A short town meeting warrant still drew considerable discussion at the West Tisbury school gymnasium on Tuesday, where a quorum of 234 town voters passed a bylaw to regulate short-term rentals, a series of capital expenses and an update to the town building code. 

Tuesday’s West Tisbury town meeting was dominated with discussion on the proposed short-term rental regulations. After more than an hour of debate, the article, drafted by the town’s short-term rental committee, passed in a 151-12 vote. 

West Tisbury is now the first town on the Island to enact regulations around short-term rentals, though other towns have also started to consider the best way to handle the controversial properties. 

Dan Waters gets a standing ovation at his last town meeting as moderator. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The short-term rental article was designed to protect the town’s housing stock while still allowing the Island’s long history of renting cottages to continue, said Bea Phear, the chair of the short-term rental committee. 

“This would prevent the Marriott from coming in and buying a property,” said town legal counsel Isabelle Lew, of the bylaw, which aims to restrict corporate investment in short term rental properties.

The new bylaw requires owners to rent only one of their properties as a short-term rental, and initially was written to have a seven-day minimum rental period. Ms. Phear amended the article at town meeting to a three-day minimum.

Further amendments changed the way the period is counted from days to nights, before further reducing the period to a two-night minimum.

Some residents worried that restrictions in the bylaw, especially a stipulation instituting a minimum rental period, would cut into their income. 

“Weekends are a vital part of short-term rentals,” said town resident Wardell Eisner. “This is a critical income to me and my family.”

Additionally, the bylaw requires that owners reside in their home for at least 30 days in order to rent them on a short-term basis, and requires owners to register the properties with the building department.

Town residents also passed the $25.6 million proposed budget, a 7.28 per cent increase over last year.  

Officials count voters during the short-term rental vote. — Mark Alan Lovewell

A proposal to institute a stricter, more energy efficient building code, drew some discussion. Energy committee chair Kate Warner spoke in favor of the proposal to adopt the state’s “specialized code,” which she said would help the town reach their energy goals and unlock new funding opportunities. 

“Climate change is happening at a rapid rate. Transitioning to all electric…is a way we can slow its progress,” she said.

Town resident Adam Petkus voiced concerns about the code’s impact on Island building costs.  

“The cost of building will go up,” he said, while also highlighting the level of construction waste that energy efficient buildings can produce.

The town passed the adoption of the code by majority vote, with 136 in favor to 77 opposed.

Voters also approved a $1.8 million expense to replace the HVAC system at the town library, after preliminary estimates for the project last year turned out to be well below the actual cost. 

Town administrator Jen Rand emphasized the need to have a working system at the library, which serves as the town’s emergency heating and cooling shelter.  

Bruce Stone talks to voters. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“HVAC systems fail, on the regular,” she said. “This is not unique to us.”

The article passed with 212 in favor and 2 opposed, though the funding will require final voter approval at the town election on Thursday.

The town also voted to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, minor changes to the town zoning bylaw and a series of municipal and regional funding articles. 

At the onset of the meeting, select board chair Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter gave a speech honoring town moderator Dan Waters, who oversaw his final annual town meeting. In 2014, Mr. Waters stepped up to the job with “big shoes to fill,” Mr. Manter said.

“Almost 10 years later, we are to bid him farewell on the podium, after filling those shoes well,” Mr. Manter said.

“I can’t think of a better group of people to work for,” Mr. Waters said, in his address to the voters. “I know that you will treat my successor just as gently as you have treated me.”

Mr. Manter also honored Joyce Albertine, the soon-to-retire director of the Up-Island Council on Aging. 

Select board member Cynthia Mitchell, meanwhile, gave a speech dedicated to town accountant Bruce Stone, who will also be retiring this year. 

“For me, you are the embodiment of what is meant when we use the term good government,” she said to Mr. Stone. “Clearly, West Tisbury loves you.”