Edgartown voters will meet Tuesday, December 14, to take up a short but thorny special town meeting warrant.
The six questions include one that would initiate the legislative process to withdraw from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC). Another would authorize selectmen to enter into renewable energy contracts, and a third would revise the Council on Aging staff structure.
The special town meeting is to begin at 7 pm in the Old Whaling Church. A total of 162 voters are needed to make the quorum necessary to act on the warrant articles. There are 3,239 residents registered to vote. On October 28, an attempt to assemble a quorum to act on many of these same warrant articles fell short, when only 120 people showed up for a scheduled special town meeting.
An article authorizing selectmen to petition the legislature to withdraw from the MVC has already generated vigorous debate. Supporters of the regional planning and land use regulatory agency claim that it provides a critical backstop against unchecked development and furnishes the town with planning expertise. Critics, including selectmen, say the town pays an unfair share of the MVC assessment and gets little in return for that money.
The town and the powerful regional planning agency have been at loggerheads for several years on issues that include the MVC budget, wind power development, and affordable housing. Most recently, selectmen expressed vigorous displeasure at an MVC working budget draft that would have required Edgartown to pay $302,674 or 36.1 percent of the planning agency’s total operating costs.
The MVC has since revised its draft budget, and is considering a spending plan that represents no overall increase in the assessment to towns.
Selectmen Art Smadbeck, a frequent critic of the MVC, said he wants to take the temperature of the town.
“Give the voters a chance to weigh in,” Mr. Smadbeck said this week. “Give guidance to the town, so that as we are dealing with these thorny issues, we’re doing it with better knowledge of how the town wants us to act. I am never afraid to put anything before the voters, it’s their right, and our duty.”
Board chairman Margaret Serpa also favored putting the question to town meeting voters. “I think we just want an opinon from the public as to what the feeling is,” Ms. Serpa said.
Many MVC supporters see it differently. In a Letter to the Editor published this morning, Chappaquiddick resident and former selectman Edith “Edo” Potter said the town cannot regulate development on its own.
“I can assure you that the developers are just waiting for Edgartown to be out of the MVC, to ride roughshod over the planning board, conservation commission, and other boards in Edgartown,” Ms. Potter wrote.
In response to that letter, Mr. Smadbeck noted that Ms. Potter sits on the conservation commission. He said he didn’t believe anyone would be riding roughshod over her or the conservation commission. He said the MVC fails to listen to Edgartown voters, not developers or town boards.
“When you have the kind of power they have,” Mr. Smadbeck said, “There’s a responsibility to the people you’re governing, when they have no say so whatsoever over what you’re doing. There are 21 members of the MVC, 17 voting members. Only two of them are from Edgartown. That’s a problem.”
The MVC calculates the assessment based on equalized property valuation, according to state law. Some critics of the MVC advocate an assessment formula based equally on property valuation and population. A new formula would require either a change in the MVC enabling legislation, or voluntary compliance by all Dukes County towns.
In the current fiscal year, Edgartown is obligated by law to pay $286,829 for its apportioned share of the MVC’s operating costs.
In 2010, The MVC has initiated consideration of three developments of regional impact (DRI) in Edgartown. The agency is currently considering an estate plan proposal to subdivide 69.3 acres off Quammox Road on Chappaquiddick into 10 large housing lots and one affordable housing lot.
Another project before the agency since last spring, and recently approved, would demolish a one-story building on Upper Main Street and replace it with a three-story mixed-use building and build another apartment building.
A third project was a plan to replace the World War II era hangar at Katama Airfield.
The MVC also this year considered a proposal to accept several special ways in Edgartown into a district of critical planning concern (DCPC).
The warrant article is the first step in a long process. If approved, the warrant article authorizes selectmen to seek special legislation from state lawmakers. If that legislation makes it through the Massachusetts house and senate, and the governor signs it, the measure would come back to the town for a ballot vote.
Edgartown withdrew from the MVC in 1978, and rejoined the regional planning agency in 1984.
Also on the warrant is an article that would give selectmen the authority to contract with public or private companies to develop a solar power facility. If approved, selectmen could enter into long-term contracts for power purchase agreements, renewable energy certificate contracts, project development agreements, leases of land or buildings, and financial agreements without another town meeting vote.
The town is exploring a solar energy project that would be partly funded by the Cape and Vineyard Energy Cooperative. The solar array would require two separate six-acre parcels of land.
Also on next Thursday’s warrant is a proposal to change the personnel by-laws to reflect recommendations from a consultant who evaluated issues at the Council on Aging.
The article would eliminate the positions of director and assistant director. It would create new positions for an administrator and a director of senior services.
Two related articles would create new conservation land, and allow expansion of a hangar at Katama Airfield. After lengthy and complex negotiations, an agreement for voters to consider would authorize a conservation restriction on 21.2 acres of town-owned land off Pennywise Path.
In consideration, the state and The Nature Conservancy would amend current conservation restrictions on the airfield. The existing hangar would be renovated and expanded to more than twice its current square footage. The Nature Conservancy would hold a right of approval for the expansion project.