Editorial: The moment and the plan for Oak Bluffs

Thanks to some thoughtful, aggressive, and persistent work by Oak Bluffs officials and voters, the town has a chance to do itself a good turn and to brighten its future, if it will focus on meaningful change to its downtown business district.

The consultants’ report made this week to the selectmen identifies some problems and suggests nuts and bolts structural changes that will, if leaders persist in this laudatory effort, lead to a brighter, more welcoming, more successful community, not only in-season but year-round.

As Barry Stringfellow reports this morning, the consultants found that, “‘The ‘sameness’ of retail shops on Circuit Avenue, i.e. the numerous  tee-shirt and sunglass shops, gave Circuit Avenue a feel more Hampton Beach than Martha’s Vineyard.’ More crucially, it said that while the renovation of Dreamland Ballroom was a shining example of what Oak Bluffs could become, the two dilapidated movie theaters close by are more illustrative of what the downtown has become. It went on to say the theaters are eyesores that deter foot traffic and set an overall dour tone to the entrance of the town. To address this, the report suggested the creation of a redevelopment entity ‘with adequate financial resources to quickly act to ensure vacant structures do not become a drain on nearby merchants,’ and/or a ‘blight ordinance’ to penalize owners of buildings left to deteriorate as possible solutions.” In that observation, there is a roadmap, tested elsewhere with considerable success, that will do a great deal to put Oak Bluffs residents in possession of the tools needed to make their town a better place to live, work, and do business.

This morning’s news report also describes the need to refashion town zoning. “In general, the zoning [in the business district] is confusing and creates a difficult path for new investment.” And the consultants point to rules that govern in circumstances where one change to a property can require special permits and in turn start reviews by the site plan review committee and special parking reviews by the planning board. “As if this level of review does not provide enough trepidation, projects may also trigger Martha’s Vineyard Commission Development of Regional Impact as well.”

An example that might reinforce this point is the imminent arrival of the attractive proposal to create a bowling alley on the outskirts of the downtown business district. It would require an imagination of Narnian-like scope to imagine what might be the basis for concluding that a bowling alley in town will have regional impact of any sort, never mind an impact of such scale as to warrant Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) intervention. Common sense supports a decision by the MVC to return the proposal to the town unmolested. We shall see.

The effort to upgrade and improve the downtown Oak Bluffs central business district is a wonderful idea, smartly begun and demanding follow through. Islanders know how difficult it is to effect change, but here’s a moment when change is needed, here are leaders who’ve seized that moment, and here is advice that marks the trail to success. What remains is to push this initiative forward with unremitting resolve.