MVC approves expanded Girl Scout camp building
In the time it might take to build a campfire and make "S'mores," the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) unanimously approved a proposal from the Girl Scouts for a new camp facility last Thursday night.
Girl Scouts on Martha's Vineyard can now look forward to enjoying the great outdoors - as well as some of the comforts of home - in a new year-round 1,996 square-foot facility at Camp Wampanoag off Middle Road in Chilmark. The old 900-square-foot seasonal lodge will be demolished.
The MVC approved the project with conditions offered by the Girl Scouts regarding the location of the camp building on the site, landscaping, the access road and electric lines, lighting, and activities. In addition, the commissioners agreed to add wording to define what maintenance will be allowed in a no-cut zone around the camp.
As an educational non-profit organization, the Girl Scouts' proposed camp project was exempt from requiring a special permit by the town of Chilmark and from a hearing by the zoning board of appeals.
Although the project would not have triggered review as a development of regional impact (DRI), the Chilmark selectmen referred it to the MVC as a "discretionary referral." Selectman Chairman J.B. Riggs Parker said the board felt the MVC process was the only way to provide a forum for discussion, particularly for the abutters.
After listening to the discussion on both sides at last week's hearing, Mr. Parker told the commissioners, "This outcome is exactly what we had hoped would happen when we referred it to you."
The commissioners voted to review the project as a DRI on June 22. In discussion before their vote, Chilmark Selectman Chris Murphy predicted that the process would be brief, because the parties were in agreement, for the most part. "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," he said.
Mr. Murphy proved to be right. In the last few months, the Girl Scout leaders and the neighbors from abutting properties met and hashed out their major differences regarding noise, traffic, and the site location for the camp building, reaching compromises that made it possible for last week's hour-long hearing to come to a quick conclusion.
The fact the hearing began at 9:41 pm, following a two-and-a-half-hour public forum about the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, also may have contributed to its brevity.
About a dozen Girl Scout supporters attended last week's hearing, in addition to Attorney Eric L. Peters and several neighbors he represented from the abutting properties. Although the groups sat apart in two decided camps, comments they made about one another during the hearing were so cordial and complimentary, it was easy to imagine them singing together around a campfire.
In her opening remarks, Tenney Lantz, Girl Scout Council director of administration, told the commissioners, "We're grateful to the commission and staff for allowing us to have this type of discussion. I believe we've reached an agreement with the neighbors that makes everybody happy."
As she explained, a major concession made by the Girl Scouts to the abutters involved changing the location of the camp building from their original plan. Architect Doug Ulwick came up with an alternate plan to turn the camp building 180 degrees so that its entrance faces a small hill and move it as close as possible within the zoning setbacks towards property owned by Robert Fokos, to act as a sound barrier.
The site change results in a loss of some of a play area and requires removing and replacing the septic tank.
To further lessen noise from the camp, a no-cut zone of 50 feet along the easterly boundary and 25 feet along the other property boundaries will be maintained.
Tom Robinson, who owns Island Timber, suggested that the commissioners should define what no-cut zone means, since it might be necessary to allow for trimming invasive species away from permanent trees and cutting down hazardous trees.
Mr. Robinson's wife, Alice, who has served as co-director of the camp since 1996, explained that its main function is to provide outdoor education, and that there is no other program like it on the Island.
Amanda Murphy, a junior at Northeastern University who spent many years at the camp, shared her perspective about its value to her as a long-time Island Girl Scout. "I have a lot of memories of the camp, and I would like other girls on the Island to experience what I did. It made a big difference in my life," she said. Her mother Jo Ann Murphy, the Duke's County Veteran's Agent, currently serves as a Girl Scout Troop Leader.
The Girl Scouts also offered to limit activities at the camp, which were a major concern to the abutters because of possible noise and traffic. Only Girl Scout-related groups will be allowed to use the camp, with the exception of the Appalachian Mountain Club, which has camped sometime each summer at the site for years, in exchange for doing work around the camp.
The Girl Scouts also offered to notify the Chilmark Board of Health of all scheduled camp users and to adhere to the board's limit of 32 people using the site at any one time, based on septic usage. There will be restrictions on noise at the camp from 10 pm to 7 am. In response to a request from William Meegan, Ms. Lantz said two of four tent platforms closest to his property will be moved to lessen noise that carries to his home. Satisfied by the compromise, Mr. Meegan told the commissioners, "I look forward to a future of amiable, cordial relations."
"And a lot of marshmallows," quipped Eleanor Graves, whose husband Ralph is president of the Friends of Middle Road neighborhood association.
Christina Brown, who chaired the hearing as the Land Use Planning Committee chairman, twice headed off discussions on the kinds of small details that sometimes bog down MVC hearings. When MVC Commissioner Carlene Gatling-Condon of Edgartown proposed to limit parking along the camp's access road, Ms. Brown told her, "I don't think the Martha's Vineyard Commission should get into parking issues on private property."
She also dismissed Attorney Peters request that the Girl Scouts specify the number of feet they will move their tent platforms from Mr. Meegan's property line.
"That gets into more detail than necessary," said Ms. Brown. "I don't think the MVC needs to get into that. That's a neighbor issue, more than a regional issue."
After the hearing, the Girl Scout leaders said they hope the permitting process will move forward quickly and they can begin building their new facility soon.
As Mr. Meegan was leaving, he remarked, "There is nothing better than getting people together and working it out." This week, his daughter is one of fourteen girls enjoying the Girl Scout's day camp next door.