Down-Island residents raise concerns over proposed zoning districts

Ongoing zoning violations were a reason the districts were made, planning board chair says.

A map of proposed overlay districts. The pink areas are for light industrial mixed use and the yellow areas are for professional services. —Courtesy of Town of Oak Bluffs

Oak Bluffs residents, alongside some from Tisbury, pushed back against a set of zoning amendments presented by the Oak Bluffs planning board. 

Among various zoning amendments that may be headed to Oak Bluffs’ annual town meeting on April 9 — including a bylaw to limit fractional ownership in the town and other potential changes related to affordable housing — a set of proposed overlay districts took up the bulk of a recent public hearing held by the planning board that lasted over three hours. 

People were particularly concerned about the overlay districts meant for light industrial mixed use. The hearing attracted nearly 120 people on Wednesday, Feb. 21. 

The light industrial mixed use overlay district was a proposed way to address the need of contractors and landscapers expanding their businesses, something that is difficult since most of Oak Bluffs is residentially zoned. Oak Bluffs planning board chair Ewell Hopkins, who was facilitating the meeting, said one of the reasons the overlay districts were pursued was because businesses in the town were illegally storing equipment in locations not zoned for industry. Still, any potential uses would need to undergo a permitting process before it receives the green light. An overview of the proposed amendments, including a potential light industrial use table, is available on the Oak Bluffs town website alongside other reference materials.  

In a previous story, contractors told The Times the decades-old zoning regulations prevented them from having the proper storage space for their equipment since so much of the town was residentially zoned. They emphasized this was a necessary update for commercial and safety concerns. On the other hand, opposers felt the proposed areas were not the right locations for the overlay districts. The pushback had been brewing for some time, with some Oak Bluffs residents sending a letter to the editor expressing fears the proposal would open the “floodgates” to land use that would bring increased disruption to nearby residential, agricultural, and conservation areas. Those pushing against the proposal felt this should be an Island-wide approach. 

Meanwhile, some Tisbury residents became stakeholders because a triangular piece of land jutting into the Holmes Hole area from Oak Bluffs could bring more commercial activities next door. Tisbury officials had previously sent a letter to Oak Bluffs saying this would be a drain on their resources since it was Tisbury who responded to most incidents in the area, including parts under Oak Bluffs administration. 

The points and concerns Islanders previously told The Times were reiterated during the hearing. 

However, there were still questions that remained for attendees and not all of them were satisfied with the answers they received. Among these, mining was a concern for several residents. This activity, if approved during the town meeting, would only be allowed parcels of land 20 acres or larger. 

“The use table does allow for light mining to be one of the uses that can be considered, as well as many others,” Hopkins said, adding that an application process would be required for this activity. He later said during the meeting the overlay district would provide the necessary guidance for applicants, which would go through the approval process through the board. 

Some people felt a more detailed explanation on what mining would allow was needed, considering what would qualify as light or heavy mining was not defined. Hopkins did say an expert would be hired, at the applicant’s expense, to make a determination. 

Opposers questioned how the districts reached this stage. 

One Oak Bluffs resident, Troy Carter, was concerned the Iron Hill Road area could be sandwiched by mining operations and threatened legal action if the overlay districts were implemented. 

“We are not going to take this sitting down,” Carter said, adding that there are plans to hire attorneys if this gets “pushed” into law. “This does not feel like something we should be considering at all.” 

The overlay districts, alongside other potential amendments, were developed through the Oak Bluffs zoning reform subcommittee, which consisted of Island stakeholders. However, several people during the hearing voiced concerns about a possible conflict of interest since some members could benefit from the changes. Last June, two members resigned from the group in protest against the membership of Peter Goodale, president of Goodale Construction Company. 

Hopkins emphasized during the meeting there “no nefarious motivations” happening with the proposed amendments, pointing out that the final decision is up to Oak Bluffs voters on whether these changes were adopted or not. 

Meanwhile, some residents questioned how helpful the overlay districts would be if there were already issues with enforcing zoning regulations.

Not everyone who spoke was in opposition to the overlay districts. 

Oak Bluffs landscaper Dana Mylott, who was also a part of the zoning reform subcommittee, advocated for the districts. He said the overlay districts would help blue collar workers and business owners on the Island.

Oak Bluffs resident Kris Chvatal pointed out that the overlay districts could also be used to construct affordable housing buildings larger than what is currently allowed under Oak Bluffs zoning. 

No decision was made after the lengthy discussion. The Oak Bluffs planning board is still taking written comments regarding the proposed zoning amendments.


  1. No surprise: this is all about the contractors problems, which is because they need more equipment, which is because there is endless development–other restrictions need to be put in place. But make no mistake, this is all about the prostitution and popularity of this island by those who do not belong here and never did, but could afford to make their second and third home, pushing out schoolteachers, police and fire workers, nurses, even surgeons and superintendents and driving prices sky high and with them property taxes, a feature which has also caused many to give up on Martha’s Vineyard. I sort of “feel” for the developers and contractors, they are only responding to demand and provide local jobs (same with landscapers), but the massive increase in equipment and the need to store it is the result of one thing: development, which is the result of a welcoming attitude and the outdated notion that this island is quaint, ideal, and remotely affordable as a place to live.

    • On every ferry I see massive trucks bringing building materials, septic tanks, racks of windows, huge loads of stone, whole prefab homes, etc. to the Vineyard.

      It is quite horrifying.

      Plus, there is a huge increase in the number of large construction vehicles on our roads—that is, there is a qualitative change in the composition of traffic on MV, and it negatively affects driving for car drivers.

      I feel some empathy for people who are trying to make a buck.

      However, they are all contributing to the degradation of the Island environment.
      Many of them are recent arrivals at the home of the goose that lays the golden eggs.
      The island does not owe anyone a living.

      Personally I don’t feel that any zoning changes should be made to accommodate ever more construction vehicles.

      However, if such changes are to be made, then all owners of construction vehicles and trucks and trailers used in their businesses should pay an extra annual road tax for each vehicle and trailer.

  2. Balancing growth with keeping the island livable is a complicated issue that needs a coordinated and well thought out solution. But the solution cannot be destroying a community with year round homes. The community that would be subject to having a new strip mine in our backyards would be horribly impacted. This is a community of year round people. Working people. Retirees. Families. Your neighbors who work in our stores, childcare and health care workers. The area is not a tourist spot. It is currently a wooded, residential neighborhood that is zoned for some agricultural activities and we have peacefully lived with these activties for decades. If someone wants to make the case that tearing down all the trees and opening a strip mine directly behind our homes would have no impact, I’d like to hear it. I would also like to have answers to what criteria would be used by the Planning Board to allow mining that won’t impact our community. We don’t even have basic assurances of setbacks, monitoring, environmental assessments, nothing. Until there is some clarity as to how these proposed changes would be evaluated to minimize impact on the residential areas surrounding these industrial zones, this proposal is a no go.

  3. It would be nice to see those homes that rent for 10k per night have to abide by hotel regulations.
    Have enough on-site parking, commercial fire protections, etc.

Comments are closed.