The Girl Scouts Council of Southeastern Massachusetts, whose members gather from time to time at their camp off Middle Road in Chilmark, want to raze the old, unsuitable 900-square foot headquarters building - really, a garage - and replace it with a plain, but considerably more spacious, new camp center of 1,996 square feet. The campground and the old building have served about 50 years now, and it's time to upgrade.
The old building is in violation of Chilmark's modern zoning setback rules, but it pre-existed those rules, and the Girl Scouts are a bona fide non-profit exempt from the need for a special permit to construct the new headquarters they have planned. They got a building permit for the new work in April, and it looked like clear sailing, as common sense suggests it ought to be.
Then, in June, the Chilmark selectmen stepped in to make a discretionary referral of the Girl Scout plan to the Martha's Vineyard Commission for review as a development of regional impact. The MVC's own triggers would not have ensnared the Girl Scouts. It took a special act of unreason on the part of the selectmen to toss the Girl Scouts on the conveyor belt that is the filleting process known as DRI review. Naturally, the MVC, a seat of unreason itself and undistinguished in the realm of common sense, acquiesced in the Chilmark selectmen's referral.
Why make the Girl Scouts run the gantlet? The Chilmark selectman J. B. Riggs Parker explained, "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."
That's a lousy reason and maybe no reason at all. Acting within the rules, the Girl Scouts proposed a development that is not a development of regional impact. Acting within the rules, the town issued a building permit. The development of regional impact criteria, and the DRI triggers were conceived, one must believe, by the MVC to address the real need for qualifying projects to receive DRI review. The point is that some projects have apparent, demonstrable regional impact that ought to be considered on a multi-town basis, and some do not. There is not some additional trigger that says, oh, and if it is not a development of regional impact, but the neighbors feel neglected and want to air their objections to see if they can bludgeon the Girl Scouts into changes that the Girl Scouts don't want to make and shouldn't be forced to make, well then, in that case, we can use the special "target practice" trigger to get the scouts before the MVC.
We urge the MVC, sitting in plenary session, to reconsider its decision to elevate the Girl Scout plan to regional review, and to decide that it made a mistake in agreeing to the review in the first place. And, at the same time, please tell the Chilmark selectmen that DRI review is for true developments of regional impact, not for target practice.
Now that the state's Appellate Tax Board has affirmed the judgment of the West Tisbury assessors and decided that Bill Graham's Mohu is indeed worth $50 million - and, after all, wasn't it preposterous to think as Mr. Graham insisted, that the assessors made a $30 million error? - it's time to pay the bills and heal the wounds. To begin with, apologies are due the assessors and their professional employee from the small, nasty, vocal crowd that signed up for Mr. Graham's misbegotten crusade and countenanced his allegations against longtime neighbors and civic-minded friends. Then, at the same time, it is crucial that the flaws in town financial management and oversight be corrected, so that the mess that was revealed when the bills came due for the town's defense in the Graham matter cannot happen again. The assessors and the selectmen have moved to make these repairs, but perhaps more needs to be done to confirm for voters that the reforms are complete. And finally, there needs to be a moment when voters and taxpayers reflect on how they got to be so viciously at odds with one another in this pointless but harrowing battle. It's the ultimate lesson that must be learned.