A historic mail route in West Tisbury has been set aside for special protection from future development.

At a meeting late last week, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission voted unanimously to add Old Coach Road to a growing group of historic Island footpaths protected under the special ways critical planning district.

The road, which brought mail carriers from Vineyard Haven to a post office in North Tisbury in the 19th and 20th centuries, will appear on the West Tisbury town meeting warrant for designation as a special way.

Roads and byways have enjoyed special protection since 1975, when the commission adopted an Islandwide 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.

If it becomes a special way, 1,850 feet of Old Coach Road will be protected from further development.

The remaining two-thirds of the road have already been developed into a modern road which serves the Island Farms subdivision and the town landfill.

“Many of us have moved here from suburban and urban areas to the Vineyard to live a rural lifestyle and to have a rural look to where they live and these paths are one of our few ways of protecting that lifestyle,” Harriet Bernstein, chairman of the West Tisbury byways committee, said in an appeal for the commission’s support.

Last month, the commission voted to attach the special designation to Pine Hill, Red Coat Hill, Mott’s Hill and Shubael Weeks roads.

Those roads will also be on the warrant at the April town meeting.

Meanwhile, developers are looking to use Pine Hill Road as part of a five-lot subdivision near Old Stage Road.

The project has been referred to the commission as a development of regional impact, and on Thursday, the MVC heard a presentation on the plans.

The proposal is to divide 31 acres, which once formed part of the 45-acre Olsen farm, into five residential lots of varying sizes.

Plans include the construction of two houses on each of the three larger parcels, and one on each of the smaller lots.

“We would like to subdivide it but keep it as intact as we could and that is why we have the large parcels,” developer Joe El-Deiry told the commission.

About half of the property is split between two fields, according to an MVC staff report. The remaining area is forested and considered to be priority habitat for rare moths by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program.

Surveyor Doug Hoehn said he had been communicating with Natural Heritage and had received “informal, preliminary approval” for development within the habitat area as long as it does not disturb an area larger than five acres.

In all, Mr. El-Deiry said he’d like to install 27 bedrooms, but in light of nitrogen pollution in the Tisbury Great Pond watershed, MVC policy limits the bedroom count to 21.

The commission began to discuss this discrepancy at the meeting Thursday, but agreed to postpone an in-depth discussion.

The public hearing on the subdivision will continue after the West Tisbury town meeting, when voters have decided whether to designate Pine Hill Road a special way.

If the town backs the designation at town meeting, Mr. El-Deiry can apply for a special permit for use of Pine Hill Road.

In other business, the commission voted to approve a proposal for staff housing at the Island Inn off Beach Road in Oak Bluffs, pending approval from the state fire marshal and the issuance of a town building permit.

Architect Maurice O’Connor presented plans for the basement residential units that would be offered to 8 to 12 seasonal employees for a portion of their earnings.

The inn hoped to complete the 2,000 square foot addition in time for summer, but is still seeking approval for a partial sprinkler system to compensate for the limited emergency egress in the basement plans.

According to the building code, bedrooms usually require an egress window for fire safety reasons, but sprinklers can make up for that deficiency, Mr. O’Connor said.

“The commercial code has an exception, and one of those is if you sprinkle the building, you don’t need to have a window that is operable,” he said.

In past summers, Island Inn employees have struggled to find affordable housing, engineering manager Robert Saul said.

When asked if employees would want to live in the proposed addition, he said living arrangements are much worse elsewhere.

“I used to work at the Harbor View [Hotel] and I have seen them put people up over the Newes [Restaurant], where you’ve got like five or six people living in a room in bunk beds,” he said. “It’s just really hard.”

He added that restrictions on H2B temporary work visas have changed, and now require employers to guarantee housing for their foreign workers.

“To bring these people over, they have to be guaranteed housing,” Mr. Saul said.

The commission voted to restrict occupancy in the addition to 12 employees.