Updated, November 15
At a special town meeting Tuesday evening, West Tisbury voters rejected warrant Article 12, which would have funded an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) pilot program. The vote was 80 against and 24 for.
The article would have raised $250,000, to be used by West Tisbury’s Affordable Housing Trust to promote year-round housing for households earning up to 150 percent of the Dukes County area median income (AMI). With the funding, the trust would have provided forgivable loans of up to $25,000 to residential property owners to build ADUs on their property.
“This program is simply to say, Hey, we’re going to set aside a pool of money so that we can go out and find somebody to run this program, help any one of you or us, to actually get that basement or that garage turned into an accessory dwelling unit for that teacher, your nurse at the hospital, whoever it is,” said Jefrey DuBard, a member of the town’s affordable housing committee.
The article was discussed for around 30 minutes, with audience applause for statements both for and against the proposal. Some voters were concerned that they were uninformed on program specifics, that specifics were not fully determined, that $250,000 should not be approved outside the annual town meeting in the spring, and that the proposal lacked stipulations regarding loan eligibility. Voters also wanted more information regarding the administrator role for the pilot program, which was not stated in the warrant article.
“There are no income restrictions on who can apply for this forgivable loan,” West Tisbury resident Maria McFarland said. “If you have the money, you can afford to do it if you want to do it, or your family members [can].”
Resident Chuck Hodgkinson stated that he preferred that such a level of funding be voted on at the yearly town meeting. He also expressed concerns over burdens on the town budget and taxpayers, given plans for construction at the West Tisbury School. Hodgkinson then asked the finance committee to explain their unanimous recommendation of the article.
“The reason I voted for it is that the housing shortage is an immediate problem … It’s going to be here awhile,” FinCom chair Greg Orcutt responded. “I didn’t think, quite honestly, about the long-term effects of the high school rebuild, West Tisbury School rebuild. I thought about the effects that it could cause today … If you are housing-stressed, it puts stress on children, families, and all the other members of our town.”
“It’s certainly true that all of the details of the best way to run this program are not specified,” DuBard said. “That is because in some cases, someone who has experience with the program who might be applying to be the program administrator will be able to contribute to how best to run it.”
After the meeting, DuBard reflected on the article’s failure. “Obviously, it’s just disappointing,” he said. “If we’re not trying new things and trying to be innovative, we’re not going to make progress. Sometimes that involves … something that’s not going to be perfect … It’s going to be a continued community process. I certainly thought we had effectively done that between when we first began discussing this and now.”
Article 13, which asked for a home rule petition for the affordable housing trust to fund community housing for households earning up to 150 percent of AMI, was approved unanimously. The article also included amendments to trust bylaws to reflect the change. Before passing, the bylaw was additionally amended to include that Community Preservation Act funds would only apply to projects for those earning up to 100 percent of AMI.
Voters also rejected warrant article four, with a vote of 65 against and 50 in favor. This article would have allowed dogs on Lambert’s Cove Beach before 10 am from June 15 until Sept. 15, and until Labor Day each year afterward.
Peggy Stone, board administrator of the town’s parks and recreation department, said the proposal would help with a labor shortage after Labor Day. “If we can streamline the policy, the bylaw is strictly for staffing issues,” said Stone. “The beach is already open to the public after Labor Day anyway.”
“I understand the staffing challenges, and that’s fine,” said voter Chuck Hodgkinson. “I still think two weeks [after Labor Day] isn’t asking a lot … if you can’t staff it for the first three weeks of September, so be it. Maybe the people who own dogs will still respect the bylaw.”
Voters unanimously approved three articles to appropriate funds within the fiscal year 2024 budget. These included $20,000 for legal services, approximately $13,000 for board of health expenses, and $25,000 for board of appeals legal services.
Articles five through seven, to process a $20,000 settlement award from opioid manufacturers over 13 years, were also unanimously approved. The articles were to create an Opioid Settlement Stabilization fund, transfer money given so far into the fund, and dedicate any future funding coming from the lawsuit.
Voters also unanimously approved the appropriation of approximately $20,000 to reflect 10 percent wage increases for its town clerk and fire chief, and $25,000 for the town reserve fund.
Article 11, amendments to the capital improvement planning committee bylaw, was unanimously approved.
This article was updated to reflect a change in the vote tally.