Sidelights: Questions about the MVC’s scope of activities


In addition to community character, the discussion at last week’s DRI checklist public hearing included comments about the extent of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s (MVC) role as a regulatory agency and its relationship with town boards with regulatory roles.

“It should not cost so much and be so hard to go to the MVC,” Tisbury commission member Holly Stephenson, who did not run for reelection, said.

“I’d like to see a situation where there is an intermediate step, where the planning boards could use the facilities of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission more easily, to provide them with technical planning information without scaring people and making them come here and paying all the money and going through 200 different pages of things,” she added.

“What we do need this commission for is to say no,” Edgartown selectman Mike Donaroma said. “Local boards can say no, but it won’t hold up as strongly as it does if this commission says no. We need the commission; there’s no doubt about it. When a town sees something that it needs help with, we send it here.”

“Our board has discussed the same issues,” Oak Bluffs businessman and selectman Mike Santoro said. “I believe that we would probably refer more things to you, if we could do it specifically on certain things. I think we’re a bit afraid of referring some things, because it will just get so far out of hand.”

Some examples of related exchanges follow.

The hammer in the town toolbox

“I think everybody in this room respects and values the commission greatly,” Norman Rankow of Edgartown said. “You are our big hammer, and it’s important.

“It’s nice to have you in our back corner, but we’d like you there when we need you, not when we’re told you’re going to dictate how we, as residents and the town, are going to control our destiny.”

Ted Rosbeck, a builder from Edgartown, said he and other builders he knows question whether the MVC is the best place to address zoning issues.

“What’s great about dealing with these issues in our towns is, when we deal with issues like zoning, ultimately they’re going to come to you as an individual for a vote,” he said. “Where we get a little nervous, and why all of a sudden we all showed up here, is that is not afforded to us here at the MVC.”

Policy raises eminent domain question

Following the DRI checklist hearing, the commissioners reviewed an amended site design and landscape policy and voted unanimously to approve it. Changes to the policy were made in response to some of the commissioners’ concerns that its wording implied its contents were requirements and not guidelines and suggestions, as intended.

The proposed policy is one of a series prepared by the MVC as a guide for applicants seeking approval of projects undergoing the commission’s DRI review.

The MVC said the policy seeks to preserve and restore natural habitat and vegetative communities; to preserve and enhance views and vistas; to minimize the environmental and visual impacts of roads, driveways, parking lots, and structures; and to maintain existing topography.

Commissioner Erik Hammarlund of West Tisbury, who practices law in Vineyard Haven, called for one item to be stricken from the policy, which he said was outside the MVC’s scope and ignored the legal process of eminent domain. Included under the section “public and recreational access,” the item requires applicants with properties adjacent to land intended for shared use paths (SUP) or trail networks to provide dormant easements to allow the public access over their properties when the paths or trails are completed.

Mr. Hammarlund, a practicing attorney in Vineyard Haven, said the idea that the MVC would require or demand such easements as a condition of permitting was “wildly inappropriate.”

“The thought that we would grant a trail easement, or require somebody or suggest that somebody’s landscape plan needs to grant a trail easement to the public over their land in order to be able to do an unrelated, non-public development, I think, is just out of line,” Mr. Hammarlund said. “If a town wants that, I think they’re great. We can get it, we can vote for it, we can take it, we can pay for it. Otherwise, I think it’s too large an intrusion on property rights to be hidden in something that’s like a landscape design concept.”

The commissioners agreed to add the subhead “Guidelines” to the section and change the language to state that, “It is highly desirable that SUP or trail easements be provided across properties where these are needed to complete important parts of the SUP or trail networks.”

The policy still advises that, “If the network on adjacent properties has not been completed, the applicant should provide a dormant easement allowing for the connection across the subject property to be opened when those on the adjacent properties are in place.”