Island wide roundabout vote sought by West Tisbury, Edgartown

The appeal of the MVC roundabout decision is proving costly, and unpopular with some voters. — File photo by Mae Deary

Edgartown and West Tisbury selectmen, now engaged in what promises to be an expensive lawsuit against the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), may ask Island voters to weigh in on the question of a planned roundabout to replace the four-way stop intersection at Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs.

Yesterday, Edgartown selectman Michael Donaroma raised the possibility of putting the lawsuit aside until a non-binding question on spring town election ballots in all six Island towns gives elected officials a sense of public opinion.

Selectmen in West Tisbury scheduled an extra meeting to discuss the roundabout lawsuit with their attorney today, January 12. Edgartown selectmen expect to participate in that session at West Tisbury Town Hall.

In a lawsuit filed last month in Dukes County Superior Court, the two towns appealed the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) decision to approve the roundabout as a development of regional impact. The first legal bills have started to come in.

Mr. Donaroma acknowledged that the lawsuit is unpopular among some Edgartown voters.

“We’re kind of hoping that we could put it all aside, stop the legal fees, stop the bickering, and let the people decide,” Mr. Donaroma said. “I was getting a lot of pressure from a lot of people who said don’t do it. If the people get a chance to vote, so be it. I wasn’t looking for a legal battle or a fight with Oak Bluffs.”

Town administrator Pam Dolby said Edgartown has not received a legal bill yet, but is aware the town’s share of the initial legal costs is more than $15,000.

“We appropriate $130,000 per year for legal,” Ms. Dolby said in a statement emailed to The Times. “There is no way of telling right now if I will need more funds. I have given the financial advisory committee a heads up, just in case.”

Edgartown selectman Art Smadbeck said an Island-wide referendum would be the first real measure of whether the entire Island favors or opposes the controversial roundabout.

“We haven’t really gauged the broader Island, which is all we were trying to get the commission to do, find out what the Island thinks,” said Mr. Smadbeck. “It’s such a big change, I think we need to find out how the Island feels as a whole.”

He said the referendum idea originated with West Tisbury selectmen.

“West Tisbury and Edgartown are interested in doing it (a ballot question),” said West Tisbury selectman Richard Knabel. “Whether anybody else is, I don’t know. It has to be done town by town. The selectmen can do it on their own; it can be done by petition as well.”

At the special selectmen’s meeting Thursday, the two towns will consult by conference call with their attorney.

“We said we wanted to hear from him, as soon as they had some sort of contact with the commission’s lawyer,” Mr. Knabel said.

The meeting is public, but the roundabout is the only item on the posted agenda, and the two boards are expected to discuss the issue behind closed doors, citing the exception to the open meeting law that allows an executive session to discuss legal strategy.