Fork in the road
The Martha's Vineyard Commission's obligation is strictly defined, as if its decisions on development issues should reflect a judicial-like consideration of the facts of each case, having always in mind the goals of the enabling legislation of which the commission is a creature.
But, the planning and regulatory duties of the commission allow for unusual discretion and more flexible interpretation than might be countenanced in a court of law. MVC members are judges, sort of, and planners, sort of, and opinionated neighbors, sort of, and political creatures, sort of, all at the same time.
Taken together, these two observations suggest that the MVC may occasionally surprise, disappoint, and alarm us, its constituents, with some of the decisions it makes. Nevertheless, we may demand that, doing so, the commission members act consistently, in good faith, and with unwavering respect for the goals of the legislators who wrote Chapter 831.
These coincident obligations, obviously in tension, will be tested by the MVC's consideration next week of the designation of the construction of a large house in West Tisbury belonging to Steven Rattner as a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) and its decision on whether to confer on an Edgartown neighborhood the District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC) designation.
The MVC, we've argued, got out of step with its own enabling legislation recently in accepting for DRI consideration the faulty nomination by the Chilmark selectmen of the Girl Scout expansion on its property off Middle Road. Because the Girl Scout plan conformed with the town's zoning and subdivision rules, it was not subject to special review. The selectmen referred it to the MVC, on the grounds that MVC review would give abutters an opportunity to express their opinions on the project and perhaps affect its design, which is what happened. The "discretionary" referral by the selectmen did not pretend to offer a regional justification for the review it sought. The MVC accepted the referral, despite the lack of any plausible suggestion of a regional interest that might have legitimately invoked MVC review.
Next week the Mullen Way DCPC proposal and the Rattner house DRI referral will present the MVC with similar issues. The question is whether to adhere to the requirement, unmistakably clear in Chapter 831, that the MVC find and identify genuine regional, multi-town issues in proposals it agrees to review, or whether whimsically or wantonly, to distort the legislative mandate under which it operates, in order to satisfy narrow claims. Choosing the latter course could lead the MVC to intrude upon legitimate and lawful private property interests.
Our view is that the MVC should always seek the narrowest, sturdiest construction of the requirements and opportunities for sound regulation enshrined in Chapter 831. To do otherwise is to distort the enabling legislation's aims, undermine the broad community support that is necessary for the MVC's work, and abuse the MVC's constituents.
Editor's Note: The editor of The Times has been acquainted with Steve Rattner for more than 30 years. Mr. Rattner's daughter Rebecca worked as a Times reporting intern this summer.