The first house I ever owned had been moved on a barge from West Chop to the shore next to William Barry Owen Park in Vineyard Haven. This was in the early 1800s.
Oxen dragged the house, probably one story at the time, up the hill to where it rests today. When I owned it, it had two full floors, dormers front and back, and a kitchen ell with a kerosene-fired cookstove that was the only heat in the place.
For all the work that went into establishing this old house on a new site, the building was merely a roof over someone's head. It was affordable housing for its ancient owners.
When the oxen said, Enough of this, the builder went to work on the foundation. To my chagrin, I found that, historic and venerable as this old pile may have been, the builder could have used a consulting engineer. The perimeter foundation on which the walls of the house rested was made of a rectangular arrangement of granite blocks maybe 18 inches by 10 inches, laid on the earth end to end. This ancient craftsman didn't care that if the tops of the foundation stones sloped downward from outside to inside, and if he landed the exterior shingles inside the outer edge of the stone, rainwater would run under the wooden sill at the bottom of the wall and cause it to rot. Maybe, life expectancies being what they were in those days, he knew it would be someone else's problem.
The next order of business was to place the timbers that would act as joists over which the first floor would be laid. But having made no excavation for footings or foundation walls, my predecessor in ownership, hallowed artisan that he was, had no basement over which the joists might span. So he scooped out the earth in the way of each joist and put it in place. The onlooking termites licked their chops.
When this historical bozo began building the massive chimney stack that would serve the six fireplaces on the first and second floors, he decided to use the firebox brickwork to support the inner ends of the floor joists. That, as the Island-made bricks crumbled with age, led to the fire that started in the joist ends and spread to the paneling in the living rooms. But, that was years later and of no concern to the long-dead builder.
Pursuing their Island Plan, the Martha's Vineyard Commission and its adherents agree that preserving the Vineyard's environment and character are top priorities. But, I wonder what they mean. Does that environment and character include my old house? Do the planners mean the environment and character as it was five years ago when some of the newest among us hired competent builders to construct vast, handsome houses, fully tricked out, at staggering expense, to use as summer refuges? Do they mean the environment and character as it was in the 1980s, when some of us bought a development house as a summer place, with rental and maybe retirement potential - nothing lavish, not on the beach, but attractive and inexpensive enough so that rental income would pay the mortgage? Or, do they mean the environment and character back in, say, 1970, when there was almost no zoning or subdivision control, no MVC, no Land Bank, and the Black Dog Tavern was about to be built on the brow of the beach in Vineyard Haven, where it certainly could not be built today - and when the year-round population was half what it is today, but almost anybody could find a piece of land to build a house on for $10,000 or $20,000? Do they mean the environment and character as experienced by Edgartonians in their busy little summer village, or in the wilds of Chilmark, or the woods of West Tisbury, or on Circuit Avenue or Main Street, Vineyard Haven? Or, finally, do they mean the environment and character as it was when my predecessor in ownership stopped gee-ing and haw-ing at his team and said, Well, let's put her there?
What does this presumptuous effort mean? To preserve the Vineyard or the Vineyard experience as it was, or is, for you or me, or our children or grandchildren, no matter their circumstances or desires, for the next five, 10, or 50 years: Does it mean anything at all? Doubtful.
Instead of an Island Plan to preserve what is, or what was, or what we imagine it was, or what we imagine the Vineyarders who succeed us will want it to be, or what we want it to be and to hell with what the folks who come later want or need, here's what I suggest. Why not an Island Improvement Plan? Let's plan to improve the ferry system to make transportation to and from the mainland more convenient and less expensive. Let's work on lowering the cost of living, which will improve things immensely. That means encouraging more business activity to compete for customers. Let's improve housing opportunities by modifying zoning to allow higher density, so that folks who want to buy, without subsidies and the limits that come with subsidies, can afford to do so. Let's improve the delivery of municipal services by merging those that can be merged. Let's streamline the development permit process so that every entrepreneur's plan isn't a regulatory crap shoot. Let's improve the bike paths and the roads. Put a new road here and there to make traffic flow more freely. Let's improve the parking thing, so that folks can find places to park near where they want to go. Let's improve and expand sewering. Let's rezone areas to encourage reasonable and economic business growth.
I could go on, but you get the idea. It's a plan that looks ahead, not backwards.