Preservationists opt for wood over plastic at cemetery

The town’s historic district commission expressed their disapproval of PVC fences. 

The West Tisbury Historic District Commission was against PVC fencing for West Tisbury Village Cemetery. —Eunki Seonwoo

Wooden fence pickets up for replacement at West Tisbury Village Cemetery will not be replaced by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) ones, after opposition from local historic preservationists. 

Members of the West Tisbury historic district commission say that the non-wooden material doesn’t fit the character of the area.

“It’s a door that, once it’s opened, doesn’t close,” commissioner Charles Kernick said during a hearing on Monday. “It has never really fit in historic districts … all over the place. Everywhere you check, everybody’s resisting the use of it.”

The West Tisbury Select Board was in front of the commission Monday, seeking approval to replace the State Road–facing section of the cemetery’s wooden picket fence with PVC fencing from AZEK, a building materials company.

“Anything that’s wood, currently, would be replaced with AZEK, and the granite post would remain,” West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said. 

According to Rand, the cemetery’s wooden fence pickets were custom-made by former West Tisbury Select Board member and master builder John Early, who passed away in 2020.

“There will be no more of these pickets, ever, because John Early custom-made these pickets,” Rand said. “We would have to do our best to source something as close to this design and size and shape as possible. These were not off-the-shelf to begin with.”

Additionally, Rand said the select board was pursuing PVC fencing because it would be cheaper to maintain, compared with painted wooden picket fencing. Rand said this material has worked well for the West Tisbury Town Hall’s fence, which was installed 10 years ago. 

Select board chair Skipper Manter spoke in favor of using PVC fencing, pointing out the higher maintenance costs of wood, and that it was not very different visually from wooden fences. He said the board would also consider other available options. 

However, commissioners questioned using PVC for the fence. 

Commissioner Carol Sarason said people have different experiences with fences at a cemetery compared with a town hall, such as going up to touch it. 

“I would really hate to see the town set a precedent this way,” commissioner Nancy Dole said. “I would rather the town set a precedent in the historic district that they chose to keep historic materials whenever possible.”

One member of the public, South Mountain Co. founder and president emeritus John Abrams, said it would be a mistake to use plastic fencing instead of wood. He also highlighted environmental concerns. “When you cut it, you get little piles of sawdust, but it’s not sawdust. It’s little pieces of microplastic that goes into the air and goes into the ground,” Abrams said. “It’s really not a great material.”

Dole pushed to continue the hearing until after the select board returned with alternative options, but after some discussion, commissioner Josh Gothard made a motion to approve a durable, natural wood species with similar dimensions as the existing, stagger-styled pickets on the southern side of the cemetery.