Still, no Stillpoint

MVC reopens and continues public hearing on Stillpoint Meadows project.

Stillpoint Meadows representatives aim to repurpose the West Tisbury barn as a community event space. — Thomas Bena

After months of discussions and numerous public hearings, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has yet to make a decision on whether to approve a proposed community space in West Tisbury.

First brought to the commission for review last year by Thomas Bena, the Stillpoint Meadows project seeks to repurpose an existing 3,200-square-foot barn as a Island-wide community event space. 

Per its mission statement, the nonprofit Stillpoint Meadows aims “to create a gathering space for educational offerings, including but not limited to discussions, workshops, silent retreats, and the arts.” 

Among a lengthy list of activity examples previously offered by the nonprofit were women’s boxing, a surfboard building contest, poetry readings, tai chi classes, mindful forest walking, and PTSD workshops. 

Since the beginning of the review process, commissioners were hesitant to approve the project, having raised concerns about the lack of specifics on intended use of the space after it was revealed that the barn would also serve as a rentable private event space throughout the year. 

Because the seven-acre site is zoned for residential and agricultural use only, a number of commissioners also highlighted possible adverse impacts a commercial venue could have on neighboring properties. 

This led commissioners to entertain conditions for an approval, which would regulate the number of events, and the capacity of the venue, in thorough detail. 

Stillpoint representatives took issue with the limitations, and emphasized the need for flexibility.

“It’s not clear [yet] what events the community is going to want,” Stillpoint Meadows assistant director Jake Davis said Thursday at a reopened public hearing. “It’s not clear [yet] what events will be right for this neighborhood.” 

He said the number of events proposed is not set in stone, but it allows the organization the room to find what works best, per their mission. 

A revised application submitted by Bena said the organization would be willing to forgo hosting any wedding events in consideration of noise concerns, and advocated for a review period.

Still, some commissioners homed in on potential noise problems, noting the restriction on weddings is moot, if other private gatherings are allowed. 

“Where do we draw the line?” commissioner Peter Wharton asked. “Do we draw the line at large rehearsal dinners? A celebration of life? A fundraiser?”

There’s a number of other events that could involve a large group of people, and be as loud or louder than a wedding, he said. “All of those could be equally impactful [to abutters].”

Commissioner Linda Sibley agreed. “Why are we picking on weddings?” she asked. “We need to work harder on what it is we’re hoping to prevent.”

Commissioner Trip Barnes compared Stillpoint to the Agricultural Society, and pointed out the number of successful programs that have been introduced by that organization. 

“It’s because the community wanted them and supported them,” he said. 

“I think this could be something,” Barnes said of the Stillpoint proposal. “We’re sitting here, assuming this, assuming that. Nobody knows what the hell’s going to happen here. But I think we’ve got pretty good control on it, and I think the people at hand want to do the right thing, and they’ve gone to great lengths to do it.”

Barnes criticized his fellow commissioners for “picking apart” the project. “I don’t have to tell you how many people are on this Island, and an awful lot of them want to do good things,” he said. “I think we’re dealing with one of those situations now.”

On Bena and Davis, Barnes said, “I think their hearts are in the right place.” 

The reopened public hearing on the Stillpoint Meadows proposal is to be continued March 9.