Susan “Soo” Whiting spoke before the West Tisbury select board on August 31, after inter-agency disagreement and human error jeopardized a planned estate auction at the Grange Hall. The situation is in part the result of an ongoing permitting dispute between West Tisbury officials and the Vineyard Preservation Trust over use of the building in the center of town.

“I’m really between a rock and a hard spot here,” said Ms. Whiting, explaining her longstanding efforts to auction off a collection of fishing gear owned by her late husband, Phillips "Flip" Harrington.

In July, she and auctioneer Phil Stanton settled on the Grange as a possible location for the event.

Ms. Whiting and Mr. Stanton in July signed a licensing agreement with the Preservation Trust that was approved by venue manager Sandy Burt and board executive director Nevette Previd.

“We were never told we needed a town permit,” Ms. Whiting told the select board, adding they wouldn’t have found out if not for Mr. Stanton contacting town clerk Tara Whiting-Wells, a former student of his, about helping with the event, during which she mentioned the permitting.

In a conversation with the Gazette, Ms. Previd disputed this, saying she is confident that her staff informed them of the town permit requirement, and that the miscommunication was not on the trust’s part.

Town administrator Jennifer Rand outlined the ensuing administrative logjam after town zoning inspector Joe Tierney signed off on a permit allowing the event on August 26.

“Monday [August 29] he realized, quite frankly, he had made a mistake, thinking it was another kind of event, so he rescinded his signature,” she said, and explained how no new commercial events could be added at the Grange without “zoning relief for and expansion of nonconforming preexisting use.”

This permit denial comes on the heels of a recent hearing by the town’s zoning board of appeals, which unanimously ruled that the Vineyard Film Festival had to apply for a special permit for nonconforming events at the Grange, despite arguments that educational and charitable events are part of the Grange’s allowed uses. According to Mr. Tierney, the auction should also be categorized as a nonconforming event.

“The cup has run over,” said Ms. Rand of events at the Grange. “There’s unfortunately not a way forward, and it’s unfortunate that the trust went forward with this, because this has been an ongoing conversation since May, and they know full well where we are standing at this moment…It’s quite frustrating to us here at town hall, because we are consistently being put in the position of being the bad guy.”

In an interview on Sept. 2, Ms. Previd said that the trust felt that Ms. Whiting’s request was within the trust’s mandate to rent the space for community use.

“We’re very selective. Soo is a local, lives up the street in an Island family, is having a memorial service the day before, and in our mind it fit the criteria,” she said.

Ms. Previd said that the process is not in line with previous decisions made by the town over the last 30 years of trust Grange ownership.

“I think the town has some questions they’re asking of themselves in a bigger scope about West Tisbury and the town center, which we occupy,” she said.

She expressed regret that the permit denial had come to affect a community member.

“I feel bad, this is terrible. I mean this is a memorial service for her husband and they live in West Tisbury,” she said. “She’s caught in the middle, we’re caught in the middle. We’re gutted.”

Similar sentiment was expressed by the board on August 31.

“I feel terrible that Soo’s stuck in the middle of this,” said board member Jessica Miller. “This is a very convoluted issue that we shouldn’t be adding to.”

Chair Cynthia Mitchell agreed, but added, “We can’t go against what’s been recently decided.”

The board unanimously approved a proposal to allow the auction to be held instead on Ms. Whiting’s property, which will allow the auction to stay on schedule.

“I hope next spring you get it together, so this is clearer, so people don’t get entangled in this mess,” Ms. Whiting said.