Chilmark has become the fourth Island town to adopt a ban on single-use plastic bags, and will remain the last town on the Island not to allow beer and wine to be sold in restaurants.
Exactly 200 voters showed up for the annual town meeting on Monday, filling nearly every seat in the Chilmark Community Center. Most articles passed by a wide margin, but debate simmered for nearly an hour when voters were asked whether to end Chilmark’s long-running streak as a dry town.
The article was brought by petition to allow up to five beer and wine licenses for restaurants with 50 seats or more. Bob Nixon, who owns two restaurants in town, said the change would reduce overconsumption and make things less confusing for customers who must bring their own alcohol.
“The sale of beer and wine is no magic bullet,” he said. “But we expect it to help as has been the experience in other towns.”
Clarissa Allen, among others, said the town’s alcohol prohibition was outdated and has unfairly limited some businesses.
“I think we are just living in this little tiny place that maybe we could get out of,” she said.
But many criticized the proposal as benefiting only a few and threatening to disrupt the town’s character. Frank Fenner, co-owner of The Galley restaurant in Menemsha, pointed out that Mr. Nixon owned the majority of restaurants in town with more than 50 seats, and wondered whether five allowable licenses indicated plans for another restaurant. “It is a request for profit for one family,” he said.
“Menemsha is a beautiful place, and one of the few remaining harbors that takes care of the fishermen and families. Let’s not risk that.”
Mr. Nixon said he hadn’t written the petition and that there was no intention to discriminate against smaller businesses. An amendment to lower the threshold to 20 seats was soundly defeated and the article itself failed by a voice vote.
In other business Monday night, a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags in checkout lines drew only two dissenting votes. Joan Malkin, a board member for the Vineyard Conservation Society which drafted the proposal, amended the article to place enforcement in the hands of the board of health only, deleting reference to the police department.
After discussing it with the police chief, she said of the original language, “it appears this is not a great idea.”
Selectman Warren Doty then proposed another amendment, to exclude nonprofit religious organizations from the ban. Judy Mayhew explained that the exemption would be for the lobster roll sales at the Chilmark Community Church. “We need to keep the church open and to use paper bags would be too expensive because we would need too many sizes,” she said.
VCS member Jeremy Houser disagreed that the shift would be a serious burden, but agreed to work with the church to make the transition easier. Mr. Doty’s amendment was defeated. The ban will go into effect in January to allow businesses time to adjust.
Edgartown, Tisbury and West Tisbury have adopted similar versions of the ban.
Voters also approved a bylaw that aims to prevent the demolition of pre-Civil War houses. Under the new rule, the old houses would be excluded from the town’s total living area allowance, if inclusion would mean exceeding the limit. Voters approved the bylaw with no discussion, as they did a series of amendments to the homesite bylaw aimed at streamlining the process for homesite lottery winners.
A request to contribute $23,762 for a new playground at the West Tisbury School drew some debate, as did a request to continue funding the First Stop program for Island seniors. Neither article was recommended by the town finance committee.
The playground request had been lowered $2,458 on the town meeting floor to reflect an increase in fundraising and a revised budget. Assistant principal Mary Boyd said the new playground would serve a wider range of students, along with visitors throughout the year. “We see this playground being used again and again,” she said.
Mollie Doyle, whose daughter attends the school, also supported the project. “The playground is just a rotting mess of rust,” she said. The article passed unanimously.
In regard to the First Stop program, which helps Island seniors connect to services over the Internet, selectman Bill Rossi said the finance committee saw the program as duplicative. But others strongly disagreed. “This is an essential service that is finally being offered on this Island,” said Valerie Sonnenthal. Leonard Jason Jr. pointed out that other Island groups have endorsed the program. The article passed unanimously.
A request to contribute $33,000 in community preservation funds to help defray the cost of a planned affordable housing project in Vineyard Haven drew some concern from residents who preferred to see the money spent in Chilmark. The estimated $7.8 million project (including $600,000 to acquire 5.9 acres on Kuehn’s Way) aims to provide 22 affordable apartments.
“I’d rather see my taxpayers’ money [used] to house people in this town,” said Rodney Bunker. Frank Dunkl said the project would benefit down-Island businesses, “not the people of Chilmark.”
Mr. Doty said the community preservation committee had asked itself the same question and decided to not contribute more than 10 per cent of its affordable housing budget to Islandwide projects.
But again, the support outweighed the opposition.
“Those people that are working in those down-Island business, they need a place to live too,” said Mrs. Malkin.
“They could also be working in the hospital, they could working in the police departments in the towns we all go to,” said Mark London, adding that it would be more cost-effective to provide affordable housing down-Island.
Mr. Fenner asked if there was a way to make a proportional number of the apartments available to town residents, based on the town contribution, but housing committee member Jim Feiner said the town’s 10 per cent approach ruled that out.
“We all know there is an affordable housing crisis here,” he said. “This is a no-brainer. Let’s just vote it.” The article passed by a wide margin.
A total of $39,000 was appropriated for improvements related to vehicle and pedestrian traffic in Menemsha, including $23,000 for a new boardwalk and $5,000 to prepare the comfort station for the summer season. “We decided that the building can be repaired but we are going to come back to you with a real plan for the summer of 2017,” Mr. Doty said.
Voters easily approved a total of $350,000 for a restoration project at Squibnocket Beach; the town plans to reapply for a major Coastal Zone Management grant that it recently learned would be available in the coming fiscal year.
“We expect there will be significant funding from the state,” Mr. Doty said, although he added that it was too soon to know for sure.
At the start of the meeting, Mr. Doty honored fellow selectman Jonathan Mayhew, who has served a total of about 15 years on the board and is not running for reelection. He recalled Mr. Mayhew’s long dedication to youth housing and the Tri-Town Ambulance service, among other things. “He helped move the town in a modern and new direction,” Mr. Doty said.
“Being a selectman is a lot like being a boat owner,” said Mr. Mayhew, a former longtime draggerman, following a standing ovation. “You have two happy days. The first happy day is the day you buy the boat, and the second happy day is the day you sell it.”
A luncheon gathering May 5 at 5 p.m. at the town hall will honor Mr. Mayhew’s service to the town.
The town election is Wednesday at the Chilmark Community Center. Polls are open from noon to 8 p.m.