MVC committee votes DRI review of Girl Scout plan
With no cookies to sweeten their appeal, Girl Scout leaders sought to convince the Martha's Vineyard Commission's (MVC) land use planning committee (LUPC) Monday evening that their proposed new camp building in Chilmark will not have a regional impact.
After listening to the Girl Scout representatives and the Chilmark selectmen, however, the LUPC voted 5-2 to recommend that the full commission review the project as a development of regional impact (DRI). At tonight's MVC meeting at 7:30 pm, the commissioners will vote on whether to concur with the LUPC's recommendation. Abutting neighbors also may comment at the meeting on why the project should undergo review as a DRI.
The Wampanoag Girl Scout Center on Middle Road has served campers for about 50 years, despite being in violation of Chilmark's zoning setback regulations. In October, the Girl Scout Council of Southeastern Massachusetts applied for a zoning board of appeals (ZBA) special permit to demolish the existing 900-square-foot structure and replace it with a 1,996-square-foot building, just four feet short of triggering an automatic DRI referral.
After deciding to withdraw their permit request, through research the Girl Scout leaders determined that their educational non-profit organization should be exempt from requiring a special permit.
They were issued a building permit on April 12, 2006. But, on June 1, the Chilmark selectmen referred the project to the MVC as a "discretionary referral." Although the MVC would not have reviewed the project as a DRI under its standards and criteria, the Chilmark selectmen's request to designate it as a DRI requires a concurrence review by the commission.
At Monday's meeting, LUPC chairman Christina Brown appeared somewhat puzzled by the project's referral, turning to Chilmark selectmen J. B. Riggs Parker, Warren Doty, and Frank Fenner for an explanation.
"What moved the referral is under Chilmark's existing regulations and laws, there is no real forum for the abutters and neighbors to ask questions and ask the Girl Scouts to address their objections," said Mr. Parker.
The substantial increase in the size of the facility was a deciding factor in the selectmen's decision to refer the project to the MVC, Mr. Parker said, which would provide "a forum in which to ameliorate distress." In terms of the project's possible regional impact, he said traffic would be the only issue, other than neighbors' concerns.
"I can understand why a public forum is desirable," said Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans. "On the other hand, I don't see it as a DRI. The traffic impact is not sufficient."
Attorney Edward W. Vincent Jr., representing the Girl Scout Council, said the camp should not have a regional impact because its activities will remain the same, other than added winter use.
Tenney Lance, Girl Scout Council director of administration, and Alice Robinson, director of the summer day camp, outlined the camp's scheduled programs. These include troop camp weekends from April to October, one to two weeks of summer residential travel camp, and day camp the last two weeks in August.
Although a year-round facility might provide the opportunity to add more camp sessions between November and March, Ms. Lance said the cost of heat and utilities might not be worth it. The Girl Scouts do allow the Appalachian Mountain Club to use the camp for a yearly trip, but not other outside groups, Ms. Lance said.
"We want to make sure it doesn't turn into a rental facility for weddings or large non-profit gatherings," said Doug Sederholm, Chilmark commissioner.
Since the LUPC meeting was not a hearing, there was no public testimony. Letters received to date from abutting neighbors expressed concerns about increased traffic, noise, and extended year-round use.
In addition to an explanation of programs, the commissioners wanted details about the new building. Aquinnah commissioner Kathy Newman asked Ms. Lance why it would double in size.
The old building, Ms. Lance explained, is a garage that was moved to the site in 1961. The unwinterized, bare-bones structure has a floor made of plywood sheets laid on the foundation, no running water in the kitchen, and an unusable fireplace.
Ms. Lance said the proposed new building will contain a larger meeting room, an upgraded kitchen, an infirmary, a staff office, and storage space for a sizable collection of Martha's Vineyard Girl Scout memorabilia. Usable year-round, the facility also will provide indoor camp space in bad weather and handicapped-accessible sanitary facilities.
Although the increased size of the building seemed to be a sticking point in the discussion, Oak Bluffs commissioner John Breckinridge pointed out that board of health regulations will limit the camp's occupancy. Camp caretaker Helen Anderson pointed out that the camp will be strictly limited to 32 people total, down from 40 in the past.
Selectman Parker said the camp's improvements might result in its use every other weekend. "If you build it, they will come," he said, using a well-known quote from the movie "Field of Dreams."
Limiting the number of vehicles allowed on the property and the number of people at the camp would be important concessions the Girl Scouts could make to lessen the impact of increased use, selectman Warren Doty suggested.
In closing the discussion, Ms. Brown asked the LUPC its preference. Chris Murphy, Chilmark commissioner, made a motion to recommend the project's review as a DRI to the MVC, seconded by Mr. Sederholm.
Four of the 11 MVC commissioners present abstained from the vote. Ms. Brown called the 5-2 vote in favor of the DRI concurrence "a tepid majority recommendation." Mr. Breckinridge and Ms. Newman voted against it.
In other business, Mr. Doty presented a concept plan for Chilmark's Middle Line Housing Project to the LUPC and asked for suggestions as to what process the selectmen should take in moving forward with the project.
The concept plan shows three clusters of housing on 21 acres, sited to preserve an old walking path, Holman's Road. Lenny Jason, Chilmark's building inspector, asked whether the trail could be adjusted, to allow flexibility for whoever creates the final development design. The commissioners said it might be possible.
Because the project involves 12 units, it falls under review by the MVC as a DRI. The LUPC told the selectmen they should consult with the Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program to determine priority habitat and the Wampanoag Tribe about tribal interests. Bill Wilcox, MVC water resource planner, will examine watershed issues.
The commissioners also advised the Chilmark selectmen of the MVC's energy and open space policies.