Island Plan nears adoption: What does it mean?
How will it be used? By MVC? By towns? By us?
Adoption on December 10, by the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) of its Island Plan will end a multi-year planning effort with a price tag of $327,641, begun in 2005 by the Island's regional planning and regulatory agency. The goal was to create a blueprint for Island development and change for the next 50 years.
What to do next with the massive plan is the question that now faces the MVC members. Among the questions: After they adopt the document, should the commission use it as a wholesale replacement for the MVC's own adopted policies governing development plans that come to it for permits? Or, should they modify existing policies by selecting recommendations in the Island Plan as fresh guides to review of development proposals and district of critical planning concern (DCPC) nominations? And how might the MVC persuade the six Vineyard towns to embrace recommendations in the Island Plan, as town voters reshape their own zoning and development rules?
Except as the recommendations and objectives described in the Island Plan become a part of the MVC's policies used to decide development of regional impact (DRI) permits or as they are used as guides as the MVC instructs towns concerning amendments to their development rules in the (DCPC) process, the Island Plan will have no significant immediate or long-term effect at the town level.
The Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) will hold its final public hearing on the Island Plan at 7:30 pm tonight at its offices on New York Avenue in Oak Bluffs. The full commission is to vote to adopt the plan when it meets on Thursday, Dec. 10.
How to externalize an internal document
In some respects the Island Plan is an internal MVC document. None of the towns is required to make zoning or development changes in keeping with the plan's recommendations, though they may be asked to do so in the future. But there are several ways in which the MVC can itself put its Island Plan recommendations into play.
For instance, the Island Plan recommends, in its section on energy, "Buildings are the main source of energy consumption on the Island, using 30% for heating/cooling and 33% for electricity. Energy efficiency measures could reduce our usage by at least half. We should adopt standards in our building codes requiring greater energy efficiency in new construction." The commission, in its list of DRI triggers, might require that any development proposals expected (and developers might be required to furnish an engineer's projection with the permit application) to require more than some threshold value of kilowatt hours of electricity be referred to the MVC's development of regional impact process.
Or it might require that development plans of a certain square footage be referred as DRIs, whether residential or commercial.
In its eventual review of a DRI proposal, the commission might require the developer to include a wind turbine or solar technology or some other renewable energy installation to offset some percentage of projected energy use.
On the other hand, in its deliberations over the newly accepted Island Wind Districts of Critical Planning Concern, it will be the MVC's job to present the Island towns with guidelines, within which the town voters will be asked to adopt amendments to their local zoning laws. The towns can refuse to adopt the changes the MVC wants, but that has torturous political implications for both town and commission. The town may adopt amendments that are more demanding than the commission guidelines require, but not less demanding.
And, if the MVC, pursuant to its Island Plan recommendations, were to, for instance, require rate of growth limits to be adopted in each town that are consistent with MVC goals for that town, towns would be obliged to step up and hit the mark set for them, amending their zoning laws appropriately.
The MVC could also move to implement its Island Plan recommendations in subtler ways. It might organize discussions with town planners and selectmen to review the research and results of the three and a half year planning process and to urge the implementation of broader, non-zoning recommendations. For instance, the plan urges, as regards waste management, "We should also develop a coordinated Island-wide waste management system to implement better waste treatment techniques such as an Island-wide composting facility to compost sewage sludge, construction debris and other organic wastes."
As regards affordable housing, the MVC includes several far-reaching recommendations, many of which require town and multi-town action. Here's one: "Encouraging each town to adopt a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund." Such a fund would furnish continuing support to efforts such as the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority's rental subsidy program.
None of these initiatives are under the control of the MVC, but they may ultimately be realized under the influence of the MVC.
A 50-year vision
The Island Plan describes a vision for the future Vineyard and includes 201 strategies for getting there, MVC executive director Mark London said in a press release that accompanied the release of the draft plan last year.
The entire Island Plan process cost Island taxpayers, private individual and foundation donors, and federal and state taxpayers in the form of grants, $341,000 over three and a half years. Island Plan contributions from the taxpayers of the six Island towns included $120,000, for fiscal years 2007 through 2009, paid by Island towns, in addition to each town's annual assessment. Of the town assessments over the period, about $40,000 went toward the Island Plan, the MVC's largest single planning expense.
The plan includes a summary of recommendations on development and growth, the built environment, energy and waste, housing, livelihood and commerce, the natural environment, the social environment, transportation, and water resources.
How the plan developed
In October 2005, the MVC appointed a 20-member steering committee, led by Edgartown MVC commissioner Jim Athearn, to oversee the preparation of the comprehensive Island Plan. Last spring, the steering committee invited Islanders to participate in an online survey about what they thought should be the plan's priorities and key issues. Two public forums were held over the summer.
The steering committee identified four themes for the plan - community, ecology, economy, and land - as well as 10 topic areas, including housing, transportation, and water. Working groups on livelihood and commerce, housing, natural environment, energy and waste, and water began meeting last fall. Five more groups will be formed this spring.