The pergola syndrome

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Tisbury is about to embark on an ambitious project to imagine what it might look like in the future and how it might get there. Over the next two weeks, town planners will hold three community workshops where, according to organizers, “participants will discover values upon which to base a vision plan and guide future actions.”

It is an important and worthwhile effort that deserves broad support from town residents, property owners, and business leaders. How to achieve that level of involvement and extend the conversation beyond the usual participants in municipal affairs is one of the biggest challenges organizers face.

Vineyarders have a debilitating habit of not paying much attention to design projects until they are under construction or complete. Let’s call it the pergola syndrome, in memory of the Greek columns and pergola that in 2000 graced the entrance to the new Tisbury Library and were then quickly removed following a storm of protest that the design was not “unobtrusive and quiet.”

A flyer distributed to Tisbury residents in this week’s issue of The Times explains, “The town will face a number of important issues in the coming years. A Vision Plan created with broad community participation will establish a framework to guide town decisions and enable us to take advantage of future development and funding opportunities.”

By the standards of most seaside vacation destinations, Vineyard Haven, the year-round gateway to Martha’s Vineyard, presents a dour picture to visitors arriving by the Steamship Authority. The number of commercial properties poised for development presents one of the town’s biggest challenges and opportunities.

The Stop & Shop property, which comprises three buildings, two parcels on either side of Five Corners and the Boch property, offers a unique and rare canvas. The challenge for town leaders will be how to forge cooperative development partnerships with property owners that provide benefits for all participants.

Those who are willing to invest in the community deserve a fair process and some expectation of a timely decision — one way or the other. Unfortunately, even 20-20 vision planning is no cure for town boards that turn municipal process into a form of bureaucratic purgatory.

This week, Janet Hefler reports on the planned sale of Saltwater restaurant in the Tisbury Marketplace by owner Reid “Sam” Dunn to Mary and Jackson Kenworth, owners of State Road restaurant in West Tisbury. It took Mr. Dunn four months to obtain a special permit so he could close the deal. The issue was a lovely screened porch and additional seats that did not suddenly appear. They have been there for more than five years. Any adverse effect ought to be well-known by now.

We can certainly expect that the Kenworths will bring the same level of excellence to Tisbury that they have brought to State Road, and before that to the Sweet Life Cafe in Oak Bluffs.

Also this week, we report that the Island Housing Trust project to create six apartments on the site of a decrepit house at 6 Water Street is mired in the zoning board of appeals, which is concerned that the inhabitants  might not be able to live without cars, or parking, and would suffer from pollution and roadway vibration, being so close to Five Corners.

Presumably, a tenant would be thrilled to have an affordable roof over his or her head, ride the bus or walk to work, and generally be happy to live like millions of others do, in apartments on Main Streets in small towns and cities across America.

This project has undergone thorough review. Any holdups tied to whimsical concerns by ZBA members only threaten state and federal funding timelines.

A public health achievement

Tonight, pressed by one of its members, the Oak Bluffs board of health will revisit the issue of fluoridation of its municipal water supply. The town has been adding fluoride since April 1991, with no documented ill effects to its residents.

As with most town boards, the board of health is made up of citizens who contribute their time. There is no requirement that any of its members have some expertise in public health, only the expectation that they will do their best to become informed and use their good judgement to render decisions in the best interests of the community.

Experts in the field of public health, Island dentists, and state and federal public health agencies endorse fluoridation as a means to reduce tooth decay, particularly in young children.

In comments to reporter Barry Stringfellow, Dr. Garrett Orazem, a well-respected dentist who has practiced on the Island for 33 years, said he has seen the benefits of fluoridation. A board decision to discontinue fluoride, he said, would be “a huge mistake.”

Dr. Orazem feels so strongly about the issue that he has been encouraging patients and other dentists to attend the Thursday-night meeting that begins at 7 pm in the Oak Bluffs library meeting room.

This is not about cost. Oak Bluffs spends about $15,000 per year to add fluoride to town water. Compared to the cost of one visit to the dentist, that represents a bargain for taxpayers, who have likely benefited from fluoridation whether or not they had the discipline to brush and floss after every meal.

This is an issue that needs to be rooted in good science and sound public health policy. The board members will not have to search to find the information they need to make an informed decision.

“For 65 years, community water fluoridation has been a safe and healthy way to effectively prevent tooth decay,” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

One benefit of community water fluoridation, the CDC said, is that a person’s income level or ability to receive routine dental care are not barriers to receiving its health benefits.

The CDC has recognized water fluoridation “as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

After careful thought and consideration, the Oak Bluffs board of health ought to reach the same conclusion