Edgartown planning board greenlights Mullen Way development

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The Edgartown planning board considers a development off Mullen Way. Martin "Skip" Tomassian (back to camera) represented developer Michael Kidder. — Photo by Steve Myrick

The Edgartown planning board Tuesday unanimously approved an application from Chappaquiddick resident Michael Kidder to build nine 2,800-square-foot, four-bedroom houses on a 7.1-acre lot off Mullen Way, following a contentious public hearing continued from Dec. 16.

The approval comes with a list of improvements Mr. Kidder offered to make at his expense, and set as conditions by the planning board. These include installation of a new eight-inch water main and fire hydrants, public access to extend Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank trails, 1.7 acres of open space, and a prohibition on guest houses or any further subdivision.

The vote to approve the project came after the five-member board voted unanimously not to refer the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), over the objection of attorney Ellen Kaplan, who represented many of the Mullen Way homeowners opposed to the development. The threshold for mandatory planning-board referral is a 10-lot development.

Several residents argued that Mullen Way, a 17.2-foot-wide, town-owned road off Pease Point Way, with pavement covering about 14 feet of the right of way, is not adequate to safely support extra traffic that would be generated by the new development.

“If you allow Mullen Way to become a driveway to this development, you’ll destroy the special character of Mullen Way,” Robert Coad, a Mullen Way homeowner, said.

“Most of what I’ve heard centers on the issue of change,” board member Robert Sparks said, just before he made a motion to approve the application. Edgartown “is a resort community, which has its appeal because old Edgartown was able to exist over 3.5 centuries of change. Is it going to change the world as we know it? I don’t think so.”

Second time around

Mr. Kidder is one of the founders of the FARM Institute, and heads a charitable foundation that has provided generous support to a number of Island institutions that include Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. He purchased the land for $3.6 million in 2005, according to assessors’ records. It is currently assessed at $1.1 million. Mr. Kidder submitted a slightly larger development proposal to the Edgartown planning board in 2005, but subsequently withdrew his application in the face of strenuous opposition from area residents, which included a petition submitted to the MVC in 2006 to declare the neighborhood a district of critical planning concern (DCPC). Such a designation, which would have been unprecedented for a specific neighborhood, would have allowed for the imposition of a layer of regulatory control above and beyond that which exists at the town level. The MVC rejected the designation.

Mr. Kidder, doing business as MRK Mullen Realty Trust, submitted a new development application to the planning board on Nov. 19, 2014.

The application sparked a blizzard of correspondence. At Tuesday’s hearing in town hall, attended by about 20 people, the board presented copies of 10 letters in support of the project, and eight opposed. Also distributed were letters from the chief of police, fire chief, board of health, water department, wastewater department, and selectmen, expressing support for, or no opposition to, the plan.

Water Superintendent William Chaplain wrote that a new eight-inch water main would be a considerable improvement over the current four-inch main.

“While this approach to the design and construction may require the developer to incur additional costs over the original design, this approach will serve the community in a better and more reliable fashion, [and] may afford the residents with a reduction in homeowner insurance rates,” Mr. Chapman wrote.

David Young, a Mullen Way seasonal resident, spoke in opposition at Tuesday’s hearing, and submitted a letter outlining his objections. “It is important to note that the very modest homes on Mullen are frequently rented in summer, and there are always a good number of children of all ages on the street,” Mr. Young wrote. “When our grandchildren come, we rent another house, as ours is too small for them. Obviously we’re looking at a dangerous personal-safety situation as well as emergency-vehicle and fire-safety issue along with the dramatic degradation of a classic Edgartown neighborhood.”

Road warriors

The objections of Mullen Way residents about the adequacy of the narrow road to accommodate more traffic held little sway for board members, despite the case made by Ms. Kaplan. She noted that Mr. Kidder recently sold two adjacent house lots that are no longer part of his development proposal, but may also bring more residents to the neighborhood.

“It is almost double the amount of homes, it is at least double the amount of bedrooms,” Ms. Kaplan told the board. “The road as it exists with no turnouts is insufficient and incapable of handling the resident traffic and the service-provider traffic. You’re going to have more landscapers, more cleaning people, more FedEx trucks.”

Lawyer Martin “Skip” Tomassian, who represented Mr. Kidder, countered with large pictures of several Edgartown roads in congested neighborhoods that he said were considerably narrower than Mullen Way.

“This isn’t an unusual situation,” planning board member Michael McCourt said. “Narrow roads exist all around the Island, with plenty of houses on them. I can’t vote against this project because of the width of the road.”

Ms. Kaplan also argued that the project triggers several provisions that require mandatory MVC review, including a provision that requires referral of any land subdivided into 10 or more lots, even though one of those lots is to be designated open space in perpetuity. “I would suggest you deny the project, but at the very least it should be referred to the MVC,” Ms. Kaplan said. “That’s where it belongs.”

Chairman Fred Mascolo disagreed about the need for review by the Island’s powerful regulatory and planning agency, which has wide authority to reject a development or impose conditions.

“So you’re saying this is regional impact?” Mr. Mascolo asked. “I’m really kind of sick of people saying that. We are a town board. I think this is an Edgartown decision. I don’t see this as regional impact, where somebody from West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah needs to weigh in.”

The project still needs approval from the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program (NHESP), because it lies within protected habitat. Mr. Tomassian assured the planning board that after more than a year of consultation, NHESP has given preapproval to development plans.

The project also needs approval from the town conservation commission.