MVC reports on Island Plan progress
The preparation of the Island Plan is now well underway, with hundreds of Vineyarders meeting face-to-face or online to define issues, to formulate objectives, and to start identifying possible strategies for achieving them. We'd like to give the Vineyard community a progress report about what has been done, what we are working on now, and what is coming next.
The steering committee overseeing the process spent last winter and spring organizing the planning process, which was launched to the general public last summer with an information flyer distributed to every Island home, with poster/exhibits around the Island, and with a variety of other activities. The steering committee also set up a network of planning advisory groups, whose members are given periodic updates, opportunities to comment on draft documents, and invitations to meetings on topics of interest to them. At latest count, 367 people had signed on to be part of the network, more than double our most optimistic earlier projections.
Last fall, we set up five work groups to examine specific topics in depth. Anyone can join a work group, and groups now have between 50 and 170 members. Because of their size, each work group has a core group of between 8 and 12 members who meet more regularly, preparing materials for review and comment by the full group. All full work groups met at the end of last year.
The active work groups and the specific aspects each is looking at are:
- Energy and Waste: energy efficiency and production, waste/biomass, transportation;
- Housing: affordable rental, affordable ownership, workforce housing, elderly and assisted living, and year-round market housing;
- Livelihood and Commerce: employment, business, supply of goods and services, local economy, and land/location of businesses;
- Natural Environment: biodiversity, working landscapes, recreation, and character;
- Water Resources: Coastal pond water quality, storm-water runoff, and future water supply.
We are currently holding meetings focused on many of these specific topics. Another meeting of every full work group is planned for later this spring.
Each of the work groups is now working on two things. First, each is pulling together a summary document about what we know and don't know about that topic, as well as emerging goals, objectives, and possible strategies. Each group has posted, or will soon post, a draft, working version of this document on the website to allow all members of the work group, as well as the general public, to comment and make suggestions. The second thing each group is working on is identifying a small number of what appear to be actions that may be easily implemented and can be taken very soon, as well as some ideas that will likely involve significant changes in the way the community addresses a challenge, but which appear most promising.
Now that the work groups are well underway, the steering committee has turned its attention to an issue that is fundamental to all the others, namely how development might best be managed.
People on the Vineyard seem quite concerned that new projects do not disrupt the natural environment, heritage areas, or existing neighborhoods. To figure out how to do this, we want to identify where these areas are, and what characteristics are most important to protect. We can define natural and heritage areas largely on the basis of objective criteria. However, it is especially important to know how Vineyarders define their neighborhoods and what characteristics are important to them. To that end, we will be carrying out a survey of Vineyard neighborhoods in coming months.
For many issues, there seems to be a pretty clear consensus of what people want, based on the results of extensive surveys carried out over the past few years, based on the goals and objectives of all the other plans previously prepared for the Island or each of the towns, and based on the forums and other meetings held so far for the Island Plan.
For example, it is very clear that for the vast majority of Vineyarders - year-round, seasonal, and tourists alike - preserving the Island's character and environment is the first priority. Also, most people favor limiting development in rural areas as much as possible. Though there is less agreement as to whether development should generally be actively encouraged, reluctantly tolerated, or even discouraged, there seems to be a consensus that the development that does take place is best located in walkable, mixed-use town and village areas. The challenge will be figuring out to what extent all this is feasible and how it might be done.
The future of Island business
When it comes to the economy, people seem to want a diverse Island economy that generates more year-round jobs, has a healthy business climate, produces locally as much food, energy, and other products as possible, and stimulates local buying, investment, and ownership. However, there is some divergence of opinion as to whether or not we should try to encourage moving towards more constant year-round activity. For some, this is a way to make businesses more viable, employment steadier, and help bring prices down; for others, one of the most positive features of the Vineyard is that the pace of activity dramatically scales back for half the year.
We are now working on a study of how much of Vineyard spending "leaks" off the Island, a follow-up to last fall's public forum on Strengthening the Vineyard Economy. Other ongoing studies include mapping sensitive watersheds; identifying heritage areas, and preparing a projection of what would happen if we continue developing as we are today, with current zoning regulations.
Our general aim is to pull a lot of material together by the end of the spring, at which time the activities of the work groups will slow down and we'll emphasize reaching out to the general public to get feedback on what we've done so far.
To participate more actively in the Island Plan, we invite you join the network of planning advisors. Also, please visit the extensive web site - www.islandplan.org - where you can see working documents, minutes of meetings, a calendar of upcoming events, and new discussion boards to allow exchange about ideas. If you are not on the Internet, please call the Martha's Vineyard Commission at 693-3453. Much of this information is also available in town libraries; look for The Island Plan Source Book.