West Tisbury, Edgartown take MVC to court on roundabout

The West Tisbury selectmen on Wednesday voted unanimously to join with Edgartown in an appeal of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s (MVC) decision to approve the controversial roundabout project at the blinker intersection.

Selectman Richard Knabel, who made the September referral of the roundabout project to the MVC for review as a development of regional impact (DRI), made the motion on Wednesday to join the suit.

Mr. Knabel also levied harsh words at the (MVC) for failing to the listen to the widespread criticism of the project, as well as of the DRI review process.

“I and many other people are disappointed in both the process and the outcome,” he said. “The design concept the MVC approved is not the final plan. We have no idea what the final plan will look like, or what it will cost.”

On October 6, following several contentious public sessions, the commission voted 7-6 to approve a circular traffic interchange for the intersection that is now controlled with four stop signs.

On November 3, the commission reconsidered the action, but deadlocked 6-6. Failure to get a majority in favor of overturning the approval meant the earlier decision remained. The project would be funded entirely by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell of West Tisbury said she was unhappy with the way the MVC treated town officials, starting when some commissioners who acted, in her words, “downright insulted” when selectmen voted to refer the project as a DRI.

Ms. Mitchell also said the DRI review felt rushed and closed-off to the public. She suggested that looming deadlines for funding and potential bidders may have caused the whirlwind review.

“It was pushed through, rammed through really. Although there was lots of good discussion and a hearing and public participation, in no way did it have the type of airing to honor the public input that it deserved,” she said.

Ms. Mitchell said she was particularly upset by the vote to rescind. She noted that several of the commissioners who took part in the original vote to approve were not present for the second vote to rescind.

“The chairman or someone should have made the suggestion the vote not be taken until all the original voters be present,” she said. “I think it was flawed, flawed and flawed. And I think an appeal may be, sadly, the only possibility of succeeding because of that.”

Chairman Skipper Manter said he was reluctant to join a potentially costly and divisive legal battle, but in the end he also voted to support the motion to join the appeal.

Edgartown appeals

Edgartown selectmen voted unanimously Monday to appeal.

“The MVC has recently made a decision on a plan that is not a complete plan, on changing traffic patterns,” Art Smadbeck, chairman of the selectmen, said. “Although technically it’s in Oak Bluffs, there are probably more Edgartown residents that flow across that intersection.”

Selectman Margaret Serpa expressed some skepticism about challenging the decision in court.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” Ms. Serpa said, “but I don’t know what an appeal would do.”

“It would get the discussion going that should have got going before this was rushed through,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

“I don’t have any strong feeling on the construction of a roundabout,” selectman Michael Donaroma said. “I’ve heard that the plan that the commission has sort of approved isn’t really even the plan. The plan they’re referring to is twenty-five to fifty percent of what they might do. My concern is more that the commission made a decision on a plan that doesn’t really exist. That bothers me.”

At its meeting Tuesday, Oak Bluffs selectmen made plans to move forward with the roundabout project.

“The news about Edgartown does surprise me,” selectman Greg Coogan said. “It’s a costly thing they’re taking on.”

Mr. Coogan, a strong backer of the project, asked for a colleague to attend a design review meeting with state officials next week. Selectman Gail Barmakian, who has been critical of the roundabout plans, volunteered.

“The one thing I do want is someone who is open minded about the project,” Mr. Coogan said. “But if it’s there to stall it, we have enough people trying to do that.”

In Tisbury Tuesday, selectmen discussed unenthusiastically the possibility of joining Edgartown in court action but, in the absence of selectman Tristan Israel, took no action.

MVC officials declined comment on the pending appeal.