Two years after a sharply divided town electorate approved the sale of beer and wine in Vineyard Haven restaurants, Tisbury selectmen may ask voters to expand wine sales beyond the dining room. Two Massachusetts wineries are eyeing the down-Island farmers’ market to sell and sample their wines this summer, and this week selectmen said they were receptive to the idea.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” said selectman Jeffrey Kristal. “I’m all for opening up that can of worms that I was accused years ago that I would open.”
Frank Zoll of Zoll Cellars in Shrewsbury appeared before the selectmen at the meeting Tuesday to lobby for the idea. A representative for Westport Rivers Winery in Westport, which also hopes to sell wine at the farmer’s market, was unable to attend.
“What we’re trying to do here is push the idea of Massachusetts agriculture,” Mr. Zoll said. “I’m doing this in part because I plan to put my wines in the Square Rigger restaurant in Edgartown. It’s really to help me introduce my product to the consumers of the Island . . . It’s extremely challenging for a small producer like myself who makes 500 to 1,000 cases or less to get a distributor to pick you up with a high-priced product that people don’t know exists.”
The sale of wine at the Farmers’ Market would require an amendment to the town bylaw that allows beer and wine sales in restaurants with 30 seats or more. At the meeting Tuesday the board agreed to ask town counsel to draft an article for the April special town meeting warrant to approve the sale of wine at the farmers’ market.
The road to changing from a dry to a wet town was long and bumpy for the town of Tisbury. It began in 2008 when a ballot initiative ended in an unprecedented tie vote, temporarily ending the push for alcohol sales in town. Two years later a second ballot initiative was approved and selectmen were authorized to issue seasonal and year-round licenses for the sale of beer and wine in restaurants.
Mr. Kristal said if voters agree to allow the sale of wine at the farmer’s market, he would like to see preferential treatment for Vineyard vintners.
“I’m looking at it kind of selfishly in that one year you might be in, but the next year you might be out because we’ve got local wineries that I’d want here rather than someone off-Island,” he said.
At the same time selectmen learned that down-Island farmers’ market manager Noreen Baker was currently in front of the town planning board to move the farmers’ market from Tuesday mornings to Thursday evenings, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The news took selectman Tristan Israel by surprise.
“If there’s one or two people giving wine samples that would be fine, but if it all of a sudden became the Martha’s Vineyard Thursday night let’s-go-sample-wine event, we should be able to build in controls to limit the vendors,” he said. “One of the concerns in town, which so far has been unfounded, was if we had beer and wine we’d have major law enforcement issues and all that. That has not happened and it has worked well, knock on wood.”
Tisbury finance committee chairman Larry Gomez requested clarity.
“I just want to know which direction this is going to lead us,” he said.
“I think you’re hearing that we’re generally okay with the concept,” Mr. Kristal told Mr. Zoll.
In other business Tuesday, selectmen voted to assess the maximum allowable amount of $77,071.08 in liquidated damages to Seaver Construction for the month of December for their ongoing work on the Emergency Services Facility building.
Town administrator John Bugbee said later that the figure came from a recommendation from town counsel. The town is allowed to assess $1,000 a day for every day the project is overdue. The building, which is still under construction, was originally scheduled to be completed last July.
“It’s complicated because we can only take from certain parts of the requisition,” Mr. Bugbee said. “We took the maximum that was in the line items that we were able to take. Even though the project is late by 180 days, we can’t charge $180,000,” he added.
Mr. Bugbee said once the project is complete all sides will have to sit down to determine a final figure.
At Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting Mr. Bugbee criticized a recent Gazette story that characterized the EMS building project as troubled.
“What we’re going through is not unusual for any building of this size,” he said. “Have we had issues at the EMS facility? Absolutely, but there aren’t any issues that aren’t insurmountable. We aren’t over budget. We won’t be returning to town meeting for additional funds.
“It’s not a troubled building,” he said.
“But it has had its frustrations,” Mr. Israel said.