Vineyard Preservation Trust opened the doors of the historic Grange Hall to the public Tuesday evening for what it called a “listening session” to solicit thoughts about future programming and potential improvements at the West Tisbury landmark.

The forum was held amid an ongoing dispute over deed and zoning restrictions between town zoning officials and the Trust, which owns the building.

More than 50 people convened in the upstairs room of the hall, a theater and dance floor now furnished with tiered rows of couches brought in by Circuit Arts, which recently signed a 10-year lease with the Trust to use the space. That lease drew controversy this summer when West Tisbury zoning inspector John Tierney determined the festival’s proposed schedule to be a use-intensity increase that would require a special permit. The Trust contends that the events are allowed under their deed.

Nevette Previd, executive director of the Trust, and Brian Ditchfield, executive director of Circuit Arts which produces the Martha's Vineyard Film Festival, were both present at the event officiated by Dan Waters, who holds the position of West Tisbury town moderator. Attendees were served popcorn on arrival.

Ms. Previd introduced the event before turning it over to Mr. Waters, who asked for input on the kinds of events and uses people would like to see for the space.

Heather Capece, a drama teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, spoke strongly in favor of the space’s continued use as a practice and performance space for her students.

“I see this as a home for us and our kids,” she said. “I would love to continue that.”

Several of Ms. Capece’s students also spoke in favor of the use. Sixth grader Emery Fullin said provided a place for people “to express their emotions in theater.”

Culinary professionals in the audience expressed a desire for the Grange kitchen to be upgraded to a certified commercial kitchen, making it easier for event organizers and to provide for Island chefs struggling to find space. Others hoped that the space might function more as a community center and gathering place, especially in the off-season, and that more dance events might be held there.

When asked about concerns over the hall, West Tisbury retiree Linda Cohen asked for clarification on the event permitting dispute: “[does the town] mean that for each event they would like a special permit?” she asked.

Ms. Previd said that negotiations with the town are ongoing. “We are still waiting to see what the next step is,” she said.

In early August, the Trust appealed to the West Tisbury board of appeals, hoping to overturn the zoning inspector’s determination that it needed a special permit. The zoning board of appeals ultimately upheld Mr. Tierney’s determination, but postponed filing the decision to allow for negotiations between the town and Trust.

In a letter to the zoning board of appeals dated Sept. 20, Ms. Previd said the Trust would begin work on a comprehensive special permit and asked that they be allowed to continue this and next year’s events without a permit. Board chairman Larry Schubert responded in a letter dated Sept. 23 that it was beyond the zoning board of appeal's ability to allow them to continue without a permit. The same day, the board filed its decision upholding the zoning inspector.

In a follow up letter to the Board on Oct. 5, Ms. Previd said the Trust would appeal the ZBA’s decision. Appeals are typically filed in the Land Court or Superior Court.

No members from West Tisbury town government spoke at the forum.

Other issues raised at the meeting included fundraising for building improvements, including a new foundation and roof, which the Trust estimates will cost $2 million, as well as potential noise concerns from neighbors.

Morgan Caruso, another charter school student and a neighbor to the Grange, said she has never had a problem with the noise and hoped that more art programs would be hosted there.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “I see it as more of a celebration of the Island.”