An event planned for an early June weekend at a longstanding commercial venue adjacent to the private Harthaven enclave in Oak Bluffs has sparked tension in the neighborhood for the second year in a row.
The head of the Harthaven Association appeared before the Oak Bluffs selectmen late this week to object to the use of a tent at the Island Inn during a leadership development conference planned for the weekend of June 7-9. The conference is hosted by The Partnership Inc., a career mentoring firm dedicated to professional support in management and at the executive levels for people of color. The Partnership is celebrating its 25th anniversary. American Express chief executive officer Ken Chenault is the keynote speaker at the conference.
Organizers had requested permission to put up a tent at the Island Inn during the weekend. Carol Fulp, President and chief executive officer of The Partnership, attended the selectmen’s meeting Thursday to answer questions.
Ms. Fulp, who has been an Island resident for 14 years, stressed that the event coordinators wanted to be sensitive to the neighboring homeowners.
“We want to make sure that we have an event that is totally respectful of the community,” she said.
Last year, amid strenuous objections from Harthaven residents, selectmen denied a request from the Harlem Fine Arts show to use tents on the property of Hooked restaurant, on the grounds that it was a zoning violation.
The Partnership’s leadership conference would be held at the Island Inn, adjacent to Hooked but on a different property. There was some confusion over why The Partnership’s proposed tent was different.
Board chairman Walter Vail and town administrator Robert Whritenour said town building inspector James Dunn had previously determined that a tent at the Inn, which already hosts conferences, would not be an expansion of a nonconforming use. Mr. Whritenour said the determination was not a final say.
The tent item was on the agenda to offer residents a chance to voice their opinion on the matter, Mr. Vail said. A number of residents, many from neighboring Harthaven, spoke.
“It’s a commercial operation overextending its footprint in a residential location,” Harthaven Community Association president Alfred Woollacutt said.
“They have a meeting room that is capable of holding 200 people, I don’t know why they need a tent,” he also said, citing concerns about traffic overflow in the Island Inn and Hooked parking lot. Between 300 and 400 people are expected to attend the conference, prompting other concerns about traffic increases and noise pollution. Mrs. Fulp said most people attending the conference would arrive via public transit or taxi, and that she did not expect a large influx of private vehicles.
Island Inn proprietor Derek Tipton said that the inn has hosted The Partnership five times in the past, including their 10-year anniversary event, but had not had any tented events in recent history.
Selectman Gail Barmakian said she was concerned about the conference serving beer and wine during meals without a permit. The fee to attend the conference, which includes meals, could be interpreted as charging admissions, which would require a one or two-day liquor license, she said.
“Our problem is not with what’s being put there, but with the fact that it’s outdoors and the fact that you’ve been consistent [before],” Mr. Woollacutt said. “I think if you approve this it’s going to be an awfully slippery slope.”
The board asked Ms. Fulp and her fellow organizers to apply for a one-day liquor license. “Solve one issue,” Mr. Vail said. After that, they said they would revisit the tent question.