An otherwise placid annual town meeting turned contentious Tuesday evening, as West Tisbury voters exchanged spirited debate on both sides of an article asking to transfer a parcel of land to the town’s affordable housing committee.

Transfer of the Silva lot for affordable housing drew deep debate. Andrew Woodruff argued strongly against it. — Mark Alan Lovewell

West Tisbury purchased the property at 401 State Road, sometimes called the Silva lot after the name of the seller, in the 1980s. Deed restrictions that limited development on the vacant land are no longer in effect, town counsel Ron Rappaport said during Tuesday’s meeting at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs.

“As a matter of Massachusetts law, those restrictions expire after 30 years,” Mr. Rappaport said.

The news did not sit well with Rebecca Cournoyer, a property owner opposed to the land transfer.

“How nice, they sold it at a discount and their restrictions have expired,” Ms. Cournoyer said sarcastically.

Some voters urged the town to leave it undeveloped and seek land for affordable housing elsewhere in West Tisbury.

“It’s one of the last wooded, undeveloped parcels along the State Road corridor,” said Andrew Woodruff, calling for the town to explore purchasing land across the road instead.

Nikki Patton said she supported affordable housing, but not at the Silva lot.

“As important as housing is beauty,” she said.

But planning board member Bea Phear said the town has already preserved much of its natural beauty.

“West Tisbury, at about 16,000 acres, is 45 per cent conserved. We’re 30 per cent developed and 25 percent available, so we are a deeply conserved town,” Ms. Phear said.

John Abrams also spoke forcefully in favor of the article, which is the first step in the process of determining whether the site can be developed for affordable housing.

“Across the street is a metal building with a gymnastics program. Next door is a thriving nursery. This is not pristine property,” Mr. Abrams said. He continued:

“If we vote in favor of it, I suggest to the townspeople that we make sure that it is an absolutely splendid property … a property we are all incredibly proud of, that is absolutely beautiful, that has a naturalized landscape, that is a property that uses no energy . . . that uses as little water as possible — that does no harm, while it does this wonderful thing of housing people who are not really in a housing crisis but a human equity crisis.”

John Abrams argued strongly in favor of using the lot for affordable housing. — Mark Alan Lovewell

On each side of the issue, some voters said they could have found themselves taking the opposite position.

“I will never own or have secure housing on Martha’s Vineyard,” said Ms. Patton, who opposed the article nonetheless.

“Three years ago, I would have been standing on that side,” said Laura Silber, indicating the microphone for opponents as she spoke into the microphone designated for supporters.

Ms. Silber changed her position after researching the effects of limited housing on communities across the country, she said. “We don’t have time to wait,” she said.

Others voters who took turns at the microphone included one non-voting property owner who urged a yes vote.

At the request of affordable housing committee member Susan Silk, town meeting moderator Daniel Waters gave Silva lot neighbor Nancy Kilson permission to speak.

“If this proposal passes and the affordable housing project is built, I will be able to hear and see the residents,” Ms. Kilson said.

“I can also see the wonderful public safety building that was built around the corner, and we need EMTs who can afford to live here,” she continued. “We need fire personnel who can afford to live here. We need teachers and police officers who can afford to live here.

“The need for affordable housing on this Island is overwhelming.”

A two-thirds majority was required to approve the property transfer article, which passed with a baker’s dozen more votes than necessary: 153 to 57.

Town clerk Tara Whiting-Wells said the meeting began with 217 voters checked in. The late-day sun cast shadows across the open-air Tabernacle as voters took up the annual business of the town, a month late this year due to the pandemic. Moderator Dan Waters presided.

As always, voters had the last say. — Mark Alan Lovewell

After the vote on the Silva lot, voters made quick work of the rest of the town meeting warrant, voting down nothing and approving most articles with little or no discussion.

One exception was a $100,000 request for repairs to the Tiah’s Cove culvert, which some voters questioned.

“This is not the year we need to spend another hundred thousand dollars on this,” said Tiah’s Cove Road resident Lisa Amols.

“It might actually be smart to wait on construction projects, because costs may go down next year,” said John Stanwood, suggesting a postponement.

“Keeping fingers crossed is not a strategy,” responded Doug Ruskin of the finance committee. “I don’t think costs of this sort are likely to go down substantially.”

Highway superintendent Richard Olsen said there is deterioration in the culvert and that it’s unclear when the need for repairs may become urgent.

“The only thing I can tell you is, it’s not going to get any cheaper,” Mr. Olsen said.

After a vote to postpone the article failed, conservation commission board administrator Maria McFarland urged a yes vote.

“We have been working on this culvert for several years now. It is permitted to be replaced . . . The headwalls on both sides are starting to fail,” Ms. McFarland said.

Efforts to secure a grant for the work have also failed, she said. “It’s hard to get grant funding for a small culvert.”

In the end the article won majority approval.

West Tisbury will be celebrating Juneteenth from now on, following a unanimous vote on an article establishing the June 19 holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.

Electric school buses and a share in supporting an all-Island emergency management coordinator also got the thumbs-up from voters.

The $20 million town budget passed easily with a $5,000 trim thanks to recently reelected select board member Skipper Manter, a West Tisbury police officer prohibited by law from collecting both his town salary and pay for serving on the select board.

Another $15,000 was shaved off the legal budget for the assessors department under an amendment from Mr. Ruskin, who said the department has demonstrated less need for legal services in recent years.

A special town election is tomorrow with a single question seeking a $300,000 general override to Proposition 2 1/2, the state tax cap. Polls are open from 11 a.m. to 7 the town public saftey building.

Tuesday’s annual town meeting was preceded by a special town meeting with the sole business of changing the name of West Tisbury’s governing body from board of selectmen to select board.

Opening the annual town meeting, West Tisbury poet laureate Spencer Thurlow recited his poem Cedar Tree Neck, Mr. Waters read the names of West Tisbury residents who died in the past year and Mr. Manter expressed the town’s thanks to retiring fire chief Manny Estrella 3rd.

More pictures.