Edgartown and Oak Bluffs voters defeated the controversial housing bank question Tuesday night, while in West Tisbury the housing bank won approval.

Doug Ruskin led the charge in West Tisbury to approve housing bank. — Albert O. Fischer 3rd

Debate was long and passionate on a night that saw meetings run late in every town.

“I think the biggest mistake would be to rush through this. There are too many comments. There are too many concerns,” selectman Michael Donaroma told a packed annual town meeting at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown.

Tisbury voters will take up the housing bank question when they reconvene on Wednesday night for a second session.

The question is on every town meeting warrant by petition this year. The issue has been fiercely debated, with proponents arguing the time is right with funds potentially available due to the recent passage of the short-term rental tax.

Critics include elected town officials in the three down-Island towns, who have said the proposal is too rushed and would divert needed tax dollars.

In Edgartown on Tuesday night the debate played out on both sides and went on for two hours. Some 20 people stood to speak.

In the end Mr. Donaroma moved for indefinite postponement for the main housing bank article, with a condition that the town work with the housing bank proponents and hold public meetings before the next annual town meeting.

Voters agreed 208-64.

Oak Bluffs voters soundly defeated housing bank proposal. — Jeanna Shepard

A second, companion article to fund the housing bank using monies from the short-term rental tax was also postponed.

In Oak Bluffs the housing bank question was defeated 197-71 after long and spirited debate.

Renee Balter, a member of the Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee, urged voters to approve the question.

“It’s so important to understand that housing is a regional crisis. It’s not something we have a lot of time to come up with an answer for,” she said. “These people have worked so long, so hard, so diligently to bring you an opportunity that we have, that we won’t have again for a long time.”

But planning board chairman Ewell Hopkins had a different view. “We believe these questions must be answered as locally as possible,” he said. “We have to get this real local, real quick. We have the components in Oak Bluffs to get it done. We don’t need an Islandwide bureaucracy to make the tough decisions that Oak Bluffs needs to make.”

In West Tisbury the debate was similarly long, but with a different outcome. Speaking in impassioned tones about the affordable housing crisis, Doug Ruskin urged voters to approve the housing bank despite any flaws in the way the proposal was written “What used to be a problem is now a huge problem,” he said. “It’s an Islandwide problem and we have to come together as an Island to solve this.”

But there were concerns.

“There are too many unanswered questions abut the housing bank,” said Chuck Hodgkinson. “It’s just not ready.”

West Tisbury swiftly approved plastic bottle ban, but later the meeting bogged down. — Albert O. Fischer 3rd

In the end the question won approval by a wide margin — 184-58.

Large Turnouts

Annual town meetings in four Island towns saw large turnouts Tuesday.

Oak Bluffs finished its meeting in a single night, adjourning just before 10:30 p.m. A total of 345 voters attended, easily approving a $30.9 million annual town operating budget. But voters later balked at paying the town’s share of a feasibility study to repair or replace the regional high school amid objections to the school district funding formula.

In Tisbury 370 voters turned out. The meeting began with emotional tributes for selectman Tristan Israel, who is stepping down after more than two decades of service to the town. State Rep. Dylan Fernandes presented a formal resolution in Mr. Israel’s honor, and a standing ovation followed.

Edgartown moderator Sean Murphy presided over his first town meeting. — Maria Thibodeau

Voters approved a bylaw that will impose health and safety rules on short-term rental properties, and discussed at length the allocation of monies from the ferry embarkation fees and Community Preservation Act. A proposal to change the town clerk from an elected to appointed position was defeated.

The meeting recessed just after 10:30 p.m. and will reconvene Wednesday. The housing bank question remains to be voted on, along with a $400,000 spending request for a feasbility study for a new school.

In West Tisbury, for the first time in many years the annual town meeting will also run for a second night.

An overflow crowd of more than 300 voters swiftly approved an initiative to ban plastic bottles started by a group of school children. Voters also approved a first-time six per cent rooms tax after lengthy debate. But later the meeting bogged down later amid lengthy debate over the housing bank question. When the meeting adjourned just before 11 p.m., only 10 of the 62 articles on the warrant had been voted on.

Meanwhile, in Edgartown voters were in it for the long game — tackling a total of 95 articles on special and annual town meeting warrants in a single night.

A $900,000 proposal to replace a historic World War II-era hangar Katama Airfield won the necessary two-thirds approval, 157-56, after long debate that weighed historic preservation against practicality. The hangar replacement project is back for a second year still needs approval in the ballot box at the annual town election Thursday.

Voters began with a moment of silence for Ted Morgan and a poem by town poet laureate Steve Ewing remembering the late longtime selectman who died this week:

“Right up front/every year/the colonel’s in his full dress gear.”

The meeting adjourned just before 11:40 p.m.

Landry Harlan, Holly Pretsky, Noah Asimow and Steve Myrick contributed reporting.

Home page picture by Maria Thibodeau.

More pictures from annual town meetings.