Op-Ed : The Island Plan vision of a better Vineyard
In today's newspaper is an overview of the Island Plan, the product of four years of study and discussion by our community. The plan describes some of the key challenges the Island faces and outlines the community's vision for a better future.
The plan's findings demonstrate conclusively that both year-round and seasonal residents are concerned that the Vineyard and our way of life are succumbing to the cumulative impacts of growth and change. It is a misconception that the Island is almost built out. In reality, there is enough undeveloped and unprotected land on the Island for as many as 12,000 more homes and guesthouses under current zoning - 70 percent more than exist today. Every year, roughly 600 acres of the woods and fields we take for granted are developed. Residential septic systems and fertilizers have polluted our coastal ponds and clean-up estimates are in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The high costs of housing and of living place great strains on Vineyarders. Traffic congestion could increase six-fold if growth continues unchecked.
It is easy to assume that nothing can be done to overcome the challenges facing the Vineyard, that economic forces are too powerful, that town meeting might not support zoning or other changes, or that things have already gone too far to save.
That's just not the Vineyard way.
Instead of letting the Vineyard drift toward a future that isn't what we want, we can take charge of the Island's future and change its course. Our knowledgeable and highly engaged community has been tested many times in the past, often emerging with our own creative solutions. We can do it again.
In many ways, the Island Plan's proposals for the next generation will help keep the Vineyard much as it is today - characterized by carefully protected open spaces, vistas, and historic neighborhoods, and provided with great services and recreational opportunities.
However, in many ways the Island will be different and greatly improved. Although tourism and construction will still be important parts of the economy, many people will have transitioned to well paying, year-round "green" and knowledge based jobs, attracting additional young people to stay on the Island. Farming and fishing will be expanded and feeding more of the population. Our energy could come from a community owned offshore wind farm. There will be an Island-wide greenway and trail network. New buildings will fit into their neighborhoods. It will be an even more vital year-round community, as our families can live here affordably.
I encourage all Vineyarders to read the full Island Plan. It shows how we can turn this vision into reality, with more than 200 practical strategies involving business initiatives, educational efforts, incentives, projects, and regulations. Many of these initiatives are already underway; some helped shape the plan, others emerged from the planning process.
We look forward to working with town boards, nonprofits, and individuals to discuss how we can implement the recommendations of the Island Plan and create a better future for the Vineyard.
Your input, support, and involvement are essential to turning the community's vision into reality. This can come in many forms: your participation in community organizations, your vote at town meeting as measures come up for approval, your spirit of enterprise to create new businesses and jobs, and your individual choices in your home and in your lives.
You can consult or download the complete Island Plan at www.islandplan.org or contact the Martha's Vineyard Commission at 508-693-3453. It can also be consulted in each town library and town hall.
The Island Plan is our community's vision for a better future. Let's work together to make it happen.
James A. Athearn, a long-time member of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, has now left the commission. He continues as chairman Island Plan steering committee.