Updated, February 14
Over 100 residents have signed a petition advocating for the protection of private property while the town shapes a new master plan.
The town has been developing a plan with consultants and the public to determine how to best shape the future of the town’s development, and petitioners want protection from the town potentially taking over private property.
During a meeting on Wednesday, April 12, the Tisbury select board heard concerns from some of the 109 people signing the petition.
Debby Packer, whose family owns commercial property along the waterfront side of Beach Road, said that some of the plans illustrated in the master plan would be on private property. That includes potentially relocating established businesses for redevelopment, constructing new grid connector roads through private properties and businesses, and private roads being taken over by the town.
Packer and others worry about eminent domain, which is the act of the government taking private property, with compensation, for a public use.
“We have been told eminent domain is not off the table to implement this plan,” Packer said. “The town policy is to not use eminent domain except for in extreme need. The interpretation of extreme need is what’s concerning to me.”
Packer continued by saying Massachusetts has one of the worst rates of “eminent domain abuse” in the country, although local municipalities can develop their own protections from the act. Residents have asked for these parts of the master plan to be removed, although confirmation was never given by the town, according to Packer.
The 109 signatories of the petition asked the board to vote to remove all alterations to private property in the new master plan. “We have experienced eminent domain in the town of Tisbury, and it’s very concerning to me there were plans that have been on file,” Packer said.
Packer said she reached out to individuals whose properties would be affected by the existing plan. “A lot of people had no idea that these plans were being made and they are very concerned,” she said.
Grande said the master plan is a “very intensive process” that generates many ideas and concerns.
“It should be an environment with a free exchange of ideas, some of which can generate a strong reaction,” he said, adding that it was good the public was engaged with the master plan process. Grande also said the master plan schematics and designs are meant to foster discussion on what residents want for the town’s future, including possible zoning bylaw amendments. “These aren’t final plans,” he said.
However, Packer underscored that the master plan scope has expanded; she also pointed out that other municipal master plans did not threaten private property owners.
“That is why I attended the first master plan meeting with my father,” Packer said. “We were very concerned that history would repeat itself where plans would be made on our private properties, we’d be late to the party, they’d be filed, and there would be leverage and extreme need would be displayed and once again we would be fighting for our private properties.”
Packer urged the town to refocus the master plan on public property and the districts as a whole.
Tisbury planning board chair Ben Robinson said the concern is under discussion; his board received the petition only recently, and did not have the opportunity to respond.
Robinson also pointed out that the illustrations in the master plan were currently just conceptual.
The other part of the master plan would also be looking at potential zoning bylaw changes to meet goals of an actualized master plan.
“Some of these illustrations are describing potentially what a property owner could do on their property, not what the town would do on their property,” Robinson said. “I don’t think there’s anything that’s fully formed in the master plan.”
According to Robinson, the illustrations and bylaw considerations will also be an opportunity for property owners to be a part of tackling concerns that affect Tisbury overall, like climate change and the housing crisis.
However, Packer said she did not feel reassured. She said having possible plans on other private property seemed unlawful and wanted town counsel to review the state’s laws to make better guidelines for the master plan.
Select board member Abbe Burt said it would be beneficial to receive clarification from town counsel regarding state laws and Packer’s concerns.
Tisbury resident MacAleer Schilcher urged the board to listen more carefully to town residents.
“I think you guys should care more about the community,” he said. “I don’t think business owners should get their properties with lines driven through them… When you take steps and you offend people, they’re not going to want to work with you. All we want is to be respected.”
The select board plans to meet with the planning board on Thursday, May 4 to discuss the master plan. The select board also plans to follow up on the petitioner’s concerns during a meeting Tuesday, May 9.