As a longtime Edgartown resident, I was surprised to hear news reports that I might be paying more than my share to support the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC).
As a member and present chairman of the MVC, I was more surprised to hear some people saying that things the MVC does for the Vineyard aren’t necessary for Edgartown.
With both hats in place, I sat down and made a list of the ways my town has benefited over the years from the MVC’s work. Here’s part of it:
Protecting the Edgartown Great Pond and Sengekontacket
Bill Wilcox at the MVC has for years been hands-on at the ponds and then tied to his computer, collecting water samples, putting together data about pollutants getting into the waters from septic systems (and of course other sources), and then helping Edgartown boards put together regulations that will keep the ponds healthy for fishing, keep water healthy for all of us, and be sure that Edgartown meets new state and federal requirements (see the Mass Estuaries Project at the MVC website). His technical knowledge and his ability to work with the towns are astonishing.
Sometimes Zoning Can’t Do It
Edgartown’s zoning laws are strong, but the state laws limit how far they can go. The MVC law says controls can be put on a project that go beyond zoning. Herring Creek Farm wanted to have 54 houses, allowed under zoning. Edgartown asked the MVC to help — the land now has 11 houses along the rim and acres of protected farm land — because the MVC could condition those things that zoning couldn’t. Vineyard Golf Club got much stricter environmental controls from the MVC than zoning could reach — and now it’s a nationally recognized, award-winning “Green” success.
Protecting Special Places
In Edgartown, I can walk on old trails, see long sweeps of open coastline, know that the private lands on Cape Pogue and East Beach will stay as they are now because of districts of critical planning concern (DCPC) adopted by Edgartown. The MVC legislation gives my town powers, with a DCPC, to have regulations beyond what can be done under state and local zoning laws to protect special areas. For example, Edgartown has so far voted to protect many of our old roads and trails under a DCPC — and the MVC continues to defend a legal challenge to Edgartown’s doing so.
Bike Paths, Roads, and Bridges
You’ve probably seen traffic counters, those black cords across the road. That’s just the tip of technical data and engineering going on at the MVC. All towns use this data and analysis to make policy decisions about roads, bridges and bike paths and can use it in requests for state and federal funding.
Affordable Housing That Fits Our Community
On the Vineyard we want to make our own choices about providing more housing for working people, and the MVC has been proactive for decades in generating dozens of affordable housing units and millions of dollars for affordable housing. But we don’t want hostile developers building out-of-scale developments in tight places, using the state’s 40B law that lets them push projects through if 25 percent of the units are affordable. The Vineyard, through the MVC, is the only place in Massachusetts that can deny a 40B project that goes against common sense and local regulations.
There are more examples — you probably know some yourself. The MVC has been pivotal in defending the Island’s right to regulate wind turbines in the ocean and is working closely with each town to come up with a Vineyard-made wind energy plan. We provide state-of-the-art Geographic Information Services to each town and the community — that’s the data analysis and maps you see around the Island. We help plan the network of bike paths to make them safer, help towns plan and fund projects to minimize impacts of natural disasters, and track economic and demographic data. Check the MVC website for technical reports, planning documents, and annual reports that show the range of what we do.
The budget — it’s always a worry with the shaky economy. This year, our budget is level with last year’s — no COLA, no increase in cost to the towns. The state, in the MVC act, mandates the formula for each town’s portion. Each Vineyard property, in every town, pays the same percentage on their property tax. This year, that’s $19 for a $500,000 assessed house anywhere on the Vineyard. That gets us the planning services and protection that cross town boundaries.
I think that all of us, in all the towns, want to protect this place we love and keep the special qualities we take for granted. As an Edgartown citizen, I don’t think we can, or need, to do it alone.
The MVC was formed by Vineyard citizens and towns lobbying the legislature for more protection for this unique place. It’s one of a kind in the nation. We got it and should use it wisely, making it work for us. Let’s stay in the MVC — and put it to good use.
Christina Brown is an Edgartown member and the current chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.