Essay: MVC chairman says Islanders are ‘bashing’ the commission and are ‘misinformed’

Essay: MVC chairman says Islanders are ‘bashing’ the commission and are ‘misinformed’

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I would like to respond to a recent spate of Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) bashing, particularly as it relates to the current review of some developments of regional impact and to the commission’s budget. As chairman of the MVC, it concerns me that these criticisms seem to be largely based on misinformation about these issues, as well as about what the commission can and can’t do. I must admit that before joining the MVC as the appointed member from Oak Bluffs five years ago, I was perhaps equally uninformed.

I think that most Islanders continue to believe in the mission of the commission as described in the enabling legislation that created the MVC 40 years ago, namely: “preserving and conserving for the enjoyment of present and future generations the unique natural, historical, ecological, scientific and cultural values of Martha’s Vineyard…by protecting these values from development and uses which would impair them, and by promoting the enhancement of sound local economies.”

The Commonwealth gave Islanders and towns special authority — through the commission — to regulate development. This has been remarkably successful in preserving the environment and character of the Island, which are the basis for the Vineyard’s strong economy, property values, and tax base. The commission has two regulatory tools, developments of regional impact (DRI) and districts of critical planning concern (DCPC).

DRIs are new building projects, subdivisions, and other developments that require a permit or permission from an Island town and have a regional impact. If the project triggers the commission’s checklist defining Island-wide impact, the town must refer the application to the MVC before issuing a permit. The commission then reviews the application based on the procedures, sometimes admittedly a bit cumbersome, dictated by our enabling legislation and the Commonwealth’s Open Meeting Law. As a result, dozens of projects every year are significantly improved, thanks to the commission’s DRI review, by ensuring they don’t negatively impact the water quality of coastal ponds, traffic, parking, affordable housing, scenic values, and many other concerns that are largely beyond the scope of individual towns to address.

When the commission reviews a DRI application, it must not only look at the big picture, but it must also look at the details — such as the specifics of how much nitrogen is in the wastewater or calculating the appropriate affordable housing mitigation — to determine whether the project’s anticipated benefits outweigh the detriments, the standard for project approval. These details are also important since they will be included in the project approval that the community will live with for generations to come.

Usually, the MVC completes its hearings in one or two meetings, as was the case for the Cottage City Bowling application. Clearly, the Stop & Shop hearings have stretched out much longer than the MVC or Stop & Shop would like, due to the fact that it took Stop & Shop six weeks or more to go back to head office each time it revised its plans in response to community concerns, to the time it took for the traffic studies and peer reviews, and to the fact that the applicant asked for several delays waiting for the town of Tisbury’s resolution of the design of the town’s adjacent parking lot.

The Commission’s other regulatory function, DCPCs, provides additional protection to special areas, generally at the request of towns. DCPC designation gives towns the authority to write special regulations to protect these critical districts. After approval at town meeting, these regulations are administered exclusively by each town.

Some people criticize the commission for going too far with its regulatory authority, others for not going far enough. Notwithstanding the high-minded goals of our mission statement, the commission does not have unlimited authority to right any wrong and prevent anything that anyone sees as a threat. The DRI and DCPC processes are for new development and do not include regulating existing buildings, businesses, or other situations.

In addition to funding the MVC’s two regulatory functions, two thirds of the commission’s budget is spent on planning, serving the Island as a whole and assisting individual towns. This is where we make some of our greatest contributions to achieving the goals of our enabling legislation.

We work on a wide variety of planning challenges, most of which do not stop at the town lines. Almost all the watersheds of the Island’s coastal ponds extend across several towns and our water resource planner, Sheri Caseau, works on protecting the water quality of our coastal ponds and single source aquifer. Our transportation planner, Priscilla Leclerc, works with Mass DOT and towns on efforts to improve transportation across the Island. Our economic development and affordable housing planner, Christine Flynn, spearheaded the recent Housing Needs Assessment and has been instrumental in working with towns to apply for grants. Our DCPC coordinator and coastal planner, Jo-Ann Taylor, is completing a Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan for the Island, making towns eligible for a range of grant opportunities. Our GIS (Geographic Information Systems) coordinator, Chris Seidel, not only makes maps supporting a wide range of MVC planning efforts, but also provides assistance to all towns on GIS issues and supports various town departments’ map requests. The DRI coordinator, Paul Foley, is the only planner who works exclusively on the regulatory side.

The cost of these important services to the Island is modest. The commission is funded largely by assessments collected by the towns on behalf of the commission. This year, a typical property assessed at $500,000 pays $23.68, regardless of what town it is located in.

For the fiscal years 2011, ‘12, and ‘13, the MVC had no budget increases because we knew the towns were in dire financial conditions because of the recession. However, that caught up with us in 2014 and 2015, when legal expenses for defending MVC decisions so greatly exceeded our artificially low budget line that we had to take money from our general reserve fund to meet legal expenses. Even though our FY 2015 budget includes a one-time obligatory replenishment of the reserve fund, the MVC’s average budget increase over the past six years is only 2.2 percent. And since the replenishment of the reserve fund is a one-time expense, all town assessments will go down next year.

The MVC continues to play a vital role in protecting what makes the Island so special and not the “Anywhere U.S.A.” it could become without the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs is chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.


  1. Misinformed?! Glad to read the elected rep. Says its townspeople are misinformed. I think the problem the commission is having is the are seeing first hand how the MVC is negatively impacting the quality of life on MV. It’s time for this rogue entity to be reeled in. Rather than a ton of comments we need to band together and hold the MVC accountable. If they choose not to represent the will of the people then it time to say goodbye.

  2. Why the need for this letter. Because the MVC chairman is doing the clean up work. Somebody has to change the discussion from the comments of Linda Sibley and ridiculous views expressed by other commissioners during the Bowling alley hearings. Problem is this letter is just plain arrogant. The closer the MVC comes to involving themselves in our individual lives the more they put this land use agency’s existence at risk. Today it’s commercial property, tomorrow it’s requiring us to exceed building code requirements when we pull a permit on our homes. They need to show some need for them in order to justify a $1.4 million budget. The days of large subdivisions are far and few between.

  3. Term limits are needed. West Tisbury has had a member since before time. Smart people wont run against entrenched MVC members. The MVC is stale, needs needs fresh members. Same rules apply to County Commissioners, etc. Always same faces and same policies.

  4. Nice self-serving piece of propaganda. Next, they’ll print an oped by a tumor explaing how much good it’s doing. You guys deserve to be bashed. Actually, you deserve to be disbanded in disgrace.

  5. Open meeting laws are not cumbersome they’re incredibly important in a democracy.

  6. Fred, I believe the towns have the means to deal with it’s own issues now.

    MVC failed in several high profile projects. 1) the roundabout vote, revote, subsequent “wishing I wasn’t on vacation in Bermuda” Brian Smith. 2) Linda Sibley’s comments about Sam Dunn and his bowling alley in town, 3) Stop and Shop being carried on way to long in an attempt to just deter the applicant from continuing with a decent project, and 4) The Church expansion that was a DRI but never had the conditions met in the past is allowed to come back in front of the MVC.

  7. If MVC really cared about the quality of life on MV it would ensure that the place didn’t look like a dump. Nantucket is clean and ordered and one cannot understand why MV has to have so much refuse everywhere and no laws it seems to reign in decrepit building s and homes with junk everywhere. Scrutinizing Stop and Shop who will be a good neighbor is useless, while enforcing zoning laws would be very useful. Corporates get all manner of investigation but residents may soil and litter with impunity.