Edgartown slams MVC on regional development checklist

— File photo by Ralph Stewart

Updated 11 am, Wednesday, Nov. 21

Edgartown selectmen were unsparing Monday in their criticism of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) and the agency’s proposed revisions to its development of regional impact (DRI) checklist.

The checklist, in its current form, is a 22-page set of guidelines that determine whether local town boards must refer a planned development to the commission for review.

Under its enabling legislation, the regional planning and regulatory agency has wide authority to regulate developments of regional impact, by imposing conditions that cover density, traffic impact, environmental impact, and other factors above and beyomd those that may be imposed at the local level.

Depending on the level of review and conditions imposed, the MVC process can be time-consuming and expensive. Once the MVC approves a development proposal, the project returns to local town boards for further review and ultimately a development permit.

Monday night, selectmen and two developers who echoed the criticism of town officials, said the MVC was wrong to close the public hearing on the DRI checklist when the MVC met on November 15, despite a request from officials from two towns to continue the hearing on the draft document.

“They had a letter from the Edgartown planning board asking them to continue,” said selectman Michael Donaroma, who is also a former chairman of the MVC. “The Oak Bluffs planning board asked. I, as a member of the Edgartown selectmen, asked. At the end of the meeting they decided to close it anyway. We haven’t even seen a finished document.”

Mr. Donaroma told the selectmen the commission would allow written comments until November 26.

Extension granted

On Wednesday morning, Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London announced that the commission had decided to continue the public hearing on the DRI checklist to its meeting on Thursday, November 29, at 7:15 pm.

Mr. London told The Times that the MVC received a request from the Edgartown board of selectmen and planning board that they be given an opportunity to discuss the draft revised DRI checklist further at another public hearing session, rather than submitting written comment. He said the commission would notify all town boards about next week’s hearing and also members of the public who attended previous DRI checklist public hearings and signed up to receive updates.

Character questioned

Monday night speaking to selectmen, developer Ted Rosbeck called the proposed DRI checklist vague. He objected to a proposed draft section under the heading “Community Character,” which would allow referral of large houses to the MVC.

In its draft, the MVC notes that the draft is included to allow discussion with town boards and the public.

As drafted, it would allow referral of any development with a density of more than 50 percent greater than the surrounding neighborhood.

“The board itself was unclear,” Mr. Rosbeck told selectmen. “The concern is, it’s really left up to a very small group to determine major issues. These are specific issues relating to zoning, which we handle in our town. They’re talking about large houses. The commission’s land use planning committee recommended to the commission not to set a limit on housing size. Between last year and this year, another item was added to the very end of the DRI checklist, called community character. It was clearly an agenda that was being pushed through.”

Contractor Norman Rankow also spoke against the proposed checklist. “I certainly was taken aback by some of the language,” he said. “It’s open-ended, and not defined at all.”

Selectman Margaret Serpa spoke forcefully against the proposed DRI checklist. “I have a problem with the commission inserting themselves into the town, especially on the two issues of size and character,” she said. “I think part of the attraction of Martha’s Vineyard is the different character of the six towns. I don’t like the idea of the commission setting a character. Look at the houses on North and South Water Street. Does anybody think those houses are too big?”

Selectman Art Smadbeck criticized the MVC’s action to close the public hearing. “That’s not right,” he said. “This is a blatant usurpation of our authority in this town. We have a planning board. We have a zoning board.”

Mr. Donaroma said that when the MVC was formed by an act of the state legislature in 1974, many Island towns did not have their own regulatory boards, and some did not have zoning regulations.

“We’re not promoting building in wetlands,” Mr. Donaroma said. “It keeps taking everything away from local boards. If this (the draft checklist) was passed today, the way it reads, almost everything has to go to the MVC. This thing is definitely not done.”

Selectmen agreed to send the MVC a letter asking them to reopen the public hearing until the draft is finalized and town officials can participate in its consideration.