Neighbors pushed back when the owners of the Lambert’s Cove Inn came before the West Tisbury zoning board of appeals last week to request a continuation of outdoor dining at the historic 90 Manaquayak Road location, a practice started during the pandemic.

Jon and Stephanie Saunders purchased the Lambert’s Cove Inn in January from John and Keya Cain, who operated the inn from 2018-2021 and were the focus of several noise complaints over the years.

Outdoor dining at the restaurant continued this summer, and at Thursday’s hearing Mr. Saunders sought to make this a permanent arrangement, with a proposed special permit allowing for 25 to 30 outdoor diners from 5 to 9 p.m. without amplified music. This would allow the inn to minimize hosting large events by cultivating a summer fine dining experience, he said.

He also emphasized he wanted to work with the neighborhood.

“The previous owners really tainted the restaurant’s reputation,” Mr. Saunders said. “It’s been our focus since purchasing the property in January of this year to build a strong relationship with the community, and we would not be applying for this special permit if we thought in any way it would hinder our relationship with our neighbors. Without approval for this special permit our business would be devastated.”

But while there was some agreement that the Saunders have been doing a better job of minimizing noise than the previous owners, several abutters were skeptical of the special permit request, especially in light of what they considered to be enforcement issues from the town.

“The promise that this would not in any way disturb us has already been tested and proven by two years of experience...including this year,” said Dan Scherlis, who owns two abutting properties with his brother Brad Scherlis, also in attendance. “I’m thinking of my grandchildren today. There will be different owners, there will be different managers. God forbid there is another John Cain.”

Mr. Saunders said he was dismayed at the “unanticipated animosity” he felt during the meeting (though Brad Scherlis hastened to add that no animosity was intended by residents). “If we did not have the outdoor dining options, we would be forced to do more weddings,” he continued. “It just feels like you are standing in the way of me succeeding.”

Abutter Andy Kaye pointed out in correspondence read at the meeting that outside dining was put in place during the pandemic, but that special permit expired in August of 2021. He raised further concerns about town enforcement of the issue, letting the restaurant continue to offer outdoor dining this summer.

Town administrator Jennifer Rand confirmed that the permit had expired in August 2021, and said that the Saunders applied for a permit amendment as soon as they were made aware of the issue.

Board member Deborah Wells suggested a compromise of tying the outdoor dining permit to current ownership.

Mr. Saunders said he was open to this idea.

Former ZBA member and neighbor Tucker Hubble raised concerns about the legality of such an arrangement and asked the board to consult town counsel.

The board declined to make a decision at the hearing, and plans to revisit the issue on Oct. 13 at 5 p.m. Since there is still in an active appeals process, the Inn will be allowed to continue outdoor dining until that time.

In other business, the ZBA approved a request from Joseph O’Donnell to build a basketball court for his grandchildren. Mr. O’Donnell originally presented a larger plan at a June 23 hearing, which would have included a pickleball court, during which board members and residents expressed concerns over noise issues.

The blowback, vice chair Julius Lowe joked, was “as loud and clear as the smack of a pickleball.”

The board also discussed the potential wedding venue at 371 Edgartown-West Tisbury Road which is pending approval from the Martha’s Vineyard commission. The board decided not to make a decision, and instead authorized zoning inspector Joe Tierney to communicate the project’s zoning issues to the MVC.