expecting that this conversation is moot anyway as once the tisbury school is finished and has crippled us with 83million + dollars of debt, more millions will be voted on to build a new town hall. Oh right before that….. we are all preparing for the high school to to place their hands into our pockets too.

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