Oak Bluffs spurns petition request
A simmering behind-the-scenes dispute over conversion of the old Oak Bluffs library into affordable housing and retail space boiled over Tuesday, at the town selectmen's meeting.
Selectman Kerry Scott left the selectmen's table and sat at the back of the meeting room to read a forceful statement criticizing her fellow selectmen, other town boards, and the town building department. State ethics laws prohibit Ms. Scott from acting on the project in her capacity as selectman, because she owns land abutting the project. She spoke as an abutter.
"I believe the old library redevelopment project has skipped an important step in our permitting process," said Ms. Scott. "As long ago as last August, town officials and staff were aware that the project required review by the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC). To date, the project has not been referred. It needs to be. It is the responsibility of the building official to make the referral."
In her statement, Ms. Scott said there is an opinion from the Martha's Vineyard Commission that the project must be referred for review. "This is not optional, or discretionary, or something we can skip because town boards have reviewed the project," she said.
However, all of the town boards that discussed the project disagree with Ms. Scott's contention. The issue of referral was discussed at various times by many town boards, and each concluded that referral was not necessary.
Mark London, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, says there is some ambiguity in the Martha's Vineyard Commission checklist of factors that town boards use to decide whether a project should be reviewed by the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
"In this case, I haven't studied it, and I don't know if it's a clear-cut referral, or whether the town has discretion," said Mr. London. "We have two categories of referral. There are some criteria that are absolutely clear-cut, and there are some criteria that have some ambiguity." In general, it is the responsibility of town boards and building officials to understand the checklist and refer projects as appropriate. In practice, the decision is usually left up to town permitting authorities. The Martha's Vineyard Commission has never taken legal action to force a town to refer a project.
Sign of dissent
Just before Ms. Scott's statement, Amy Billings of Oak Bluffs submitted a petition signed by 33 people to the selectmen. The petition said the undersigned feel the project should be reviewed by the Martha's Vineyard Commission "because of change of use, increase in intensity of use and mixed residential use with business use. We are also very concerned about increase in traffic and parking."