West Tisbury this week became the second Island town to embrace a pact that preserves the north shore's natural state, ensuring that it remains virtually free of piers, docks and groins.
The vote at Tuesday's special town meeting was decisive, 59-7 in favor of designating the entire shoreline from Makonikey to Seven Gates a district of critical planning concern (DCPC). Aquinnah voters endorsed the Wild and Scenic North Shore District last year.
Voters in Tisbury and Chilmark will decide next month whether they want to make it a clean sweep, preserving a 100-foot strip of coastline from West Chop Lighthouse to the Gay Head Light. Private property is unaffected by the action since the district boundaries begin at the low-water mark and extend seaward.
Last year, the Martha's Vineyard Commission unanimously supported nominating the north shore district and set in motion a year-long moratorium on building within the prescribed area.
Judy Crawford, chairman of the West Tisbury conservation commission, told voters this week that the stretch of coastline on the Island's north shore represents one of the last unspoiled pieces on the East Coast.
"The purpose of this district is to protect that wild and scenic natural beauty," she said. "To allow the natural drift and unimpeded beach nourishment."
There was little discussion of the article. One woman asked whether moorings would be permitted, and Mrs. Crawford explained that the DCPC bylaw would allow mooring but prohibit permanent structures within the 100-foot corridor.
Another voter asked whether a boulder rolling into the designated strip would constitute a violation. Mrs. Crawford struggled to answer the question but was then saved by the quick-witted moderator, Pat Gregory, who surmised that rolling boulders were "not expressly forbidden" by the DCPC.
Despite the momentary levity, the issue of new pier construction has generated political heat in the town over the past several years. Seasonal resident Steven Rattner has persisted in efforts to win approval for a wooden pier on his beach near Paul's Point. With this week's vote in West Tisbury, Mr. Rattner's plans have no hope of success, according to Mrs. Crawford.
Still, the new bylaw will not affect piers already in existence and would even allow for municipal piers to be built under a special permit granted by the zoning board of appeals. New pier construction for commercial fishing or aquaculture could also be allowed with special permits.
In other town meeting action, voters endorsed a proposal to change the job title and pay scale for the full-time staff person hired by the zoning board of appeals. Planning board chairman Virginia Jones told voters that the job now requires skills beyond simple typing and data entry.
The pay hike will amount to at least $5,000 more per year, said selectman John Alley, and with the new title of board administrator, the current staffer, Julie Keefe, will have to re-apply for the job. A similar proposal for the planning board employee will be on the annual town meeting warrant next month.
Voters also approved spending $3,400 for a new photocopier for the police department and $12,100 for the purchase of a road sander for the highway department. Police chief Beth Toomey told voters that the department's copier was more than 10 years old and unreliable.
When asked to explain the need for a new sander, selectman John Early simply said, "The sander was in worse condition than the police department copier."
Voters remained a little skeptical. The voice vote was unconvincing, so Mr. Gregory called for a hand count and found only three naysayers. The article carried with 65 affirmative votes.
In the five remaining articles, voters unanimously approved routine money transfers and the payment of bills. Mr. Gregory was about to move ahead on a motion to pass a block of three such articles when he realized that one of the vendors to be paid - the sum of $40.20 - was his own business, EduComp.
"I'll have to set this aside," he said. "I didn't see who this was for." He called for backup, and town clerk Prudy Whiting handled the vote. The entire town meeting was over in less than 45 minutes.