Tisbury residents weigh in on master plan

Residents differ in their vision for Tisbury’s future.


Tisbury residents had differing viewpoints on how their town should look in the future. 

On Monday evening, consultants from several firms for the Tisbury master plan presented the state of the town’s business districts alongside the potential paths forward, limitations, and risks they face. The areas of focus were the waterfront commercial district, the downtown area, and the State Road area. The presentation and the feedback that followed built off the workshops that took place in October. Another workshop is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 16, at 6:30 pm, and registration can be done online at bit.ly/3GOmI8A

“The goal of this part of the master plan is to come up with words and pictures that show what the town wants these districts to look like in the future, and then after that to develop some policies and recommendations for implementing that vision,” Dodson & Flinker consultant Dillon Sussman said, later adding that the Tisbury planning board wants clarity on what type of zoning bylaws the focus areas may need. 

Sussman also went over the importance of the business districts to the town, including the services offered in these areas, and transportation. “They’re complicated areas,” he said. 

From the October workshops, several issues arose regarding the business districts, such as sea level rise for the waterfront, and whether people should move more inland, the need for transportation circulation improvements, the lack of affordable housing in general, and others. 

The takeaway from what was previously discussed produced four themes for developing the town:


  • Make it easier to navigate the district.
  • Protect the environment and build resilience against climate change.
  • Balance the needs of year-round residents, visitors, and the Island (e.g. expand year-round housing, enable businesses to adapt and thrive).
  • Enhance community spaces and “sense of place.” 


The waterfront commercial district’s proximity to the ocean adds additional improvement considerations, such as addressing flooding in areas like Five Corners and protecting key infrastructure from sea level rise. 

Sussman and Peter Flinker, also from Dodson & Flinker, showed the current conditions of the districts — current buildings, existing roads and sidewalks, public and private open space, land uses — and the possible future uses they can provide. 

Flinker said the State Road area could enhance its role as an Island service center, act as a second village center for Tisbury, or “a place for everything.” The waterfront and downtown districts were presented together, potentially either developed as a maritime center or turned into Tisbury’s arts and cultural center. Some aspects that needed to be considered with the town visioning included parking, possible additional roads, housing and mixed-use development, and industry types. 

Participants were split into randomized breakout groups to express their opinions and ask questions, with a consultant acting as a facilitator. When the session was over, the consultants gave a summarized report about what was discussed and heard. Some of the shared ideas included increasing affordable housing, establishing more routes to improve traffic flow in town, improving Main Street, and town aesthetics, among others. 

The sessions also revealed diverse viewpoints, such as the balance between property rights and the public good. “There was a property owner who was very upset about eminent domain, and other people talked about how eminent domain wasn’t appropriate,” Sussman said. 

Sussman said his group also disagreed on how to deal with sea level rise and flooding. Some felt it was the responsibility of those who chose to live along the floodplain to deal with it, while others suggested creating a barrier, such as a seawall. 

“There was a call for more retreat, and possibly returning some of the land to the south of Beach Road back to natural resources, but we also had more pragmatic voices that were saying this was very valuable land,” Carly Venditti from Barrett Planning Group said she heard from her group. 

Jill Slankas from Barrett Planning Group said her group pointed out the need to bring Stop & Shop to the planning table, considering that it is a major player in the town. “There were questions on the idea of underground parking, and whether that would be feasible or a good idea, with potential flooding down in that area,” she said, adding that an idea people liked was having a park over the underground parking location. 

Flinker said the arts and culture district was attractive to his group, and they wanted an area focused more on people than on facilities. 

Jack Sweeney-Taylor of Dodson & Flinker said his group pointed out a need for zoning amendments to allow development that brings more people to enjoy the State Road area. “A teacher was interested in a place for youth to hang out,” he said. 

A survey conducted at the end of the meeting, which was taken by a number of the remaining 60 Zoom participants, showed differences in views as well. Fifty-seven percent felt the possible changes addressed key issues and opportunities in the commercial districts, while 10 percent disagreed, and 33 percent were unsure. For the waterfront and downtown area ideas, 57 percent preferred the maritime center, and 43 percent preferred the arts and culture center. Forty percent of people preferred the State Road area to become a second village center for Tisbury, while 33 percent wanted enhancements so it could serve as the Island’s service center, and 27 percent wanted it to be a place for everything. The people were split on what the town’s development priorities should be among the possibilities, with 30 percent choosing resilience to coastal flooding and climate change, 27 percent choosing placemaking and community spaces, 20 percent choosing housing, 13 percent choosing traffic circulation, and 10 percent choosing economic development. The poll takers were also divided on what “community or personal value” was most important for their vision of Tisbury, for which multiple answers were allowed. Sixty-three percent chose walkability and connectivity, 57 percent chose housing and economic security, 50 percent chose environmental responsibility and sustainability, 47 percent chose cultural vibrancy, 40 percent chose fiscal responsibility, 17 percent chose diversity and inclusion, and 13 percent chose safety for people and property. 

Although these answers were not representative of every resident, Sussman said, it was important to hear where people stood during these meetings. “We hear a lot of perspectives, so it’s helpful to get a read on the room,” he said.