MVC meets Thursday night to review DRI checklist

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The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) will convene a public hearing tonight, November 8, to seek comments from town boards and members of the public on draft revisions to the MVC’s standards and criteria for developments of regional impact (DRI), generally called the DRI checklist, which sets out the thresholds that identify development applications that towns must refer to the MVC for possible review, before approving or denying the applications.

The MVC reviews the DRI checklist every two years. The hearing on the proposed revisions — the 12th version of the draft checklist — will take place at 7:15 pm at the MVC offices on New York Avenue in Oak Bluffs.

The MVC conducted an in-depth review of the checklist, beginning last year, “to respond to public suggestions, to increase clarity, and to better align the checklist with recommendations of the MVC’s Island Plan by increasing protection of significant resources while easing procedures for development proposals without significant regional impacts,” according to a press statement released today by the regional land use planning and regulatory authority.

As an example of the sorts of issues considered by the MVC in its review, Chris Murphy of Chilmark, chairman of the commission, and Doug Sederholm, chairman of the land use planning subcommittee, in an OpED published at mvtimes.com on October 30, discussed the commission’s consideration of a suggestion for checklist changes that would add big houses to the list of review thresholds.

“One suggestion made by the West Tisbury Planning Board, the Vineyard Conservation Society, and a few individuals at last year’s public meetings was that the Commission review very large houses,” Mr. Murphy and Mr. Sederholm wrote. “It was argued that such houses could have significant regional impacts with regard to issues such as community character and habitat disruption, and that these proposals are often beyond the purview of town board control. Others argued that these issues are best handled at the town level. The [MVC's land use planning subcommittee] LUPC has recommended that the MVC not include a mandatory threshold for large residential buildings at this time. However, the LUPC recommends that the Commission indicate to town boards that it is receptive to reviewing discretionary referrals for large house proposals, if a town seeks MVC assistance, as the Commission has done on a few occasions in the past.”

Changes and clarifications

Mr. Murphy and Mr. Sederholm sent a copy of the proposed revised DRI checklist to town boards, along with a summary of the main changes. In addition to those, several sub-sections were relocated and new sections added to improve cohesion and clarity.

“Several modified DRI triggers are ‘with MVC concurrence,’ allowing the Commission to determine whether a specific application warrants full DRI review,” they noted.

Among those, the MVC proposes to lower the threshold for referral of subdivisions in rural areas from 10 to 6 lots, “with MVC concurrence, to ensure review of projects more likely to affect large areas of habitat or other natural resources.”

The commission proposes to raise the threshold for referrals of commercial development in business areas from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet, provided a town has adopted a plan and standards approved by the MVC that address all regional issues and has a special permit process to review business area development applications.

A new section eight, “Developments Affecting Natural or Cultural Resources,” includes items previously included under other sections, with new thresholds. The topics include demolition or significant alteration of buildings more than 100 years old outside of historic districts; clear cutting land identified as having wildlife habitat significance; developments located in “critical resource protection areas; and site alternation or construction on prime agricultural land greater than two acres.”

DRI language modified

A look at the revisions highlighted in the checklist reveals several modifications to descriptions of the four types of DRI referrals, particularly discretionary referrals. One of the most recent and controversial examples would be the West Tisbury selectmen’s discretionary referral of the Oak Bluffs roundabout project for review by the MVC.

The current checklist states that, “Any municipal agency in the town where the development is located, the board of selectmen of another town, or the Dukes County Commissioners may ask the Commission to review any project that it considers might have significant regional impact.”

The commission’s revision would add the words, “Even if a proposal does not trigger any of the thresholds in the DRI checklist” at the beginning of the sentence.” That would give wider latitude in the types of projects that might be deemed discretionary referrals to the MVC.

Also, after “significant regional impact,” the sentence would include, “with respect to water resources, transportation, open space, habitat, visual, cultural, community, construction process, or any other factors.”

An attachment to the checklist with detailed questions on each of those factors includes several additions and revisions. The MVC suggests the questions may be used as a guideline, not as a required checklist, by local boards and agents to help determine whether a development proposal might warrant a discretionary referral.

“This refers to all types of development including division of land, construction, changes of use, or increases in intensity of use,” the attachment’s introduction says.

Questions under the previous heading of “Visual and Cultural,” which would be changed to “Visual, Cultural and Community,” have been expanded to include ones related to large buildings and houses, particularly in terms of their impact on visual, cultural or historical resources, or neighborhood character.

After the public hearing on the proposed DRI checklist changes, Mr. Murphy and Mr. Sederholm said the MVC would make revisions as necessary and adopt the revised document before the end of the year. Town boards were asked to submit any written comments by 5 pm on Friday, November 16.