The addition of a film festival to Grange Hall’s activities has led some town hall members to demand a special new permit for the historic facility, although the Vineyard Preservation Trust, which owns and operates the hall, says the ongoing talks could render a permit unnecessary.
When VPT announced in December that it was leasing the second floor of Grange Hall at Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival on a long-term basis, city officials generally welcomed the nonprofit newcomer to historic downtown West Tisbury. But over the summer some West Tisbury officials have raised objections to what they say is more intensive use of the property than they had anticipated, with film screenings several nights a week and children’s programs on Wednesday afternoons.
At a meeting of West Tisbury’s planning board in July, Chairman Virginia Jones raised concerns about increased activity.
“Suddenly we became a very busy city at night in West Tisbury, and it was not what was expected,” Ms Jones said.
Planning board member Amy Upton spoke for the festival, saying organizers had good intentions.
“Because we’re not used to it… it’s coming a little loud,” Ms Upton said at the July meeting.
“But in their defense they are a really lovely group of people doing really wonderful things and I feel like we are lucky to have them at West Tisbury,” she added.
“Instead of feeling like they’re somehow invading our quiet little town… maybe we can just talk to them about taking it easy and going slow,” Ms Upton said.
Building Inspector Joe Tierney later determined that the trust needed to apply for a special permit from the city’s zoning appeal board for the “extension or alteration” of the building’s use.
In an appeal before the ZBA on August 4, VPT executive director Nevette Previd, film festival executive director Brian Ditchfield, and lawyers Rob McCarron and Marilyn Vukota argued that the films, many of which were documentaries, and Cinema Circus afternoon are educational and charitable activities which are permitted as pre-existing and non-conforming uses of the Grange.
According to Mr. Tierney, however, these uses have intensified to the point that a special permit is required.
After a nearly two-hour hearing, the ZBA unanimously decided that the trust should apply for the special permit, which would then be considered at a future hearing.
But in a telephone conversation with the Gazette, Ms Previd said negotiations were continuing between the trust and the city and she had not applied for a special permit.
“We are working with the building inspector and the zoning appeal board,” she said. “Hopefully we can come to an acceptable solution… We’re still in discussion on what that looks like.”
Meanwhile, Ms Previd said, the Grange films and the Cinema Circus children’s camp will continue as planned.
“It’s business as usual,” she said.