The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) voted wisely and responsibly last week not to review the Goodale Construction Company’s mining and manufacturing operation as a development of regional impact. The decision comported with the limits on the discretion granted the MVC in its enabling legislation, and it meant that the MVC members refused to be abused by neighbors of a target residence or business undertaking who, as history has demonstrated, regard the regional planning and regulatory agency as a lever to achieve special interest goals.
Recall the history of the Girl Scout Camp expansion off Middle Road in Chilmark. There, the scouts’ expansion plans fell within all the town zoning and building rules. There was no possible argument that the contemplated changes had regional impact. But, harrying neighbors pressed the town selectmen to make the same sort of referral to the MVC as the Oak Bluffs selectmen did for Goodale, and the selectmen acquiesced. Their defense of their action was to say that the referral was a way to get the Girl Scout plans aired in a public hearing, because the efforts by critics in lawful municipal forums had not achieved the critics’ aims. In the Girl Scout Camp matter, the MVC had a fingerhold on the project, because development permits from Chilmark were needed for the project to proceed.
In the Goodale matter, the company has not asked for, nor needed, a development permit of any sort from Oak Bluffs. The MVC’s intervention would have been unwarranted.
Apart from their worrisome similarities, as sketched above, the need for a building permit, in the case of the Girl Scouts, and the absence of such a need in the matter of Goodale Construction Company are not the only differences between the two. While there was no conceivable regional impact implicated in the Girl Scouts’ plan, Goodale’s operation may be reasonably argued to have several such possible impacts. And while no municipal development permit has been sought by Goodale, permits of several sorts are required from state and federal regulators for Goodale to do business.
And that suggests a way that the MVC may responsibly act regionally in the interests of all Islanders. There are services that the MVC may offer that will be, in many respects, more valuable than their sometimes misbegotten reviews of small-scale projects that, despite claims to the contrary, have no regional implications. The MVC can be proud of the changes its review has wrought on projects legitimately before it as developments of regional impact. The land use planning committee preliminary review of such projects — before formal hearings begin and even in the background as hearings continue — can help guide developers to make better plans, better for their projects and better for the Island as a whole. When one considers a substantial and irreplaceable enterprise such as Goodale, the MVC might very well do all of us a service by offering to consult with such a business to identify problems that may be significant despite a complete lineup of regulatory approvals, and advise on mitigation techniques or offer to data-gather in support of operational strategies.
The availability of such a service by the MVC, in practice akin to the function of its land use planning committee but relying more heavily on staff, may be welcomed by a business owner, or it may not. After all, when your public agency is regarded, as the MVC is, as mainly a finger-wagging intruder rather than a partner in progress, offers of such assistance may be greeted warily.
But, that skepticism can be overcome by diligence and efficiency on the part of the MVC’s $900,000 staff. It’s an opportunity, now missed, for the MVC and its Vineyard constituents.