Voters at Oak Bluffs town meeting Tuesday passed spending articles for several large infrastructure projects but rejected a controversial zoning change that would have allowed some industrial uses in new parts of town.

The more than 200 voters who had assembled for the meeting at the Performing Arts Center quickly passed all 15 articles at the special town meeting, including $1.6 million to upgrade the town’s wastewater treatment facility.

Jack Law presides over the four-hour meeting. — Zivah Solomon

Residents then signed off on $4.7 million to repair the town’s aging jetties and $1.6 million to replace the elementary school boiler during the annual town meeting. Both funding articles also needed to be approved at this week’s election. 

The zoning articles on the 58-article annual town meeting warrant were hotly contested, though, starting with the proposed light industrial overlay district. 

The controversial article would have allowed warehouses, landscaping storage, adult care facilities and multifamily housing in parts of town with special permission from the planning board. Mining, under certain parameters, could have also been allowed if the planning board decided to grant a special permit.

But voters raised health concerns and said it could hurt the residential character of several neighborhoods. 

“There are too many unanswered questions to this,” said resident Susan Desmarais. She felt the article’s language left too many decisions up to the discression of the planning board, the makeup of which is bound to change. 

The potential environmental impact of the overlay district also weighed on many voters’ minds. 

“I don't want us to be a bigger parking lot,” said Gail Cash. “We need to look further. There's lots of space Islandwide. We need to protect our water, all of our natural resources.”

Harbor master Emily DeBettencourt speaks in favor of repairs to the town jetties. — Zivah Solomon

Planning board chair Ewell Hopkins said the overlay district could have provided the town another tool to determine where new businesses could go in Oak Bluffs, a municipality that is predominantly zoned for residential uses. 

“We do not have the option to rezone any part of town, yet we have many non-residential demands,” he said. “Our goal was to bring to town meeting a planning tool...that would empower the planning board to look at individual applications and determine if there was a feasible and considerate way of addressing this growing need.”

Residents were not convinced, and the article was overwhelmingly rejected to loud applause.

Another overlay district that would have allowed professional businesses such as lawyers and veterinarians outside the main business district was also rejected, as was a proposed change to the language for home businesses.

The latter article would have allowed resident occupants to apply for home business licenses, as opposed to the existing bylaw that only allows resident owners to do so. The proposed change also would have allowed more commercial vehicles to be parked in residential areas.

“You don’t know what your neighbor will do in terms of renting to someone else, who would then feel that they could run this business, and then in comes this equipment,” said resident Vivian Beard, “It’s not respectful of residential neighborhoods.”

A petition article that would have allowed a dispensary in downtown Oak Bluffs was rejected, despite petitioner Geoff Rose’s efforts. Mr. Rose, the owner of a dispensary in Vineyard Haven, amended the article to exclude Circuit avenue from the bylaw.

Residents raise their yellow voter cards. — Zivah Solomon

The town does have areas that do allow the cannabis businesses, though Mr. Rose said most were unsuitable because they did not meet other town requirements.

Residents did approve the $40 million budget, though there was some confusion on the wastewater funding line. 

Patrick Hickey, the facilities manager for the wastewater treatment facility, said that the listed budget for wastewater was $94,000 lower than the budget he submitted. Moderator Jack Law said that the increase was too large and any changes would have to be taken to a special town meeting.

Oak Bluffs residents voted to allocate $15,000 towards repairing the visitor booths run by the Oak Bluffs Association after a discussion about whether or not the town or the association are responsible for the upkeep.

A moment of silence was held at the start of town meeting for residents who had died over the past year. Mr. Law also recognized select board member Jason Balboni and planning board members Ewell Hopkins and Jojo Lambert for their service to the town. Mr. Balboni and Mr. Hopkins are not seeking reelection and Ms. Lambert is stepping down from the planning board.