Aquinnah Circle business owners pushed back on a proposed lease agreement at the Aquinnah select board meeting on Tuesday, citing concerns about shop holders’ autonomy.

The six stores located on the Gay Head cliffs are owned by the town and leased out to both the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe and individual shop owners.

In early November, the town began the process of standardizing the store leases, which have historically held discrepancies in contract language and timing, with the hopes of finalizing each lease in early 2023.

Select board member Tom Murphy introduced the proposed changes, which included increasing the flat rate for larger lots from $6,400 to $7,000 and decreasing the annual increase from eight per cent to five per cent. Mr. Murphy said that he had discussed the flat rate increase with several individual shop owners, and they had informally agreed.

“During Covid, there was no payment requested even though in the old lease we had the right to increase by eight per cent,” Mr. Murphy said, adding that he felt an eight per cent increase was too onerous for most shop owners.

Mr. Murphy said he planned to have individual lease holders sign the new agreement before beginning negotiations with the tribe. Several business owners objected to that order of operations, calling for increased transparency between the town and the tribe.

“If we sign those leases, then there’s basically no negotiation with the tribe,” said Martha Vanderhoop, owner of Hatmarcha Gifts.

The previous lease also included a clause mandating that businesses stay open from June 1 through the end of October, Mr. Murphy said, which he planned to continue.

Ms. Vanderhoop took issue with what she saw as an overreach by the town, arguing that windows of operation should be up to each individual business.

“We all want to be open as long as we can,” she said, adding that staffing shortages and unforeseen maintenance can impede that goal. “To put this kind of restriction in the lease without talking to the tribal lease holders, that seems like a mistake too.”

Select board member Juli Vanderhoop echoed her concerns, stating that her business had remained closed for much of the year due to electrical issues.

“Why would we have this in the lease at all?” Ms. Vanderhoop asked. “Why would our vendors have to be liable to the town to stay open?”

Mr. Murphy motioned to shorten the window from Memorial Day to the end of September. He also proposed adding language to allow exceptions for extenuating circumstances. The select board approved the motion.

“There’s going to be no enforcement of anything that’s unreasonable,” Mr. Murphy said. “It’s designed to prevent somebody from just not opening and leaving an empty store up there.”

In other business, town administrator Jeffrey Madison announced that the court had accepted the town’s motion to dismiss Wendy Swolinsky’s lawsuit against the town of Aquinnah. Ms. Swolinsky, a tenant of one of the town’s seven Menemsha dock lots, had sued the town three years ago claiming ownership of a shack on a neighboring lot owned by the town. The Superior Court determined that the shack, located on the westerly side of Basin Road, does in fact belong to the town.

“We should all be grateful that our legal fees will be reduced in the coming months,” Mr. Madison said.