Edgartown ‘party bylaw’ doesn’t pass muster

Enough voters at town meeting also didn’t like a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers.

Edgartown's 2024 town meeting. —Daniel Greenman

Edgartown voters completed a marathon five-hour session for their special and annual town meetings, concluding after midnight. 

Of the 110 articles considered, voters postponed a bylaw that would have restricted large social gatherings in residential neighborhoods, narrowly struck down a proposed ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, and approved an amended construction plan around the Robinson Road Recreation Area.

The “party bylaw,” as some have called it, was one of the night’s most hotly debated issues, eventually being indefinitely postponed by voters. 

The bylaw would have prohibited owners of private residences from holding more than two events per month with over 50 guests, and over five such events in a year; hosts would also be required to get a permit for such events.

A number of residents took to the floor to voice their concerns, including Jane Bradbury, who successfully proposed an amendment to decrease the number of events allowed in a month from two to one.

“I can’t imagine myself or most of the people on my street wanting to have a large event … twice a month,” said Bradbury.

Joe Smith told voters that the proposed bylaw would be an overreach by the town.

“I think this has a good idea to it, but I think a lot of the conditions you put in are taking our rights away as homeowners,” Smith said, also asking that the article be rewritten. “You can’t come up with a better solution than to put this on everyone in the town?” Smith added. “We do have property rights.”

Police Chief Bruce McNamee tried to temper voters’ expectations of how the bylaw would be enforced.

“The officers wouldn’t necessarily be storming a wedding,” McNamee said. “We would forward [an incident] to town hall and determine whether there needs to be a hearing later on in the month. Unless it’s particularly abhorrent, we would probably still let [an event] go on unless it violates another bylaw.”

“We are trying to find a balance here where we can still live in a free country,” McNamee added.

Voters then overwhelmingly moved to indefinitely postpone the article.

Much debate also surrounded a proposed ban on gas-powered leaf blowers. This article failed to reach its required two-thirds threshold, with 94 votes for and 89 against.

Advocates argued that gas-powered leaf blowers contribute to noise and air pollution, and that electric leaf blowers are quieter and available. Detractors of the article argued that a ban would be going too far and would harm local landscaping businesses.

And with a vote of 173 for and 31 against, voters also approved Article 9 to carry out the terms of an amendment to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the town and the Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club. These amended plans involve a new design for an access road to the club’s property, which would cut through where a town-owned croquet court is currently located. The parks department also plans to update recreational facilities in the adjacent Robinson Road Recreation Area. Parks commissioner Andrew Kelly told voters on Tuesday that the amended plan’s access road is much safer for students at the nearby Edgartown School than the one in the initial MOU.

“It allows for a much more fluid road going straight through [the court’s location],” Kelly said. “It would keep traffic out of the actual school yard.”

Many of the public comments against passing this article came from supporters of the Edgartown Croquet Club (ECC). The ECC relies upon the current court; members worried that the town would not build a planned replacement court before they lost too many members.

“There is no other croquet field on the whole Island,” Joan Collins said on the ECC’s behalf.

Kelly also told voters that he is unsure when exactly the town will build a new court, though work on the amended plan overall could start next fall. 

“I would say the answer to your question is, the earliest this would start [is] probably next fall,” Kelly said. “There’s a chance it’ll probably be one summer without the croquet court before we could put one back in, but I can’t give a definitive answer.”

Voters also approved just over $1 million to repair damage caused multiple storms this winter; Edgartown has also submitted an Initial Damage Assessment (IDA) reimbursement request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in order to cover storm-related repairs.

Also on Tuesday, town administrator James Hagerty told voters that Edgartown has around $200 million of expenditures coming over the next five to 10 years to pay for a number of significant capital projects. These include around $20 million for fire station improvement, upgrades to the town’s sewer system, an estimated $15 million to upgrade the Chappy ferry, and possible contributions to the high school’s renovation or rebuilding project.

Voters also approved an increase in the local room occupancy excise, from four to six percent. This will take effect on January 1, 2025.

Also postponed at the meeting was the final, 99th article, which would have regulated short-term rentals in Edgartown.

Leaving the Old Whaling Church, voter Linda Shapiro thought the meeting went well, but that it suffered somewhat due to its size. “I think, unfortunately, some of the big articles that we postponed needed to be talked about. When they come in so late in the meeting, they just get blown away,” Shapiro said.


  1. I felt for Lucy, presenting for the Planning Board. For complex bylaw changes some preliminary voter education would help a lot, like that provided by the state for ballot initiatives. A summary of intent and effect, a statement by advocates and another in opposition. What would be an efficient way to fund creating and distributing such a thing? Lawyers and other people with concerns about the structure and wording should ideally get their licks in with the Planning Board ahead of time, so they don’t have to flog amendments through Town Meeting.

  2. I watched via Zoom so a hand out would not have helped me, but such a document as Bruce proposes would have been helpful. To have ten very technical zoning amendments proposed at one Town Meeting was too many! Many of those could have been pushed off and were not meant to address imminent threats to the town. So many bylaws at the end of the warrant reached at around 10:30pm, really came at the expense of a high exhaustion level of voters whom it appeared represented around 250 people at the peak, about 8 percent at most of the registered voters in the Town if I’m correct about there being about 3000 registered voters.

    • Ana you are spot on. It is the fault of the town for allowing so many zoning changes at one meeting. Also, the moderator is still in a learning stage on how to speed up a meeting. We do not need to stretch our legs and I do not remember having to be counted when you needed a 2/3 majority and the vote was 200 to 2. It seems the simple words there is 2/3 majority do we need to count it? None of these meetings should go beyond 10:30 as everyone is mentally exhausted, and we are not getting our best discussions or thinking.

  3. “some preliminary voter education would help a lot, like that provided by the state for ballot initiatives.” Who gets to decide what is provided by the State? Should we get to vote n it?

  4. We really need a warrant article to the effect that either Town Meeting is done by 11:00, or, the town must arrange for the Chappy Ferry to remain open as long as necessary.

    Everyone on Chappy got a choice to either be disenfranchised, or sleep on Memorial Wharf.

    Not acceptable.

Comments are closed.