A ban on houseboats was implemented in Tisbury on Monday.
After a public hearing, the Tisbury Select Board unanimously approved amending the town’s waterways regulations to place a prohibition on houseboats, or “non-water-dependent vessels,” and “non-water-dependent floating businesses.”
This was an attempt to clarify the town’s rules on the vessels. Tisbury town officials have been trying to regulate houseboats for years, partly out of concern that Tisbury’s pump-out facility hasn’t been staffed in the winter. The facility disposes of a boat’s sewage. And there’s a concern about water quality with too many houseboats.
The select board went over changes in the regulation language to reflect the ban on houseboats on Monday.
“We have had an ongoing issue with non-water-dependent vessels and non-water-dependent floating businesses and houseboats,” board chair Roy Cutrer said, who brought the issue to the table.
In the regulations, the town defined a non-water-dependent vessel as “a vessel constructed as a raft, barge, or hull, and having a primary use that is not water-dependent and for which transportation is only a secondary use or purpose.”
A non-water-dependent floating business was defined as a “business or commercial use that is not water-dependent and/or does not require direct access to water for its use.” A houseboat was defined as “a type of vessel constructed on a raft, barge, or hull that is primarily for habitation, and for which transportation is a secondary purpose.”
Tisbury waterways committee chair Matt Hobart said the recommendation by several committees over the years was to prohibit these types of vessels.
Hobart said the recommendations were “more prohibitive” than what his committee discussed before, although he made no “judgment call.” Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker said he had no issues with what was presented.
Despite Monday’s vote, two vessels that have been in Tisbury will be exempt.
These vessels are the Rouse, operated by Jeffrey Canha, in Vineyard Haven Harbor, and the Rascal, operated by Marion Wilson, in Lagoon Pond. According to the amendments made Monday, this right granted to the Rouse and the Rascal will not be transferred to new vessel owners.
“It’s unfair to leave these boat owners and operators in limbo,” Tisbury town administrator John Grande said. “It’s a bit cruel. And no one has the stomach to tell them to quit what they’re doing, because it wouldn’t be right or fair at this point.”
Some residents voiced concerns about the proposed amendments during Monday’s meeting.
Tisbury resident Lynne Fraker called the proposed amendments “extremely restrictive,” and said that the language could be written better. She also pointed out that there are boats with points on the bow that people live on. Additionally, Canha’s vessel may look like a house, but it still has the ability to move around, like any other boat.
“I kind of understand the business, and why that would be considered nonconforming, and why that would be allowed to remain where it is, but I just don’t understand why Jeff’s houseboat is called nonconforming,” she said. “A houseboat that can’t move around, that isn’t an active vessel, that would be banned, and that’s fine. But that’s not what Jeff’s vessel is. So I think this is a little bit too much.”
Tisbury resident Mac Schilcher also said the amendments seemed prohibitive.
Canha said while he personally doesn’t have an issue with the proposed amendments, others in Tisbury might. “I think they’re flawed, and if they were a vessel, they won’t float,” he said.
In particular, Canha said some people could find the language problematic. “A non-water-dependent vessel would be like saying a non-air-dependent aircraft,” he said.
Tisbury resident Christina Colarusso also questioned what would be a “non-water-dependent” vessel.
Grande pointed out that the amendments also list “uses” as a part of the definitions. “This is to capture anything that falls through the cracks between houseboats and floating businesses,” he said.
Additionally, Grande said, the amendments would “streamline” codifying the waterway regulations.
Wilson, who is an artist, said she was “grateful” for the grandfathering of her “floating studio.” She said keeping the water quality clean was of “ultimate concern” to her. “I’ll be happy to work with anybody … to keep the waters clean,” she said.