What happened at last week’s Oak Bluffs planning board meeting should have never happened.
Erik Albert, a member of the planning board, was participating remotely in the discussion of Lagoon Ridge, a project whose developers are attempting to use the town’s flexible zoning bylaw. Remote participation is allowed under the open meeting law, and happens frequently. It’s a perfectly reasonable way to conduct business in an age of technology that includes numerous ways to do this effectively — FaceTime, Skype, and conference calling, to name a few.
It turns out that Albert couldn’t stick around long enough for the vote. He texted board member Brian Packish, but Packish didn’t see it in time.
The board went ahead and voted anyway. So in a 3-1 vote of the remaining members, the Lagoon Ridge project’s flexible zoning was defeated even though it secured a majority of the board’s votes. In the world of zoning bylaws, it requires a supermajority to be approved, so it would have had to be unanimous or 4-1 to move forward.
It was a bad choice by chairman Ewell Hopkins to move forward with the vote. Hopkins was the lone dissenting vote on the project, and he should have given the applicant the option of delaying the vote when he learned during the meeting that Albert, who had previously shown support for the project, was no longer participating remotely for the vote.
We see this happen all the time with other boards. Oak Bluffs selectman Kathy Burton has joined her board remotely and voted on issues. Packish has also participated during trips to Mexico and Europe. We’ve also seen it done in Aquinnah.
Frankly, we wonder why it’s not being done in Edgartown, where two recent meetings were canceled due to the lack of a quorum, because selectman Michael Donaroma is on an extended vacation, according to town administrator Pam Dolby.
Obviously, Albert made a point of making himself available for the discussion, even though he couldn’t attend the meeting in person. It would stand to reason that he wanted an opportunity to vote on an issue that he’s been involved in and took the time to be involved in remotely.
We don’t understand why Hopkins, who had delayed the vote twice already, didn’t kick the can down the road one more time; after all, this 23-lot subdivision off Barnes Road has been in the works for five years. What’s another few days?
Now the issue is muddied, and it’s costing the town money in legal fees to have town counsel sort out whether or not the vote taken is legally binding.
Opponents of the project think they’ve secured a victory — although we wonder just how much of a win it is. Short of some conservation group pulling together some capital to purchase the land, it will be developed in some way, shape, or form in the future.
Meanwhile, another opportunity for affordable housing is lost. Another way to secure housing for the Island’s aging population is also gone. Are we supposed to cheer about this?
We think the developer did all he could to meet the concerns raised by neighbors and planning officials. There were conditions added to the project that would have protected the community and the environment.
But forget about whether Lagoon Ridge was a good project or not. That’s not really the point right at this moment. No matter how you feel about the project, there is no question that the process was flawed.