Zoning proposal pits contractors against homeowners

Oak Bluffs planners' proposal to help professionals, landscapers, and contractors has its opponents.


Updated, Feb. 26

Amid an increasing demand for construction, those who work in the trades are frustrated over the lack of space for them to store their equipment and to do their work. 

Voters at town meeting in Oak Bluffs this spring will be asked to reconsider decades-old zoning laws to make accommodations for trade workers, to help them find the space they say they need. The town’s planning board is proposing the creation of a number of so-called overlay districts that would provide contractors and landscapers a pathway to be able to store their equipment or materials, as well as carving out more professional space for doctors and attorneys to operate or expand. (See the online map defining the proposed overlay districts at bit.ly/OB_Overlays.)

The problem now: The town of Oak Bluffs, which plays host to so many regional institutions, including the Island’s high school, the hospital, and the YMCA, is zoned almost entirely for residential use, and companies are running out of room to operate commercially. 

Planning board chair Ewell Hopkins told The Times, “When we see storage containers popping up in people’s backyards, stacked on top of each other, it’s because people don’t have places to store their equipment.” 

Hopkins added, “The town of Oak Bluffs has inadequate zoning; there is no question about it. Town meeting may come back and say, We don’t care, but if you’re a professional or offering professional services, you have no way of expanding your business. That’s not proper planning.”

Opponents of the measure say that the town is already providing space for Island-wide services, and this would be opening up their backyards to even more. They say that a more appropriate proposal would be to take an Island-wide approach to find the most appropriate space for service workers, not just within Oak Bluffs.

“I continually say that this is not a neighborhood issue, this is not a one-person issue, it’s not a town issue. This is an Island-wide issue,” said Oak Bluffs resident Pat Ingalls, who is considering a run for the planning board. “Do we want Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road to be completely stripped, or do we want to continually conserve our quaintness that we are losing? I don’t want us to turn into Falmouth.” The proposed professional services overlay district 3 straddles either side of Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road between Barnes Road and County Road. 

The planning board proposal includes the creation of five new overlay districts in town: three so-called light industrial overlay districts and two professional services overlay districts.

Within the professional development zone, an applicant could get a special permit from the planning board to operate as a surgeon, lawyer, chiropractor, financial planner, funeral director, and a whole slew of other services. The two areas are proposed for a section of New York Avenue, and a much larger area along Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, near where the Y, high school, and M.V. Community Services are already located.

For the light industrial districts, the three areas include a central location off County Road, and a western section of Oak Bluffs that juts into Tisbury near Holmes Hole. The third and largest would be on a section of Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road near an existing sandpit. 

Applicants — with a special permit approved by the planning board — could get approval for things like storage and the parking of construction and landscaping materials or equipment, the addition of a warehouse, manufacturing, boatyards, and likely the most controversial: mining. 

There’s been serious pushback to this third proposed district, primarily from residents living in the proposed area who worry about environmental degradation from these types of industrial uses. They say they bought their properties knowing they were residential areas, and they worry their peace and quiet could be destroyed.

“We’re opening up areas that you would hope would stay natural,” said Ingalls, who lives by the proposed overlay district on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road. “If not natural, we really need housing. We don’t need mining on this Island. We need housing.”

A big supporter of the zoning changes has been Peter Goodale, president and owner of Goodale Construction, the operators of the sandpit off Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road. Goodale said that his grandfather started the business more than a half-century ago, before zoning even existed in Oak Bluffs. 

The pit operation has been grandfathered in, but he says there are only about 10 years left before the sand is gone in the mining operation. It’s the only sandpit on the Island, and Goodale says materials used for concrete, asphalt, septic systems, and other projects that need drainage would have to come from off-Island, which would add to the already high cost of construction. 

With the passage of the zoning changes at town meeting, there would be a pathway for the company to move the operation to a section of land nearby that Goodale already owns, and can begin mining anew. Goodale is careful to say that this possible pathway would not be a done deal: The family would still need to jump through a number of state, federal, and local permitting before going forward. Even then, he’s not sure it would be worth it. 

Goodale sees the zoning issue as a failure of the town in the 1970s, when zoning was finally created in Oak Bluffs. Instead of recognizing the industrial uses already in operation — like the sandpit — the town made everything residential. The proposed zoning changes at town meeting would seek to rectify that failure.

It’s not only his own operation that he’s concerned about, Goodale says, but all of the town’s contractors trying to make a living. 

“The Island has grown to the point where the landscapers and even the plumbers and electricians can no longer operate as home-based business,” Goodale notes in an online post supporting the measure. “Does the town want to take a needed step in the direction to provide more space businesses need to legally operate, and potentially solve the Island’s sand requirements for the next 40 years? Or do they want to look inward and deny that it’s their problem to solve?” 

Oak Bluffs landscaper Dana Mylott has been among the voices supporting the zone changes. Mylott has struggled finding a location to park his trucks and other landscaping equipment within town rules that doesn’t cost him a fortune. He parks his equipment on town land for a charge that he says is upwards of $7,000 a year. 

Also, the town’s building inspector has issued him violations and levied fines for running his operation on a property off Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road on Beth’s Way, which is zoned for residential use. Mylott is appealing the decision, but his operation underscores what landscapers and contractors are going through.

“I look around the Island and see a lot of office space available, but I do not see a lot of space open for guys like me who work in the trades,” Mylott wrote in a letter to the planning board in support of the zoning changes. “People like us want to work with our community without hiding behind the scenes to run our companies. People like me do a lot of pro bono work for our Island community, and want to grow so we can do even more.”

Mylott also argues the changes are a matter of safety, pointing to a fire in Oak Bluffs last year. Fire officials reported that flames spread through a commercial business and several cars on Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road in December. Mylott believes that’s an example of businesses operating outside of existing zoning, outside of town inspections and other permitting.

But others suggest that while there is a need for more space for contractors, these are not the right locations. And aside from the resistance from neighbors, another Island planning board has voiced opposition. Members of the Tisbury planning board argue that this would be a drain on their town’s resources, especially with respect to the Holmes Holer light industrial overlay district proposal. While technically on Oak Bluffs property, first responders from Tisbury are already responding to calls, and that would increase with more industrial activity, the Tisbury board argues. 

But more important to the board, members fear the changes could have an impact on drinking water. A letter from the Tisbury board to the Oak Bluffs planning board reads that this triangle of land — the Holmes Hole overlay — is located between Tisbury’s three town wells. The board says that land abutting the proposed overlay district in Tisbury is protected for groundwater, but they are concerned that Oak Bluffs zoning bylaws do not have mechanisms in place for protecting groundwater in Tisbury.

“As a board we respectfully request that this area be removed from consideration for an overlay

district that both potentially burdens the town of Tisbury and threatens our drinking water supply,” their letter states.

Ben Robinson, chair of the Tisbury planning board, said that he understands the rationale of the Oak Bluffs proposal, and understands a need for more space for landscapers and contractors. But he too believes that a more appropriate strategy would be to take an Island-wide approach. He notes that the concerns of residential property owners are real, and understands the frustration of potentially having a contractor’s operation in your backyard. With the increase in construction and permitting, he says, year-round residents are getting impacted by the contractors that are working for summer residents.

“This will affect year-round residents that don’t need these landscapers,” Robinson said. “This conversation needs to be a much broader discussion … instead it feels a bit like a spot-zoning exercise.” 

But the response from Oak Bluffs planners is that while an Island-wide conversation would be beneficial, there’s no indication that will happen any time soon. And Oak Bluffs voters have no authority to make that happen.

“That’s a convenient way of saying, ‘Let’s kick the can down the road,’” Hopkins, the planning board chair, said. “Why hasn’t there been a change for the last 30 years?”

He said their proposal allows Oak Bluffs residents to decide what they want to do on Oak Bluffs property: “I think this whole discussion is a healthy one, because it gives the whole town an option to speak.”

Town meeting in Oak Bluffs is on April 9.

This post was updated to accurately reflect a comment from Dana Mylott. He noted a fire in December on Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road.


  1. We oppose any and all industrial sites being linked to residential areas in Oak Bluffs, MA

  2. Sadly Dana Mylott turned this into an us vs them situation. That’s far from the truth. Many of us opposed to the changes are hard working folks. While I agree that sometimes the costs of doing business(spending 7k to park equipment) cut into profits it’s important to note that ALL business owners have such costs.

  3. This is a problem with no easy solution. We need to keep residential neighborhoods residential. We all ready have an issue with rental properties being run like commercial hotels in residential areas we do not need to add to the existing issue’s. If you create more commercial zones they will just get filled in with more commercial use. Property values will drop near these areas and homes will take longer to sell. How does the home owner get made up for the loss. I keep reading that the island is built up enough so just say sorry this one is filled up try another Island.

  4. I attended this meeting and when they were asked to define exactly what is “light mining” that will abut our homes — nobody had an answer. Looking at current mining practices on the island, we are really talking about strip mining — let’s be honest. And nobody could say how a “light mining” proposal would be evaluated. However, if I want to build a wooden shed in my yard, we have very detailed criteria on size, setbacks, noise, use, materials etc. Is it asking too much for the Planning Board to put the same thought and detail into evaluating proposals for strip mining in our backyards as they do for wooden sheds? This proposal is too vague for such a radical change in zoning. We need more housing, not mining.

  5. Consumers on MV pay much higher prices for building and landscaping than people on the mainland. I always assumed that higher prices factored in the higher costs of doing business here. So $7,000 per year seems like a very reasonable rent for the operation of a business and storage of equipment. Are we going to allow light industrial activities in our residential neighborhoods so that contractors can avoid the normal costs of doing business?

  6. I think Bob made a great point about short term rentals already taking up a lot of these areas. If you go to air b and b site you will see there are 1000 rentals in oak bluffs. Many of those are on Edgartown vineyard haven road and by the alpaca farm in the area where people dont want the light industrial. Some of these rentals go for 10 grand a day and rent up to 16 people in a 6 bedroom house and that owner owns a few around it also. I believe a lot of buisness is running in these areas as of now and when we look at these proposed zoning map changes it would allow a path for those people already there to be in compliance and would also set up some over sight so we dont have any more fires like we did by the ymca where there were multiple businesses operating in a very unsafe manner. As far as Dan goes with the cost of buisness being 7000 i just want to say that is for parking, another 7000 plus for excise tax and i cant park in my town from 2am to 6am with commercial plates which i have to have by law but a air b and b can have a 1 or 2 bedroom home and rent to 6 people brining 3 cars taking up parking all around. i also have 50 grand or more in liability, workmans comp insurance as well as another 7000 to resister my trucks and trailers once a year, all the inspections and up keep of equipment lets call that another 10 grand. i can go on and on about the cost of buisness and it gets into the hundreds of thousands and i am one of many who keep money here and reinvest into my town of oak bluffs and the island. I own a property with 1.59 acres and i as of now can not use it to keep my things on my own property looking nice and landscaped in a way to not make it look like a junk yard. I also gave away around 50 grand in wood this winter between the cost of wood, labor and all that goes into getting it cut and seasoned so that people in need could heat their homes and not be burdened by a 4 to 500 cost per cord. There is a lot more to this then people trying to take over neighborhoods as we are your neighbors. We too have children here and pay taxes, we to come to your homes and provide a service when you need help and people like me are the ones that do retired islanders homes for free and help my neighbors so i think its important before we cast to many stones that we be considered of the benefits of having a neighbor like me. i also want to point out if this does get voted in it will not be as of right and there will still have to be approval by the board and a permit issued. One last thing i want everyone to really think what it would be like to be the other person in this situation meaning i am aware of my neighbors concerns and am very open to dialog to address their concerns and i am hoping that those of you who do have concerns will take the time to be that blue collar person who just want to do whats right for their family and community. I dont believe any respectable buisness owner want to ruin your property value nor do they want to be an eye sore to you. We want to be out of the of hiding are things all over just to do buisness that benefits oak bluffs as well as the whole island. Please dont forget we are more than landscapers, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, fisherman or any other blue collar trade we are 100 percent your friends and neighbors and we care about you as much as we do our town of oak bluffs and our island as a whole.

  7. One of our main concerns is how will Edgartown-Vineyard Haven road look with all these additional businesses operating? The added congestion on a main thoroughfare of the island would be chaotic and dangerous. This is a very important island wide issue that needs to be addressed. For instance, is the only spot for an additional sand pit on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven road ?!

  8. I would respectfully disagree with Susan Desmarais. With all do respect i do not want to pin anyone against each other, all i want is to acknowledge all Oak Bluffs and island residents and by no means want to disregard anyone’s concerns. I am very open to listening to what people disagree with and also want for people to hear our concerns. I dont think anyone should get 100 percent of what they are asking for and hope we can all hear each others voices and come to the table as neighbors and get a solution to a very hop topic. The biggest point of me speaking up which is never easy to do publicly is to bring light to the other side of this hot topic and give perspective to what us people in the trades are up against. I think people here know me pretty well and know that i am a person of respect for my fellow islanders and only want to do things in a helpful way for all. I do agree the parking is a cost of doing buisness but also we have neighbors in that area that dont want to see people park there so where is the solution for that. When can we be able to use our own properties that we pay taxes for? I would encourage everyone to go to mass law under section 40a right to farm and read that law which gives people the right to farm under a whole lot of different areas of agriculture use and then i would also encourage those of you who do not have 2 acres in oak bluffs and have any chickens or horses on your land to look up oak bluffs town bylaw section 11 on page 99 and fourth sentence down that reads and I quote ” Agricultural use, nonexempt: Agricultural use of property not exempted by G.L. c. 40A, s. 3, but
    excluding the raising of swine or fur bearing animals” This exact bylaw was presented to the oak bluffs zba that gave our friends and neighbors working earth the ability to operate their buisness in oak bluffs and also allows our neighbors to have their horses and chickens on areas less then 2 acres.

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