Martha’s Vineyard Commissioner wants new vote on roundabout

Ralph Stewart

Lenny Jason Jr. of Chilmark plans to call for a vote to rescind the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s (MVC) approval of the Oak Bluffs roundabout project at the commission’s next meeting on June 21. Mr. Jason, the Dukes County Commission’s MVC appointee, announced his intention to challenge the decision made eight months ago at the end of the commission’s meeting last week.

“We have a decision that was an approval,” Mr. Jason told The Times in a phone conversation yesterday. “If we rescind approval, then the town doesn’t have anything. I would then move to deny the application.”

In a phone conversation with The Times yesterday, MVC executive director Mark London agreed that one of the questionable aspects of revisiting the roundabout decision is that there is currently no application about the project in front of the commission to consider.

“We are trying to clarify that as we speak,” Mr. London said. “Counsel is checking it out and trying to clarify whether the MVC has authority after the fact to go back to an old decision and rescind it.”

Director since 2002, Mr. London said he has never heard of the commission unilaterally rescinding any project’s approval after the fact. “I also called the Cape Cod Commission to see what their position is, and they said they have never rescinded a decision,” he added.

Mr. London said, “Our intention is to clarify by next Thursday whether there is any legal basis for rescinding a decision, especially after the appeal period is over and the decision has been filed.”

A development applicant may appeal an MVC decision within 20 days of receipt of written notice by certified mail.

The Oak Bluffs selectmen approved the roundabout proposal in 2006, following a study of possible options prepared by the MVC and after several public hearings that were convened by the town.

On October 6, following several contentious public sessions, the commission voted 7-6 to approve a roundabout at the intersection of Edgartown-Vineyard Haven, Barnes, and Airport roads that is now controlled with four stop signs and flashing red lights.

The $1.4-million project by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) involves constructing a single-lane roundabout at the intersection, with pavement reconstruction, sidewalks, drainage, landscaping, and other improvements.

The roundabout’s construction was delayed until last year, when MassDOT accepted the project for funding under the fiscal 2012 transportation improvement program for the MVC.

Mr. Jason’s latest effort to rescind the MVC’s approval mirrors his previous action in November 2011. Mr. Jason made a motion to rescind the commission’s vote that failed to achieve a simple majority, and the MVC’s decision stood.

Mr. Jason said he asked MVC commissioner and chairman Chris Murphy of Chilmark if he could start the same process again and was told yes.

“They haven’t done anything on the project, and according to Robert’s Rules of Order, if nothing has been started, we could have a second bite of the apple,” Mr. Jason said. “I’m hoping that this would give us time to at least sit down and talk to the Oak Bluffs selectmen. There must be something else Oak Bluffs needs that the money could be put to better use for. We could also talk to our state legislators and maybe work something out where everybody is happy.”

News of Mr. Jason’s plans to call for the MVC’s rescission of approval for the roundabout project prompted a discussion at the Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night.

Chairman Kathy Burton raised the possibility of writing a letter to the MVC in support of the roundabout project.

“It just seems crazy to me,” selectman Greg Coogan said of the possible rescission vote. “I think we should write them. They made a decision; they should stand by it.”

The Oak Bluffs selectmen voted to send a letter to the MVC saying they still support the roundabout. The letter will be drafted by town administrator Robert Whritenour Jr.

A majority of voters in five Island towns voted no to a non-binding referendum question on their 2012 town election ballots that asked whether the roundabout should be constructed. Oak Bluffs voters, however, affirmed support for the roundabout by approving an article on the annual town meeting warrant.

A decision to rescind the MVC’s approval would have little effect on the project, according to legal opinions that the towns of West Tisbury and Edgartown received earlier this year.

The two towns filed suit against the MVC challenging its roundabout decision in Dukes County Superior Court on December 7. Edgartown and West Tisbury selectmen agreed on January 23 to end their lawsuit against the MVC. The unanimous decision followed a joint conference call with the Boston law firm Goulston & Storrs that represented the two towns in their appeal of the MVC’s decision.

What the town officials learned from their lawyers, at a shared cost of approximately $34,000, is that regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, MassDOT could move ahead with plans to construct a roundabout.

Yesterday, in response to an email from The Times, MassDOT project manager Tom Currier provided an update on the roundabout project.

“We are in receipt of the final design and are scheduled to advertise the project for construction on June 30th,” Mr. Currier wrote. “We are still targeting the fall, 2012 construction season to begin work.”