The Dunn site belongs in the public domain


Based upon the testimony so far, commercial developer Sam Dunn’s plan to add business and residential spaces in what is now open space bordering on the Vineyard Haven arm of the Lagoon Pond will meet current regulatory standards.

Before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact, Mr. Dunn’s plan probably deserves approval. As an aside, one wonders what qualifies this proposal as a change of regional significance. On the face of it, there are certainly implications for Tisbury. Important ones. But, for the region? No. That is, not unless the unacknowledged goal is merely to defeat change and growth and the rights of property, wherever they are implicated and wherever we enjoy ourselves at someone else’s expense. And, doing so without paying for the pleasure.

But, there’s a rub, because the fact is that the site of Mr. Dunn’s proposal should not be developed — not as he proposes, and not at all. This tiny bit of filled land, a fragment of the pond littoral, with its charming lagoon within the Lagoon and its calm, sweet air of respite, should be nothing except a public retreat, a pocket park, in a busy mix of commercial development.

Still, Tisbury’s conservation commission and planning board, abetted by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Vineyard Conservation Society cannot take this property by mere rule making and criticism. These two methods of attack, together with an earlier attempt to limit growth and change by limiting the extent of sewering in downtown Vineyard Haven, have already crippled the Vineyard Haven waterfront economically. Prohibiting most change and development, except what is infeasible economically, is foolish and unfair and an attack on the value of property. Doing so without acknowledging the hardship imposed on property owners, who face ever steepening real estate tax bills, is also self-defeating for the town. Consider the history of the Boch property, next to The Times office, rendered nearly undevelopable by the rule-makers, but enduring as an empty, weedy, useless waterfront space.

The Dunn site, far more than the Boch lot, is a dreamy spot that ought to be in the public domain. The town selectmen ought to be leading the effort to take the property – and pay for it – for public recreational purposes, perhaps with help from the Land Bank. They should not be merely watching from the sidelines the withering battle now taking place before the commission, a battle that might end up with everyone a loser.

The Land Bank’s focus over time has run to large properties, to links in its chain of walking trails, and to waterfront. It has not generally acquired in-town, downtown, parcels. It’s understandable. The Land Bank needs to make every dollar count as it acquires high priced Vineyard real estate. But here is a site with exceptional charm and accessibility that ought to be on the town’s list for acquisition and might be something that the Land Bank could be persuaded to consider. It will take leadership, of course, this time acting for change and not against it.