After a long process, the West Tisbury zoning board of appeals awarded a special permit that will allow more events at Grange Hall.
Last week, the Vineyard Preservation Trust agreed to take one week to solidify a proposed use policy for the Grange in pursuit of a special permit that would allow an increase in the number of events at the venue. On Thursday at West Tisbury town hall, the zoning board of appeals voted 4-1 to award the special permit. Board member Jeffrey Kaye, who expressed concern over the Grange’s commercial activity and event oversight concerns, was the sole dissenting vote. The special permit’s conditions will be added to the Grange’s deed.
The Trust had been to the board earlier when West Tisbury zoning inspector Joe Tierney denied more events. The trust has also filed a lawsuit in Dukes County Superior Court against the town. Additionally, they held a community forum last October to gather input from residents and to explain the state of the Grange. The feedback from the public has been a near unanimous support for the Trust’s Grange endeavors.
Vineyard Preservation Trust executive director Nevette Previd and attorney Marilyn Vukota presented the policy to the board on Thursday.
Before going over the policy, board member Jeffrey Kaye made a statement that while he agreed with the facts written in town counsel Ron Rappaport’s 2011 opinion about the Grange’s use, he disagreed that it has a binding effect or precedent to the public hearing. Kaye also had no issue with the charitable events happening at the Grange, but he was concerned over the possible rise in commercial activity at the venue. He said the town had a right to regulate some Grange activities.
Schubert said he viewed commercial use at the Grange would include renting to a private business, which was different from renting it for nonprofit events like the family-friendly film program Cinema Circus.
Moving on to the policy, Previd said most of what was written down for the public hearing was already in place. The policy was a codification of what the Trust already does.
“Ninety-nine percent of these policies are already in place that we have in our renter’s agreement,” Previd said.
The proposed policy was divided into several main parts, including event protocol, occupancy limits, operational details like logistics and hours, permits, trash management, and more. Previd went over the policy point by point. The board also suggested some minor language changes as well. The limitations, such as music levels and 8 am to 10 pm operational hours, are based on the town’s bylaws.
Previd also underscored that the Trust does not plan to go up to the occupancy limit, which was listed as 500 standing individuals, 356 chairs, and 167 tables and chairs for the first floor and 182 chairs and couches on the second floor.
“We, anecdotally, as an organization, never would go to 500 people because we haven’t,” Previd said. “Actually, in our renter’s agreement it’s 250 [people]. We have a building to protect. Our job is historic preservation and that’s the first and foremost of what we do. Community use is second to what we do, so we have to abide by the health of the building.”
Kaye said the board should have some oversight on the type of events that take place at the Grange, but board member Andrew Zaikis pointed out that the hearing was meant to address the number of events. Schubert said the board was at the meeting to follow the review procedures placed before them.
“They’re going to review it with their policies and the town’s going to review it through the event permit sign off, beer and wine license sign off, and stuff like that,” Schubert said.
Unlike last week’s group of Grange fans, the small crowd gathered in the meeting room viewed the Trust’s policies with a more critical eye. No new correspondence was submitted about the topic.
Some concerns included commercial use, traffic and parking, and number of events in town.
West Tisbury town clerk Tara Whiting-Wells questioned how weddings at the Grange did not qualify as a commercial event since the space was being rented. Schubert said this fell into a “gray area.” He said the board had treated something as commercial if it was regularly occurring and not a one-time event. Additionally, weddings fell under pre-existing nonconforming use for the Grange.
When Field Gallery director Jennifer Pillsworth pointed out all who rent the Grange have to pay to use it, Schubert said rent and profit are two different things.
Whiting-Wells suggested putting in the policy an effort to avoid holding an event when another one is taking place in town. “That’s something that’s been going around on how to help with traffic and stuff,” she said.
West Tisbury resident Prudy Burt asked to add a policy to schedule only one event at a time, within practicable extents, at the Grange. A lifelong resident of West Tisbury, Burt said the town was at a “tipping point” in terms of how many events it could handle. While Burt supports the Trust, she asked for the impact from events at the Grange to be kept to a minimum.
“Twenty years ago, we could absorb x number of events, this many weddings, this many trade shows, this many artisan festivals,” Burt said. However, the number of events in town has increased and some of them happen simultaneously. “But, because of the level of traffic now, we can’t absorb it like we used to.”
Pillsworth shared another view of the traffic situation. Since the West Tisbury Farmers Market moved to the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Hall, she saw a “downplay” in traffic and gallery visitors. “Traffic used to be crazy, it is not at all,” she said. “I mean, I used to have to come half an hour earlier on Saturdays just to make it to work on time and now I don’t have to anymore. So, this idea that it’s becoming untenable … I work there every single day. I’ve seen it go in the exact opposite direction.”
Circuit Arts artistic and executive director Brian Ditchfield, whose organization holds events at the Grange, said coordination is underway among event organizers to minimize the number of events occurring in the town at the same time.
After some deliberation, the board decided to move to approve awarding the special permit, which will include the amended use policy.
There is a 20-day appeal period after zoning board administrator Kim Leaird writes up the decision and submits it to the town clerk, which Schubert said takes about a week to finish.