Tisbury Prepares Comprehensive Survey to Develop Town Master Plan for Future

By JONATHAN BURKE

Greetings from the Tisbury planning board this year will come in the form of a survey that will be used to gather information for the development of a master plan.

"A well-constructed master plan provides the basis for decision-making regarding the long-term physical development of the town. It usually leads to specific zoning bylaw changes to effect the goals expressed and to set the tone for all land-use decisions. The plan also serves as valuable documentation when seeking grants or other forms of assistance," states the press release issued by the planning board last week.

Town administrator Dennis Luttrell said a master plan is essential to receiving state aid and in preparing for the future.

"The state authorities that give grants out . . . say, ‘Okay, this is part of a plan. The community is behind this now. So there is much more of a likelihood that this is really going to happen,'" Mr. Luttrell said.

"They realize the community has now moved forward," he added, and as such are more likely to give money.

Town officials are ready to move forward. In 1999, the town appropriated $30,000 for the planning board to construct a master plan, and the board of selectmen recently received an additional $30,000 through a grant to prepare a community development plan.

A community development plan is supposed to include the following components, all of which must also be included in a master plan: economic development, an open space and environment, housing and transportation.

"We'll be hiring several consultants," said Mr. Luttrell. He said he hopes that the board of selectmen's work could be folded into the planning board's efforts in preparing a master plan.

The master plan is more comprehensive, addressing land use, natural resources and town services in addition to the elements in the community development plan.

But before anything can be done, according to planning board chairman Tony Peak, the town's wishes must be determined. Although not explicitly required by law, Mr. Peak said community input is paramount to a credible final product.

For example, he said, because the sewering of downtown will enable greater development along Beach Road, it is important to get a sense of what people want - or do not want - to see there.

"The purpose of the survey is to have an overview of several of the most important aspects of land-use planning considerations in the town so you have a guide around which to base some of your decisions," said Mr. Peak.

The survey provides an opportunity for residents to comment on Tisbury's future, and its results will both limit and expand the debate on various aspects of the town's future, said Mr. Peak. He said the planning board would begin tabulating the results in March.

"At town meeting, we hope to have a way to present some initial information, and use that as a point of rallying more public involvement, and to ensure [residents] that we are in fact moving more aggressively on this issue," said Mr. Peak. If all goes according to plan, a final product will be available for consideration at the town meeting in 2004.

The 18-question survey aims to address just about everything there is to cover in the town.

"We would like to see the master plan provide a jumping-off point for any board, which is why we cover such a broad range of issues in the survey," explained Mr. Peak.

The planning board prepared the survey with the help of the Martha's Vineyard Commission. MVC staff planner Bill Veno said the MVC "tried to help make sure the questions would not be misinterpreted, and looked at how to code questions so that the information [received] can be put into [a general] database."

One item the survey takes up is the harbor.

"A big question in town right now is, should the harbor be a revenue-generating instrument for the town as a whole, or should it be seen as a town resource which by its nature encourages economic development around it," said Mr. Peak.

The survey also addresses the question of development. Question 12 asks:

"The town owns approximately 100 acres of undeveloped land off Holmes Hole Road, known on maps as ‘the southwest triangle/wedge.' About 40 acres will be used for a new well site. There have been many suggestions for developing the rest of this land. What do you think is the best future use or combination of uses for the land?"

The survey then provides a number of check-off responses, including new middle school, police facility and fire station.

Question 9 asks: "As property lines are now drawn, there are approximately 350 buildable lots left in Tisbury. Without further subdivision and at the current rate of development (38 houses a year) we will reach buildout in 10-12 years. Do you think this rate of growth is acceptable?"

Other questions ask for more basic information. Question 7 asks residents to comment on the town's public services and grade them anywhere from "poor" to "excellent."

And question 16 asks town residents the ultimate question: "Although primarily a residential community, Tisbury is also the main port of entry for the Island, and a primary commercial year-round center. Please tell us as briefly and as concisely as possible, your ideal vision of Tisbury in 25 years."

The surveys are being mailed out with the annual town census at the end of this month. One survey will go to each house, with additional copies available at the planning office for households with more than one resident.