To the Editor:
It was a great disappointment to read that the Edgartown selectmen are continuing their harassment of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, this time with a more radical proposition to withdraw from the commission altogether. I would like to encourage the Edgartown voters to attend the December 14 town meeting and vote against the article to withdraw, showing our town officials that we care about the future of our town.
We need the professional planners at the MVC for the studies, grants, and plans they can offer the towns for traffic, water quality, economic development, bike paths and walking trails, and open space protection.
We need the protections from inappropriate development that the MVC gives to the towns through districts of critical planning concern, which are formulated, voted on, and enforced by the towns through the special powers that only regional planning agencies like the commission have. The state legislators and the courts have consistently supported the commission’s role in protecting the unique qualities of the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. This is also done through the Island-wide review of developments of regional impact. A recent court decision has also clarified that the MVC has review over 40B developments, which in unprotected towns off-Island, have been able to override local zoning.
The MVC has contributed considerable expert legal defense to Edgartown when zoning laws were being challenged, as when Herring Creek Farm was up for development. If Edgartown withdraws from the commission, it may embolden new developers to challenge our by-laws, and we would have to foot the legal bills ourselves.
We need to step up and do our share to protect the whole Island. Our Island economy is based on being a unique place with special natural qualities and small towns that attract people to visit. This is a precious asset, and it is up to all the towns to do their share to protect this good thing we have. Edgartown benefits from Chilmark and vice-versa; we need to work together to keep it that way. If Edgartown were to drop out of the commission it would put an unfair burden on the other towns.
The method of sharing the cost of the MVC is probably as fair as it could be. The town fees are set by the value of the taxable property in the town, simply the ability of each town to raise the money. At about $20 per year for a typical household, it is the best bargain going, paid back many, many times in enhanced property values and, more importantly, peace of mind.
It is important to know that we have the MVC working for the things we find important to us, values which have been stated consistently over time as strong concerns of most citizens and seasonal residents. Despite a lull in the national economy, there will be plenty of development pressure coming in the future, and I’m sure developers would be delighted to find a corner of Martha’s Vineyard where they could exert their wills without the MVC protection, as they did in the 1970’s when Edgartown withdrew for a few years.
Town meetings are no fun and few people want to go. It is too easy to pass the selectmen’s agenda if people stay home. If this initial article passes, it will cost the town considerable expense in time, political energy, and money as the citizens take sides and waste a year in battling this when good work could be done instead. Please come December 14 and vote no.
James A. Athearn
The writer is a former, longtime member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, who served as its chairman and led the effort to create the Island Plan.