MVC will take Girl Scout Camp for DRI review
After listening to the Chilmark selectmen, Girl Scout leaders, and residents on Middle Road, the Martha's Vineyard Commission took the recommendation of the land use planning committee (LUPC), voting to review the plans for a new Girl Scout camp building on Middle Road in Chilmark as a development of regional impact (DRI).
As he did at last week's LUPC meeting, Chilmark commissioner Chris Murphy made a motion to review the Girl Scouts' project as a DRI. Of the 17 MVC commissioners present, John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs cast the only "no" vote.
At the meeting's beginning, Mr. Murphy told the commissioners, "Just addressing the issue on the table for a moment, which is to vote whether or not to accept it, it seems pretty straight-forward to me that when the selectmen from any town ask us to accept something and deal with it, that we should make every effort to do that."
The old 900 square foot Girl Scout camp building, moved to the site off Middle Road in 1961, will be razed. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Although the project would not have triggered review as a DRI under the MVC's standards and criteria, the Chilmark selectmen referred it to the MVC as a "discretionary referral." As such, the Chilmark's request to designate the project as a DRI requires a concurrence review by the commission.
Chilmark selectman chairman J.B. Riggs Parker told the commissioners the purpose of the referral was to utilize the MVC process as a forum for discussion. As an educational non-profit organization, the Girl Scouts are not subject to town regulations. Since their status exempts their project from requiring a special permit, it would not undergo a zoning board of appeals hearing.
"The referral is principally because there is no feasible way to have comment from the abutters. We felt the neighbors deserved an opportunity to be heard," Mr. Parker said.
Mr. Murphy said a DRI hearing on the Girl Scout project "shouldn't be any months of traffic studies" and "looks pretty straight-forward."
"I think doing it back-handedly and conditioning a non-acceptance is an unnecessary thing," Mr. Murphy said. "I think we can take care of this, we can accept it, we can have one hearing, and we move it to a vote and solve it. It sounds like the parties are pretty much in agreement."
The Girls Scouts are proposing to demolish their existing 900-square-foot structure and replace it with a 1,996-square-foot building, 4 feet shy of triggering an automatic DRI referral. Ned Orleans, Tisbury commissioner, asked the Girl Scouts' attorney, Edward W. Vincent Jr., why it was necessary to double the square footage.
Attorney Vincent explained that health codes and providing handicapped access require the camp to contain an infirmary, offices, and a larger kitchen for safety.
"Let me ask you a nasty question," Mr. Orleans continued. "Suppose our up-side square footage was 3,000 square feet instead of 2,000. Would we have a figure of 2,500 or 2,800, instead of 1,990?"
"You have to remember, we're only adding 1,000 square feet but tearing down the old building, which is already there, of 900 and some odd square feet," Mr. Vincent responded.
In a phone call this week, Alice Robinson, co-director of the Girl Scout's day camp, said the building size is misleading. "The meeting room and kitchen space are not that much bigger. Where the difference comes is the second floor, which will be used as troop supply storage, but it gets counted into the total square footage. The footprint is not that much larger."
The Girl Scout leaders addressed the same questions last week at the LUPC meeting. The committee suggested that the Girl Scouts provide a detailed description of their activities, including how often they take place, how many people participate, how many vehicles are on site, and what the projected increases would be.
Although the Girl Scout leaders provided this information in a chart at the MVC meeting, Kathy Newman of Aquinnah said the Girl Scouts did not go far enough. They should have offered to set limits on their use of the camp in deference to the neighbors, Ms. Newman said, implying those may have formed the basis for a restrictive covenant on their deed.
MVC chairman Linda Sibley then offered the neighbors a chance to make the argument for a DRI hearing. Attorney Eric L. Peters, who represents abutters Robert Fokos, William and Emily Meegan, and Donald Nitchie, read a five-page statement outlining their issues to the commissioners.
Mr. Fokos has owned his property for about 20 years. Emily Meegan and Donald Nitchie's parents purchased property which abuts the camp in 1958, about four months after the Girl Scout lot was sold to the original and local Martha's Vineyard Girl Scout organization, Mr. Peters said. The Wampanoag Girl Scout Center on Middle Road has served campers for about 50 years.
Some of the abutters' concerns are that a new building will lead to increases in future use, possible rental of the camp to outside groups, and increased traffic. "The absolute issue for us is noise," said Mr. Fokos, who had asked Tenney Lance, Girl Scout Council director of administration, to turn the new building in a different direction to lessen noise coming his way.
The neighbors have no problem with the Girl Scouts, their purpose or reasons for expanding their building, Mr. Peters stated. "It is the use of the new and expanded Camp Wampanoag for the next 48 years that concerns them," he said.
Seeking to allay fears about increased usage of the camp, Ms. Robinson said the fact that the camp is 11 miles from the ferry dock and lacks beachfront property, coupled with the expense of getting to Martha's Vineyard, proves a deterrent for many off-Island groups. Also, the camp's occupancy is limited to 32 by board of health regulations.
"Why can't we tell you exactly how many people will use it? We don't know. We don't know what the future holds for our income," Ms. Robinson said.
Ms. Lance told the commissioners the accusations that the Girl Scouts had ulterior motives for expanding the building were "upsetting to us." They are not looking for increased usage to generate a return on their investment in the building, she said.
The Martha's Vineyard program is supported by the Anton Fund and Vincent Fund, which help fund both Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts on the Island, as well as donated materials and donated labor.
As for noise, Ms. Lance said that although Chilmark has no bylaw, the camp imposes its own restriction from 10 pm to 7 am. However, she said, Mr. Fokos had twice disrupted camp activities to complain about noise at 8 am and 6 pm.
His request to change the direction of the building could not be carried out because of required zoning setbacks and the fact it would eliminate the camp's play area, Ms. Lance said.
In wrapping up the discussion, Ms. Sibley asked LUPC Chairman Christina Brown about her committee's recommendation to review the project as a DRI.
The LUPC's recommendation was not unanimous, Ms. Brown pointed out. "We were weighing whether a full DRI hearing would be the way to do it or having a specific proposal with limits for cars, people, traffic, events - that would then mean not a DRI but that would be recorded, was the way to do it."
Chris Murphy's motion to accept the project as a DRI was countered by one from Ms. Brown. "I'd like to suggest that we not vote for Chris's motion, and in fact vote that it is not a DRI, with the conditions and the limits that the Girl Scouts have offered tonight."
Turning to Selectman Parker, she suggested a compromise. "Was the satisfaction of what the selectmen wanted, that is, having this meeting tonight - was what the selectmen wanted a public forum?"
"That was our objective, because we're concerned as well about the various things that have been discussed," Mr. Riggs said.
Ms. Brown then asked, "And would you say that you felt this meeting satisfies that?"
"If it were a DRI that you discussed, yes," Mr. Parker responded. Ms. Brown groaned and rolled her eyes. Over the audience's laughter, Mr. Parker added, "We don't have a dog in this fight - we love the Girl Scouts but we love the neighbors, too."
In voting against the DRI review, Mr. Breckenridge said he stood in favor of his LUPC vote last week. "I feel comfortable that the selectmen's concerns have been addressed. Even if we have a public hearing, I'm not sure we can satisfy the neighbor's concerns and requests in a public hearing."
Doug Sederholm, MVC member from Chilmark, disagreed. "If the board of selectmen makes a referral to us, I really think we should give it substantial deference and review it as a DRI. The neighbors probably won't be entirely satisfied, but we will have the opportunity to look into it."
Mr. London reminded the commissioners that DRI decisions are registered and recorded against the property deed for enforcement of the conditions.
After the commissioners voted in favor of DRI review, Jim Athearn, Edgartown commissioner, asked about waiving the DRI fee for the Girl Scouts.
"My understanding of our policy is there is no exemption for a non-profit group," MVC executive director Mark London told him.
"Maybe they could pay us in Girl Scout cookies," Mr. Sederholm quipped.
Cookie sales profits go towards programs, Ms. Robinson said, so the Martha's Vineyard Girl Scouts are trying to raise funds for their new camp building by selling cookbooks, aprons, and memorial bricks. "This is a grassroots effort, not a Council project. Every penny it costs us above and beyond the cost of the building, we have to fundraise," she said.
Even if cookie money were available, the scouts would have to sell a lot of boxes to pay the DRI fees. Paul Foley, MVC DRI Analyst/Planner, said this week the Girl Scouts' DRI fee will include an $800 application fee, a $600 commercial large-scale development fee, a $1,000 fee for a building less than 3,000 square feet, a $100 recording fee, and a $3 fee per abutter for all within 350 feet.
The Girl Scouts' first DRI public hearing is tentatively scheduled for August 3, 7:30 pm, the post-public LUPC hearing on August 7, 5:30 pm, and the deliberations and decision on August 17, 7:30 pm.