MVC to consider Mullen Way a DCPC neighborhood
Describing themselves as "taking a stand" in the fight to keep large-scale developments from destroying middle-class communities, the residents on Mullen Way in Edgartown convinced the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) last week to consider naming their neighborhood a district of critical planning concern (DCPC). Mullen Way is a narrow, thicketed street off Pease's Point Way, servicing an older neighborhood consisting of about 12 bungalow-style homes built in the 1920s and '30s.
The commissioners unanimously approved the neighborhood's DCPC nomination application, submitted by Mullen Way resident Robert Coad, with signatures from more than 100 taxpayers.
"The Island, acting through its regional planning agency, must now decide whether existing, historic, middle-class, tree-lined neighborhoods such as Mullen Way are to be turned into little more than narrow driveways into gated communities of millionaires - stripped of all historic vegetation and charm and eventually of the residents themselves," the DCPC application stated.
The MVC's acceptance of the DCPC nomination means that the commission has found reason to review the nomination, which has the effect of creating a temporary building moratorium for the designated area. The MVC will hold a public hearing sometime in September before voting on whether to designate Mullen Way as a DCPC.
If the neighborhood is not designated a DCPC, the moratorium will end. If it is, four town boards - the board of selectmen, the planning board, the Conservation Commission, and the Board of Health - are responsible for proposing regulations. Following a review of the proposed regulations in a public hearing by the MVC, they must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote at town meeting.
Tall Trees Village project withdraws
The neighborhood effort arose in the wake of a nine-lot subdivision plan, since dropped, called Tall Trees Village that would have placed luxury homes on eight acres at the end of Mullen Way. Although the number of lots in the Tall Trees Village proposal did not trigger review as a development of regional impact (DRI), the Edgartown Planning Board asked the Edgartown selectmen for a discretionary referral of the project to the MVC.
Allison Cannon, who was chairman of the Edgartown Planning Board at the time of the referral, said the board requested it because, "The minute you let something like that go through without very careful consideration, it sets a precedent. The commission, above all the towns and boards, has more of a regulatory process to deal with projects such as this."
Michael Kidder and Douglas Ward, the Tall Trees Village developers, withdrew their plans for the subdivision this month, after the planning board referred it to the MVC as a DRI.
In the meantime, although the subdivision plan was withdrawn, the neighbors pursued the DCPC nomination, stating in their application that, "...the existing bylaws of Edgartown do not allow the [planning] Board to consider the devastating effect of a large development on the character of the quiet tree-lined world of turn-of-the-century bungalows that is Mullen Way."
The rationale for a DCPC
According to the MVC's regulations, the critical underlying requirement of a DCPC designation must be that current state and municipal regulations fail to protect the cultural and environmental resources at issue in a geographic area.
The MVC categorizes eight types of DCPC's. The mix of year-round owners and renters and summer residents on Mullen Way propose that the neighborhood qualifies under two DCPC categories, as a cultural and historic resource district and as a hazardous district.
In terms of its cultural and historical resources, residents describe their close-knit community as "irreplaceable," one that "cannot be transplanted or recreated because it evolved from a series of unique historic circumstances." The neighborhood represents "an historic area and a traditional way of Vineyard life that is becoming increasingly rare on the Island," the residents say, and its loss would undermine the social fabric of the Island.
In arguing for the designation, the residents said the dead-end street serves as a meeting place for adults and a playground for children. Additional traffic from a large subdivision's residents, as well as delivery, service, lawn, and pool care vehicles, would be using the 13- to 15-foot wide road.
The residents base their arguments for considering Mullen Way as a hazardous district on the limitations of the road itself. The subdivision's developers had pointed out that some of the neighborhood's trees and hedges technically are growing in the public right of way. However, the residents pointed out that removing them would widen the road to only 17 feet, which remains inadequate for two-way traffic.
A DCPC fails on Chappaquiddick
The DCPC designation allows for the imposition of a layer of regulatory control above and beyond those that currently exist at the town level. For that reason, various interest groups in Edgartown and across the Island have turned to the MVC to protect their interests.
In 2001, a group of Chappaquiddick residents and property owners led by the Chappaquiddick Island Association successfully nominated the island as a DCPC with the intention of adding new regulations governing development.
The matter was placed before Edgartown voters at the April 2002 annual town meeting. Edgartown Attorney Ronald Monterosso, one of the leaders of a group fighting the nomination, characterized the DCPC process as an effort by a small group of people to get the regulations they want by making an end run around existing town boards and procedures.
Voters rejected the new regulations and as a result the MVC rescinded its nomination.
The Mullen Way DCPC nomination is the first new one to come before the MVC in several years. At last week's meeting, in what seemed like an about face, Mr. Monterosso championed the Mullen Way neighborhood's DCPC efforts to the commissioners, making a pitch for creating the new neighborhood district as a model for protecting others like it on the Vineyard. He said that he crafted the nomination application and made a powerpoint presentation at the MVC out of friendship for Mr. Coad and some of the other neighbors.
"Chappaquiddick was a whole different kettle of fish," Mr. Monterosso explained. "I like the neighborhood approach, instead of regional approaches where 'one size fits all' really fits no one.
"Rules can be put into place that make sense for that area. It is a good case for the Martha's Vineyard Commission to take - it's what they were made for," he said.
The neighborhood concept
The MVC already has designated a special places district, which includes many small sites in different Island towns.
When asked if the proposed Mullen Way DCPC represents an expansion of the DCPC concepts, MVC Executive Director Mark London said it remains to be seen whether there is just one neighborhood ultimately designated or whether the designation could be set up in a way to include other neighborhoods like it. Perhaps a new category could be created to include neighborhoods not qualifying as historic but deserving of some kind of protection, he suggested.
"How many neighborhoods on Martha's Vineyard would meet that criteria? I'm not sure," Mr. London said. "Probably a lot more than this one. Is this the best way to deal with it? I don't know. We will find out as it undergoes review."
In their concluding remarks on their DCPC nomination application, the Mullen Way residents said they recognize it would be unrealistic to expect no further development within their proposed neighborhood district. Instead, they said they would be open to a development with two to four reasonably sized houses, similar in style and scale to those in the neighborhood, and priced in the $600,000 to $750,000 range.