In a unanimous vote last Thursday, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission designated segments of Pine Hill, Red Coat Hill/Motts Hill, and Shubael Weeks Roads in West Tisbury as special ways. Pending a town meeting vote, the roads will become part of the Island Road District of Critical Planning Concern, a designation intended to protect their rural quality and special character.
The Feb. 19 vote sets in place a moratorium until town voters take action on April 14. Special ways cannot be expanded or paved, and vehicle access is only possible by a special permit.
Also last week, the MVC accepted the West Tisbury planning board’s nomination of Old Coach Road as a special way. A vote is scheduled for March 19.
In requesting the designation, the planning board said, “These are visible remnants of the Island’s history prior to the advent of motor vehicles. The narrow ways are often marked by depressions — even surrounding flat land — from many decades of use. The names of some of the ways are reminders of places, persons, or events of the past. The Town of West Tisbury needs to protect these ancient paths and byways for foot and hoof passage from one part of town to another and from one town to another. All four of these roads appear in maps from the 1800s.”
During a brief public hearing, West Tisbury byways committee chairman Harriet Bernstein spoke in support of the designation, stating that her committee wanted to ”try to keep the town as rural as possible.”
“The public’s rights in these ways have never been extinguished,” byways committee member Rez Williams said, “and I think it’s important that those rights be acknowledged and maintained in this way.”
In addition to preserving the routes for walkers, bikers, and equestrians, the designation prohibits walls, fences, or other structures from being erected within 20 feet of the centerline of these roads. It also prohibits them from being paved.
One question discussed Thursday night was the effect the vote would have on the Huseby Mountain Farm subdivision plan proposed by a real estate investment group led by Joe El-Deiry of Vineyard Haven and John Keene of Chilmark.
Mr. El-Deiry appeared before the MVC on Feb. 9 to describe their plan, under consideration as a development of regional impact (DRI), to subdivide approximately 31 acres of land adjacent to Pine Hill Road. The land was once was part of a large farm owned by John and Debbie Olson, and abuts Mr. Keene’s company, John Keene Excavation, on Old Stage Road.
The property was previously under agreement by an investment company with plans for a 55-unit subdivision, pending access. When that failed, Mr. Keene and Mr. El-Deiry purchased the property to keep it as intact as possible, Mr. Keene told The Times. Pine Hill Road would be used to access two of the lots in the subdivision.
Mr. El-Deiry has said that a special ways designation might require radical changes to the subdivision plan, including the need to create a new private road parallel to Pine Hill Road, beyond its 20-foot protected boundary. The designation also stops the subdivision application in its tracks.
Thursday night, MVC Chairman Fred Hancock said the MVC vote to accept the nomination instituted a development moratorium. “If we do not approve this tonight,” he said, “the moratorium would end. If we approve this, the moratorium continues until it goes to a town meeting vote, which is in April.”
“What we have agreed to do is to hold a public hearing for the proposed subdivision,” commission member Linda Sibley of West Tisbury said, “and get all the way up to the point where we would be ready to make a decision, and then the decision on the DRI will be made two days after the town meeting.”
Mr. El-Deiry, Keene company manager, asked for clarification on the procedural timeline for his company’s application, and specifically whether Huseby Mountain Farms’ application for development, which was submitted prior to the nomination of Pine Hill Road as a special way, essentially grandfathered the project against the moratorium.
“Our original meeting with the [West Tisbury] planning board was Nov. 17 ,” Mr. El-Deiry said, “and at that time it was sent to the commission, and then my staff applicant hearing was Jan. 8. We were supposed to have a public hearing tonight, but because of the storms it was rescheduled a few times with Paul Foley, and I’m just curious how the timing works if our original application came to you prior to the nomination on Jan. 22.”
“I don’t think any of us can clarify that,” Ms. Sibley said, shedding little light on the issue. “Our attorney clarified it for us. We’re not the attorneys.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jo-Ann Taylor, MVC DCPC coordinator, said. “Once the moratorium is in place, the town may not issue a permit. It doesn’t matter if you applied before or after the moratorium.”
Ms. Sibley added that whatever the outcome, “there’s always the special permit process.”
Mr. El-Deiry let the matter rest. According to MVC DRI coordinator Paul Foley, a public hearing on the Huseby Mountain Farm proposal is tentatively scheduled for March 19.