North Tisbury Restaurant Revival

Jackson and Mary Kenworth want to take over the burned-out West Tisbury restaurant known most recently as Deon’s but also historically known as the Ice House and the Red Cat. The little restaurant sits along State Road in the North Tisbury corridor that is dotted with a pleasant country mix of small businesses and homes.

The Kenworths are well-known restaurateurs who own Slice of Life and formerly owned the Sweet Life Cafe, both on Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs. An informal, immaculate place that serves delicious food, Slice of Life is open year-round and the prices are affordable, making it one of the most popular restaurants on the Island. All with good reason — the Kenworths have figured out how to make a restaurant work right.

Now they want to take their considerable talents into West Tisbury with another year-round restaurant. That is good news for the town and North Tisbury, which has been in a state of change in recent years after Humphreys bakery closed and was converted to a private residence.

But the West Tisbury zoning board of appeals is confronting a legal and procedural puzzle with the Kenworth application. The quandary centers on allowable space. Zoning rules limit commercial buildings in residential areas to two thousand square feet. The Deon’s building, which is grandfathered, has a little more than that. The Kenworths want to expand the space to two thousand five hundred square feet. They want to expand seating from forty-four to sixty seats. And they want to clean the place up, moving outdoor mechanical systems inside, and creating enough space to allow patrons to wait inside instead of out, which would be a benefit for the neighborhood.

The legal question is this: can the zoning board allow the expansion by special permit and without a variance? An opinion received last week from a special counsel for the town says a variance is required for anything beyond two thousand one hundred and fifty three square feet (the current footprint of the building including the basement area). A second attorney representing the Kenworths who is longtime counsel to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission believes that the zoning board can allow the expansion by special permit.

In the end the matter falls into what the lawyers call a gray area, all over three hundred and forty seven square feet of extra space. The zoning board, which has held two public hearings to date, has acted thoughtfully and deliberately. And when it reconvenes tomorrow night the board would be wise to set aside the legal minutia, weigh the matter before it and exercise its own good judgment.

The board should vote to allow the Kenworth application. If it does, the town and the whole Island will benefit, especially when years down the road on some snowy December night the windows of the little North Tisbury restaurant glow again, inviting passersby to come inside for homemade kale soup and pan-roasted codfish.