Dear Santa

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Across Martha’s Vineyard on Christmas day, Islanders young and old will awake with anticipation, eager to know what Santa may have left under their trees, or in their Christmas stockings.

We are not certain that St. Nick, busy as he is, pays much attention to the wish lists of editorialists, but here goes:

An end to the tribe’s Island casino quest

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has expended much time, money, and Island goodwill in its so far unsuccessful quest to overturn the settlement agreement tribal leaders signed in return for federal recognition, and turn its long-unfinished community center shell into a so-called “boutique casino.”

In attempting to claim a cut of the state’s as yet not fully baked casino pie, tribe chairman Tobias Vanderhoop and members of the tribal council have ignored the overwhelming sentiment of tribal and nontribal Island residents who oppose the creation of a gambling hall, knowing full well the detrimental effects the added traffic and inevitable disturbances would have on the smallest town on Martha’s Vineyard, as well as on neighboring towns.

In an early Christmas present, U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor issued a 40-page decision on Nov. 13 that blocked, for now, the tribe’s effort to bring gaming to the Island. The tribe’s Arizona-based lawyer has asked Judge Saylor to reconsider his ruling, and said that if the motion to reconsider is not successful, he will file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

With a casino planned for the Boston area, a slot parlor in Plainridge, and a private casino developer and the Mashpee Wampanoags squaring off to build a casino in southeastern Massachusetts, it is hard to understand what the tribe’s endgame is, or who is funding this effort, and why.

Just think what a Christmas party might have been planned this week had the tribal leadership met its obligation and completed its community center more than 10 years ago.

A regional rental-housing plan

Those familiar with the dire lack of affordable and market-rate year-round rental housing on Martha’s Vineyard, a need that real estate professionals predict will only grow worse as the the economy strengthens and rentals are snapped up by seasonal homebuyers, agree on the need for action. If current trends continue, the core of the Island’s workforce and economy — teachers, hospital workers, municipal employees, salespeople, tradesmen — will have even more limited housing opportunities than now exist.

Density is the key, and it is also the hurdle. It is easy to understand why abutters to projects that exceed zoning limits would be concerned about increases in traffic and noise. Taxpayers understandably worry about the costs associated with a rise in the number of school-age children in their town.

Morgan Woods in Edgartown, some 60 units completed in 2007, was the Island’s last major rental development. Currently, there are a few small projects in the regulatory pipeline. What is needed is political leadership, fueled by a sense of urgency, to bring together all of the major stakeholders in a concerted regional planning effort that targets the need in a serious way.

That is what happened on Nantucket, where voters recently approved zoning bylaw changes that will allow a private developer to construct a 325-unit development that will be comprised of 225 rental apartments and 100 single-family homes on two parcels totaling 32 acres.

Oak Bluffs is in the best position to address the Island need for a major rental development. If and when the town completes a long-delayed land swap with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, it will have a centrally located 24-acre parcel of land, buffered by the Southern Woodlands, off Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road.

If Oak Bluffs is willing to host housing that will be filled by people who will contribute to the overall well-being of the entire Island community, the town ought to be able to rely on the entire community for support. For example, Chilmark can hardly hope to address its need for affordable housing through its current program of doling out one-acre house lots, but it could partner up with Oak Bluffs, knowing that a down-Island development is where its future teachers, nurses and police officers might live. Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the public school system, and business owners ought to be at the table ready to help out, or anticipate a workforce of commuters.

Absent strong action, there will be fewer and fewer Christmas stockings hanging on Island mantles.

A trimmed DRI checklist

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) is currently reviewing the checklist of triggers under which local boards must refer a project for mandatory review as a development of regional impact. This checklist has grown from a two-page, 12-question checklist in 1975 to an 18-page tome with about 75 different triggers.

Are there more subdivisions? Have projects grown larger or more complicated? Are local boards less competent? Not really. What has grown is the commission’s appetite for exercising its authority over projects that town boards are quite capable of handling, and for chiming in on the smallest details of a project, details that could be left to local boards — Is there really a shortage of pitch pine and scrub oak such that the commissioners need to insist on “indigenous” plants?

The MVC ought to curb its appetite and trim its checklist.

Merry Christmas.