Editorial: A job the Martha’s Vineyard Commission ought to be doing

Editorial: A job the Martha’s Vineyard Commission ought to be doing

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The Edgartown selectmen, who have for some time believed that their town pays for more than it gets from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, reacted with considerable hostility this week to a request for $4,000 to help pay for a fresh Island-wide housing needs study.

This is a study that needs doing. The fruits of the new examination would update a 2001 study and a 2005 update of that study, all of whose results are today of diminished value. Housing needs have certainly changed: progress has been made in meeting the need identified in 2001, the economy — nationally, regionally, and locally — has deflated, fundraising for subsidized housing development has become difficult, and the public and private efforts on behalf of low-income housing now advance with no fresh understanding of their challenge.

The base 2001 study was commissioned by Island Affordable Housing Fund, a private nonprofit, and paid for from private funds. Ditto the 2005 update. But it was a study that ought to have been done by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) in 2001, in 2005, and as part of the MVC’s 50-year Island Plan, a $340,000 anaerobic planning behemoth that took three and a half years to complete.

“It’s really important to have this information, to make sure the towns are monitoring their land use efficiently,” MVC planner Christine Flynn told the selectmen, and representatives of the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Fund, the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, the Edgartown Affordable Housing Trust, and Habitat for Humanity agreed, as Times writer Steve Myrick reports this morning.

“They (MVC planners) should be doing it and not coming to the towns for more money. This is what we give the commission money for,” chairman Art Smadbeck said. Edgartown pays almost $300,000 of the MVC’s annual $1.2 million budget.

“We just finished giving extra money for the Island Plan,” selectman Margaret Serpa said. “Why, if this was so important, wasn’t it included in the Island Plan?”

“We have strong committees working on this. There are times when I personally feel the MVC just gets in the way,” selectman Michael Donaroma added.

We think the Edgartown selectmen make a supremely sensible point. After all, the MVC employs seven planners and an executive planner. This planning work and data gathering is work the MVC should have originated and should now update. It is, in important ways, what the towns are paying for, but not getting. What they are getting are $300,000 Island Dreams and heedless expansion of regulatory jurisdiction, consuming monstrous amounts of staff and commissioner time, while at the same time intruding on the rightful municipal portfolios for regulation of development within town borders. The MVC ought to find $24,000 in its current budget to get this important study and analysis done.