Zoning bylaws changes will be decided at town meeting

West Tisbury residents continue to work on amendments to antiquated bylaws. 

West Tisbury is working to amend its zoning bylaws. — Lucas Thors

West Tisbury residents will decide whether to bring change to the town’s zoning bylaws at the upcoming annual spring town meeting. 

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the West Tisbury zoning amendments committee held an informal meeting with the public to gain insight into the proposed zoning amendment bylaws. A public hearing will be held at a later date. A copy of the proposed amendments, including a use table, is available on the West Tisbury website. The additions are typed in red. 

The amendments came about because of recurring event requests coming to the West Tisbury select board with a retail aspect to them, which the current zoning bylaws did not allow. While one-time permissions were granted for these events previously, a committee was formed to amend the 1970s-era zoning bylaws, particularly around incidental retail sales, food truck operations — also called mobile food establishments — and the commercial and wedding use of a property.

“They were exercising the ability to overrule zoning,” West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said. “It was questionable how often you could do that and how that would exist.”

This is why “limited retail sales” was listed as a possible addition, which are defined as “items sold at a location that is not permanent; goods which have been manufactured, repaired, renovated or otherwise produced and which are sold at a temporary facility.” The addition could allow the town’s permitting bodies to more comfortably pass through events like the Vineyard Artisans Festival, which is a nonpermanent retail activity for around three months. These events would need site plans prior to a permit. 

The amendments also addressed the increasing commercialization in West Tisbury’s rural and village districts because of the growing population and increase in the events in West Tisbury over the years. The select board approved a set of food truck regulations for its own use in July that did not affect the town’s zoning bylaws. 

“There are those who feel the zoning works just fine and there’s too much of a push for more,” Rand said. “There are those that feel that more is great and offering more chance for vibrancy and change and activity is a good thing,”

Committee member Leah Smith said two written comments were submitted to the committee, both of them from former West Tisbury planning board member Bea Phear who, while in favor of the amendments, had recommendations. One correspondence pointed out that “the way chain business is defined, and prohibited, would include two businesses that have long been established in West Tisbury: Cottle’s and Cronig’s.”

“Perhaps the committee wants to change the number to three rather than two or more,” Phear wrote. 

Smith clarified that since West Tisbury’s zoning bylaws were codified in the 1970s, any businesses that have been operating commercial activity before then were grandfathered. While the version that was available during the meeting did not explicitly state the grandfathering, the committee agreed it should be clearly stated. Smith also agreed that increasing the threshold could be beneficial. 

The other letter cautioned the committee from subscribing to a “more, bigger, better” mentality, and to help preserve West Tisbury’s rural character. Additionally, Phear said allowing too many events at the same time, even if in different parts of town, can be overwhelming for West Tisbury. 

When Smith opened up the general discussion, the first to talk was West Tisbury planning board member Heikki Soikkeli, who suggested clarifying what type of chain businesses the town does not want. 

“Aren’t most of the chain businesses the town wants to keep out franchises? So, why not include some language about those businesses being franchises instead of two or three locations or whatever?” Soikkeli said, listing McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, and Burger King as examples. 

West Tisbury planning board associate member John Rau added to Soikkeli’s questions, pointing to a part of the chain business definition stating the locations “are all owned by the same parent company.” 

“McDonald’s are not all owned by the same parent company. They’re all franchised. So, this provision would allow McDonald’s in town. I would just delete that last clause. I don’t think it adds anything,” Rau said. 

However, the threshold brought up another issue: would the language bar companies like the Black Dog or Vineyard Vines, which are local but have numerous locations outside of West Tisbury, from entering the town?

“Heaven knows the Black Dog and Vineyard Vines are corporate franchises now,” Smith said. 

While a determination was not made during the meeting, it will be a point of discussion. 

West Tisbury Farmers Market committee chair Emily Fischer commented that she felt “the size of events is more of an issue with the growing population of the Island and not the events themselves. Parking in all towns is a [major] issue in the commercial districts.”

Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society board of trustees secretary Robert McCarron expressed concern that the limited retail sales section could render the Agricultural Society’s special permit for the Farmers Market moot, effectively making it “preexisting, nonconforming” use. West Tisbury zoning inspector Joseph Tierney and zoning board of appeals chair Lawrence Schubert felt it would not be impacted, but McCarron disagreed. Smith said this can be run by town counsel. 

Other questions and comments that arose from the audience included how it will be determined which businesses are permitted, vehicular safety and parking overflow, and the number of people in town, among other concerns. 

Comments made during the meeting will be taken into account when developing another draft zoning amendment document. Rand reminded those present the committee will not make the final decision on the amendments. 

“The ultimate goal is to take something that makes sense to the voters to determine by a two-thirds vote ‘is this really what we want or not?’” Rand said, referring to the upcoming annual spring town meeting. 

According to Rand, the language for the amended zoning bylaw will need to be completed by the first Tuesday of February. Any comments can be sent to West Tisbury planning board administrator Jane Rossi by Tuesday, Jan. 24, at planningboard@westtisbury-ma.gov.


  1. Hmmmm. Interesting, the town of West Tisbury would like to change bylaws, I think we have a person on Island who would like to see the bylaw regarding Lamberts Cove changed. Let’s add that to the list. This could be your chance EA, but I think you know where that will go.

    In addition, WT seems wants to restrict businesses from entering their town leaving it up to the down island towns to support their needs. However, they don’t want to contribute an equal share to the High School operating budget, which is down island, stressing OB public services, they are fine with that. While all along, WT residents feel they deserve an equal say into what goes on on the HS property, which is not in their town.

    Although I know it will never happen, discussions are starting about regionalizing other services on island, why not One Island, One Government and stop wasting money on redundancy in island government.

    • One State, one government.
      Local government is a waste of money.
      One police force is all the State needs.

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