Oak Bluffs voters could face dueling plastic bag ban bylaws at their annual town meeting in April, with business owners and conservation leaders offering their own proposals after failing to agree about the parameters of the proposed ban.
Members of the business community and representatives of Vineyard Conservation Society told Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday that both groups planned to propose plastic bag ban bylaws by petition for the April town meeting by the deadline Friday, though the two sides will continue discussions in hopes of coming to an agreement before town meeting.
Last spring the other five Island towns approved bylaws banning use of thin single-use plastic bags at retail establishments. Oak Bluffs selectmen agreed to put the article on the warrant, then later rescinded the decision after concerns from business owners.
Planning board member Brian Packish told the selectmen Tuesday that he has led three discussions between business owners and VCS members about the ban, but the parties had not reached an agreement as the deadline for town meeting articles approached.
The VCS bylaw approved by the other towns would ban single-use bags four mils thick or less. The business community wants the ban to apply to bags 2.5 mils thick or less.
“We didn’t feel the process was over, but all of a sudden Feb. 17 is coming,” VCS member Samantha Look said. She said VCS wants to put forward the original article, even as a place holder, “and then keep the dialogue going.”
Jen Freeman of Reliable Market said businesses want to research options beyond what is proposed in the VCS bylaw, including biodegradable or compostable bags. “We’re looking for a solution that works for a variety of customers,” she said, from older customers walking over from the Camp Ground to visitors walking off the ferry.
Selectman Walter Vail said he was in favor of getting rid of plastic bags, but the business community is key in the proposal. “Town meeting is a tough place for this discussion, it seems to me,” he said. “I’d rather have one everyone can agree on.”
Selectman Gregory Coogan said the board agreed last year to revisit the issue. “We promised,” he said. “If they can’t come to an agreement it will be up to the town meeting. But we’ll get something done rather than nothing . . . I’d rather put this on and have the town decide.”
Board chairman Gail Barmakian agreed. “I think it’s fair to go to town meeting,” she said. “That’s the people’s meeting. That’s what it’s for.”
Town administrator Robert Whritenour made a last-minute attempt at brokering a solution, pointing out an example of a multi-use plastic bag used at Stop & Shop stores off-Island. “It seems this thing could be wrapped up,” he said. “This seems the perfect solution.”
But selectmen passed at finding a compromise. “You can go to the next meeting,” Ms. Barmakian said.
Petitions for town meeting warrant articles require 10 signatures from town residents and are due at the end of the day Feb. 17.
In other business at a three and a half-hour meeting, selectmen approved a liquor license transfer and change of manager for the Sweet Life Cafe. The new owners of the seasonal restaurant on Circuit avenue are Hal and Erin Ryerson, who worked with former Sweet Life owners Kevin and Suzanna Crowell at their other restaurant, Detente in Edgartown. “We’re really excited and we’re happy to join the Oak Bluffs business community,” Ms. Ryerson said.
“Congratulations,” Mr. Coogan said. “We look forward to it.”
Selectmen renewed annual all-alcohol licenses for 12 town establishments, deferring decisions on three restaurants. Mr. Whritenour said three businesses, Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company, Park Corner, and The Barn, have not successfully completed annual inspections. He said an inspection showed minor issues at the Chowder Company, which have not been fixed or reinspected, and Park Corner and the Barn have not been inspected.
Mr. Whritenour said it is the business owners’ responsibility to schedule inspections, which should have been completed in January. He said the lack of inspection violates regulations and makes the businesses subject to action on their licenses. The board agreed to revisit the restaurants’ inspection status at a future meeting.
The board also:
• Approved this year’s regional application for the Community Development Block Grant, which has provided town residents with funding for housing rehabilitation and childcare assistance.
• Postponed signing off on the proposed establishment of a cultural district in Oak Bluffs after Ms. Barmakian raised some concerns. The board will revisit the issue again in a few weeks.
• Agreed to place a proposed bylaw revision for converting existing buildings into apartment units on the town meeting warrant, with some hesitation after discussion about the complicated ins and outs of the bylaw. A public hearing will be held to more fully vet the matter.
• Approved a request for The Ritz Cafe to close from Feb. 26 to March 20 for kitchen renovations, including a new smoker.
• Reappointed fire chief John Rose to a three-year term.
• Approved the annual Oak Bluffs Bluewater Classic fishing tournament, which will take place from July 19 to July 22.
• Approved raising mooring rates for the 2017 season.
As the hour neared 8 p.m. selectmen noted the lengthy meeting was interfering with holiday plans. “I think there’s a Valentine’s dinner sitting on my table,” Mr. Coogan said. “Let’s go.”