What do the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, the Y, the Cozy Hearth affordable housing development in Edgartown, the Middle Line Road affordable housing plan in Chilmark, the Morgan Woods affordable development in Edgartown, among many other familiar names, have in common.
Give up? Well, they have all endured development of regional impact review at the hands of the Martha's Vineyard Commission. Most of these projects have a public interest component to them, obvious in the cases of the hospital and the Y, less obvious but significant nonetheless in the others. None is a purely commercial development enterprise, and in their details, scope and goals, each project varies widely from the others. Still, varied as they may be, in their reviews by the MVC, all have faced an expensive, time-consuming, free-wheeling, and whimsical inquisition without end at the hands of the commissioners.
In the case of the hospital, this colonoscopic treatment did not end with the award of the MVC's approval of the new, $42-million building whose construction will begin soon. In a June 8 e-mail (seen here), Mark London, MVC executive director, wrote the new hospital's designers, to say, in effect, Hello, it's us again. The formal inquisition may have ended, but the informal nitpicking has only just begun.
"As I'm sure you know, last week, the Martha's Vineyard Commission approved the hospital architecture," Mr. London wrote, "recommending that the original tower design be restored, and asking for samples of the brick before it is ordered. Paul Foley is sending a certificate of compliance to the Oak Bluffs Building Inspector... However, the Commission's approval of the architecture was not without considerable discussion, if not to say a certain amount of concern. When a Commissioner said that the earlier 'shingle' design was a better looking building, several Commissioners agreed.... Given the highly exposed location, the decision to go from siding to brick was prudent in order to reduce the risk from natural disasters. However, it must be admitted that converting this into a brick building means it is much more difficult to make the Hospital fit into the character of the Vineyard.... Though the scheme has been approved, we might ask ourselves whether a few final refinements could reduce the visual scale of the building and especially the expanses of brick. Here are some personal reflections...."
There follows a discussion of five possible changes to roof lines, window heights, brick patterns, lintel treatments, the addition of windows, refinements in the detailing of carports, and planting ivy to soften the brick façade.
(By the way, the brick façade grew out of concerns about the destructiveness of future hurricanes, intensified by global warming. A risk analysis of the hospital site, required by the MVC at hospital expense, led to the move to brick siding, which commissioners then resisted because of its un-Vineyardness, according to their lights.)
Mr. London closes, as follows, "All of the above suggestions for your consideration are easy to implement, low-cost refinements. Based on last week's discussion, I'm pretty confident that if you came back with a few minor refinements, it would be dealt with expeditiously."
How delusional is this? After all, what development of regional impact survivor - most of whom are now in group therapy or in consultation with the bankruptcy bar - would risk another regulatory enema or believe that anything the MVC does would be done "expeditiously?"