The Martha’s Vineyard Commission has taken steps to preserve the historic character of several West Tisbury roadways.

Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to designate Pine Hill, Red Coat Hill, Mott’s Hill and Shubael Weeks roads as special ways, affording them protections against future development.

“The public’s rights on these ways have never been extinguished, but I think it’s important that those rights be acknowledged and maintained in this way,” Rez Williams, a member of the West Tisbury Byways Committee, said in an appeal for the commission’s support.

Roads and byways across the Island have enjoyed special protection since 1975, when the commission adopted an Island-wide district of critical planning concern that regulates the aesthetics and safety features of certain roads.

Under the Island Road District special ways zone, those roadways which are deemed exceptional for historic, cultural or symbolic reasons cannot be expanded beyond 12 feet or paved with impervious material. Direct vehicular access is only possible by special permit.

The four West Tisbury roads were designated for historic and cultural reasons.

According to the town planning board, Pine Hill Road was once a major route that connected Old County Road with Lambert’s Cove Road. Red Coat Hill served as a lookout over the harbor during the Revolutionary War, but during an 1778 invasion known as Grey’s Raid, Red Coats invaded the hill, leaving a garment behind. Shubael Weeks Road was named for a Tisbury selectman who served during the raid. All four roads appeared on maps dating to the 1800s, according to the town.

“Their loss would be irreplaceable,” the planning board wrote in the nomination papers.

The designations are made official with a town meeting vote; West Tisbury voters will see the article on their town meeting warrant in April.

In 2010, the roads were named special ways, but the process never advanced to town meeting for a vote because of litigation involving ancient ways in Edgartown.

The special way designation for Pine Hill Road may pose a temporary delay for a large subdivision project that hopes to use the road as the primary access for two of five lots.

A public hearing before the commission has been scheduled to take place on March 19, but commissioners will not vote until after town meeting, so as to incorporate the result of the vote. If the town backs the designation, developer Joe El-Deiry can apply for a special permit for use of the road.

Another historic route in West Tisbury is also a candidate for permanent protection.

Old Coach Road, which historically served as a public route for mail delivery, once connected Holmes Hole (Vineyard Haven) with North Tisbury, the site of a post office in the early 19th and 20th centuries, according to a history provided by the town.

Over time, two-thirds of the road were developed into a modern road which serves a subdivision and the town landfill.

On Thursday, the MVC voted to nominate the road for designation as a special way.

With an official nomination now on the books, a moratorium on any development within 20 feet of the center line goes into effect until town meeting.

Thursday’s vote to nominate Old Coach Road was also unanimous.

Growing up in West Tisbury, Commissioner Josh Goldstein rode his bike to school on the old footpath.

“It’s a beautiful piece of woods,” he said. “It’s a safe way for kids to cut through. It’s really important to the wonderful character of the town I grew up in and love.”

If the commission agrees to add Old Coach Road to the special ways district, the moratorium will be extended until a vote at the annual town meeting in April.

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