Oak Bluffs project blurring lines for Tisbury officials

M.V. Shipyard wants to build a new boatyard, but Tisbury planners are pushing back.

The Martha's Vineyard Shipyard is looking to build a ship repair facility in Oak Bluffs, shown here from the front view. —Courtesy Town of Oak Bluffs

An Island business planning to build a boatyard in a section of Oak Bluffs that juts into Tisbury is worrying some Tisbury officials. 

Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard is pursuing plans to construct a boatyard and a boat services facility at a lot on Goodale Way in Oak Bluffs, which borders Holmes Hole Road and William Norton Road in Tisbury. The lot falls under an Oak Bluffs residential zone. 

While members of the Tisbury planning board feel the project should be referred to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for review, the Oak Bluffs planning board doesn’t feel quite the same way. And the owner of the facility says that he would be treated unfairly if the project were to go through the lengthy review process of the MVC.

According to the application for a special permit, the plan is to construct a solar-powered steel building under 2,500 square feet with an outside boatyard space under 5,000 square feet, parking for six employee vehicles, and an access road for vehicles that would include trucks transporting boats on trailers. 

The facility would act as a satellite location for the shipyard’s existing location on Beach Road in Tisbury; customers would be able to schedule services at the Tisbury location. 

According to the application, the Oak Bluffs facility would allow the shipyard to work when flooding prevents workers from “safely accessing Beach Road,” which has become a more normal occurrence during recent winter storms.

If the project falls under Oak Bluffs jurisdiction, why are people from Tisbury expressing concern over it? The property is on a triangular segment of Oak Bluffs that juts into Tisbury. 

This triangular area contains one of several proposed overlay districts Oak Bluffs voters will be voting on during the annual town meeting on April 9. The proposed overlay districts are classified for either “light industrial mixed use” or “professional services.” These districts were met with mixed reactions, with Island contractors saying they are a necessary step for commercial and safety concerns, while some down-Island residents doubted the proposed areas were appropriate locations. 

Tisbury planning board chair Ben Robinson, who also serves as the town’s representative on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), recently brought up the issue during a March 13 Tisbury select board meeting, pushing the town to take action on the plan. 

According to Robinson, because it meets certain triggers, for example if the property is in an area considered a priority habitat, or because of the size of the proposed development, the shipyard’s proposal should go to the MVC for review. He said there should be a “cross-town referral,” which allows a select board to refer a project in another town to the commission if it could be considered a development of regional impact. He said this had been done before, for example when Chilmark referred the roundabout project in Oak Bluffs to the MVC. 

Robinson said the Tisbury planning board unanimously decided to recommend the select board make a cross-town referral if Oak Bluffs officials did not refer the project to the MVC. 

Robinson also wanted the select board to take up a more proactive approach to Oak Bluffs’ proposed zoning bylaw at town meeting next month. “We might want to have further conversations with Oak Bluffs about … the whole area and how we organize ourselves as two towns with particular interests,” he said. 

Tisbury select board member John Cahill said a conversation should be held with Oak Bluffs before a referral was made. Select board member Christina Colarusso said she was “uncomfortable” with a referral, saying, “We’re almost making an example of this location.” 

During the select board meeting, Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard vice president Philip Hale questioned why Tisbury was even discussing the project when the location was in Oak Bluffs. Hale criticized the Tisbury planning board for not inviting shipyard representatives to its meetings, saying “a lot of the questions and comments could have been addressed” had they done so. 

Hale has worked with the Tisbury planning board before, on the town’s master plan. He said the shipyard’s project was an example of “managed retreat,” which is the movement of buildings and people away from areas with risks like flooding or wildfires, and one of the concerns the master plan is trying to address. 

Hale emphasized that the shipyard was being treated unfairly. He also told the select board that whenever he has approached town boards with proposals, the answer he received was “no” before he had a chance to explain. He asked for Tisbury officials to look at the project holistically, and said it shouldn’t be referred to the MVC. 

“What’s happening to this company and this family compared to what’s happening to other organizations who have big, expensive attorneys is really, really inappropriate, and does not reflect how our community should act,” Hale said. 

Ross Seavey, an attorney representing the shipyard, said he was surprised to see his client was on the planning board agenda twice without being invited to the actual meetings. He also said that the zoning regulations, like groundwater protection, in the location where the proposed project would be in Oak Bluffs were “basically the same” as in the neighboring Tisbury area.

 “The level of review and the type of review will be the exact same as if it were in Tisbury,” Seavey said, adding that he did not really see the triggers that should send the project to the MVC, except for possibly the one regarding square footage of the development. 

Meanwhile, Oak Bluffs planning board chair Ewell Hopkins said during a March 14 meeting there do not seem to be any triggers to require a mandatory referral to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. However, Hopkins stated that the shipyard’s project was “close to the edge” of some of the triggers, such as the development’s floor area. 

Although a public hearing was scheduled for March 14, the Oak Bluffs board pushed it back to Thursday, March 28. Hopkins told shipyard representatives that if the board deemed something in the application triggered a referral to the MVC during the applicants’ presentation, the hearing would be suspended until the commission had reviewed the project. Individuals can also submit written testimony to the Oak Bluffs planning board. The board will deliberate and make a determination on undecided dates after the March 28 public testimony session. 

The proposed site would provide boatyard and boat repair services within the steel building from Monday to Friday, with operational hours from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm. Most work will be done inside the building, and no fiberglass work would be done on the property. The facility would not be open to the public, and wouldn’t have a retail component. The application states that on most days there would be around two people working at the facility, although this would increase to six during the spring or autumn. The working days would also include Saturdays during the spring. 

In the meantime, the Oak Bluffs planning board scheduled a site visit on Saturday, March 23.


  1. This is absolutely a regional impact with expanded area of boat storage and potential fuel spills and other marine hazardous spills into our aquifer. creating more commercials zones in residential neighborhoods is also a regional impact and oversight needs to be scrutinized here. The island spends millions of dollars a year on the MVC and they should look at this and if they decide they don’t need to well then that is what the money is spent for.

  2. It’s very simple: this proposed development is in an area which has zoning protections already in place to protect the three Tisbury wells that produce our public drinking water. Boat storage and its associated chemical hazards are expressly forbidden in the existing bylaws of Oak Bluffs. The rest is distraction. This is clearly the wrong location for this type of development.

  3. Firstly, I’d like to thank the town officials of Tisbury for speaking out about this vitally important issue.
    This newest proposal is just a fraction of what is happening in OB in regard to zoning issues. The Planning Board has put forth major Zoning Reform articles to be voted on at Town Meeting 4/9. These articles have had little or no review by the Select board, Water dept, Health dept, nor the Conservation Committee. Not to mention Tisbury & the entire Island. Public input has mainly opposed these articles.
    Please refer to the OB Planning Board website for more details.
    Now the PB is hearing a proposal for a boat yard in 1 of the 3 overlay map areas that are being proposed to change from R3 – residential/ agriculture to Light Industrial – commercial/ mining at Town Meeting.
    Why is this proposal moving forward before the OB voters have a chance to be heard and vote on these issues?
    Why has the OB officials not reached out to Tisbury about this is until very recently when the warrant articles were moved forward to the Town Meeting warrant?
    Why is the OB Planning Board moving so quickly with Zoning Reform without consulting other Towns,Island wide conservation groups and having multiple Public hearing that were highly publicized?
    These new zoning reform articles will affect the entire island from our water, natural environments and our unique landscapes.
    The big question is do Islanders need/ want more or is enough – enough! The citizens of MV and especially Oak Bluffs are at cross roads. Do we want to remain the quaint Island we all cherish or move towards major commercial/mining zones in 3 residential areas in Oak Bluffs.
    I strongly urge the OB Planning Board to refer this boat yard proposal to the Commission and SLOW down the Zoning Reform process.
    I urge citizens to take note and act on these upcoming zoning reform changes!

  4. Wow, this article supports that the reason for the MVC’s 50- year existence in building review is to slow or stop progress.

  5. The neighbors in this region were told multiple times that lots that abutted Tisbury could not be considered for this development and yet here we are. I was a resident of Oak Bluffs for nearly 40 years and now am a resident of Vineyard Haven. This is not in the interest of either town. It is in the interest of someone’s private business. Go look at what is currently going on in these lots. No one wants this in their neighborhood. It belongs at the airport. If the ground water is polluted, your property’s value is going to plummet for the whole town. This is a small wedge shape that juts into Tisbury from Oak Bluffs. Look out for the interest of the population, not the chosen few.

  6. The Hales should be ashamed trying to put a boat yard operation in a residential area. People should be aware that if this goes to there favor they will have one across the street that is running with out a permit ,in fact there is 4 businesses with no permits . Buildings with no permit leaking heating oil tanks and over 60 boats covered with plastic that are decomposing with micro plastic in time making there way in to the ground water and the wells.Both Oak Bluffs and TIsbury building inspectors have done nothing to stop this.

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