Updated Sept. 18
The Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s (MVC) Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) voted to recommend to the full commission to reject a controversial 54-acre Edgartown subdivision known as Meeting House Place at its meeting Monday night.
The project is one of the largest the MVC has reviewed, and has received intense scrutiny and severe pushback from several Edgartown residents, stakeholders, and conservationists at the project’s hearings in February and August. People were concerned with the project’s potential impact on traffic conditions, Island urbanization, nitrogen loading, and animal habitat loss.
The property was purchased for $6.6 million in June 2017 by developers Douglas K. Anderson and Richard G. Matthews, operating as Meeting House Way LLC.
After several meetings and input from the commission, the project — dubbed Meeting House Place — was completely redesigned. Updated plans lowered the number of homes to a 28-lot subdivision with an additional cluster of 10 below-market-rate townhouses for first-time homebuyers and “empty nesters.”
Despite the design overhaul, below-market-rate houses, a $1 million contribution to Edgartown affordable housing, and a 1 percent fee paid to Edgartown affordable housing on any future sale of the development’s homes, commissioners still weren’t sold.
MVC chairman Douglas Sederholm said under the MVC’s legislation, commissioners can look not only at how a project affects its immediate area, but also at how it affects the Island as a whole.
“At what point does this body take action to prevent the total suburbanization of Martha’s Vineyard?” Sederholm said. “If we decided that another large subdivision for vacation homes of 4,800 square feet each is going to have a negative impact on the quality of life here … at what point do we draw the line? At what point do we say enough is enough?”
Several commissioners felt now was the time to draw the line. “These are quite definitely seasonal houses. I don’t see that we have a need for them,” commissioner Joan Malkin said.
Other commissioners agreed.
“My feeling is this is too much development,” commissioner Fred Hancock said. “I don’t think that there is a shortage of millionaire house lots on the Island so much so that we need to create 26 more of them.”
Hancock also likened the development to a “ghost town” for most of the year, as families would only come for visits in the summer. “It’s moving everything in a direction I don’t think we really want to go in,” he said.
Commissioner Linda Sibley called the project a “10, two, two” — 10-bedroom homes, built for two people, used two weeks out of the year.
“I am disturbed by the size of these houses,” Sibley said. “People coming here to not be here. Not to live on Martha’s Vineyard, where you have beaches and woods and things like that, but to live in a suburban subdivision with a palace.”
Commissioner James Joyce countered that the number of 38 homes is proportionate to the 54 acres.
“I don’t think it’s overkill,” Joyce said. “What happens by not allowing some of these subdivisions to be created is you drive up the cost of everything that is here.”
As commissioners moved to tell the full commission to not approve the project, Joyce said the project met all MVC guidelines, and was built within zoning codes. “I think we’re ready to vote, because it sounds like everybody had their minds up before they came in here,” Joyce said.
Commissioner Trip Barnes said commissioners were not looking at the big picture and surrounding developments, as well as the 10 affordable homes being built that would be beneficial to the Island.
Commissioners voted to tell the full commission to reject the project, with Joyce and Barnes voting no.
Joyce voiced his frustration with the vote by saying the project could be approved if the developer was South Mountain co-owner John Abrams, referring to Abrams’ recently approved project to expand South Mountain’s campus. “Unless your name is Abrams. Then Abrams gets what he wants. He can cut down trees, he can increase his property. He can do whatever he wants,” Joyce said.
Speaking to The Times on Tuesday, MVC executive director Adam Turner said the LUPC has voted to recommend rejecting projects before. The full commission has also gone against LUPC recommendation. “It’s not often, but it has happened,” Turner said.
The project, which was scheduled for the full 15-person commission Thursday night, has been postponed due to time constraints. Commissioners will decide on a future date at Thursday’s meeting.
With the historic pre-Revolutionary War house gone, commissioners turned their focus to a barn that sits on the property, voting to recommend the full commission approve the project at their meeting Thursday night.
At the last meeting, architect Patrick Ahearn said the barn was on a different piece of property, and he did not include it in the original DRI. Ahearn said a separate building permit was issued for the barn. He asked for the LUPC members to move the project forward, and said now that he knows it is on the property, he had no issue working with the William Street Historic District Commission on the barn if they decided to do work on it.
Commissioner Ben Robinson said he had done work on the home several years ago, and knows it is a horse barn that is more than 100 years old. “How are we supposed to make a decision on what to do after this really unfortunate loss of history if we can’t even get a straight story on what’s being proposed?” Robinson said.
“There’s obviously been a massive screwup,” Sibley said. “There should not have been a building permit issued.”
“We can just let the barn stay the way it is,” Ahearn said.
The entire Mill House project was halted amid controversy that the rest of the house was demolished prematurely.
Ahearn said his client, Lise Revers, is eager to move forward with construction, and he was having trouble explaining to her that she still couldn’t begin. He also mentioned that the mill is still standing up on jacks.
“She had nothing to do with the demolition. From her point of view, this has been a very painful and difficult experience, and expensive experience,” Ahearn said.
“Do you want to keep yelling, do you want to keep doing this?” Turner told Ahearn. “It’s on the property. Once it’s a DRI, it’s a DRI — the whole property is.”
Commissioners took issue with the proposed design of the new structure. “I don’t think I’m yet comfortable with the idea that the historic structure is being replaced by something similar, and not identical to what was demolished,” Malkin said.
Barnes said he was satisfied to get something that was close to what was there, adding Ahearn and builder Peter Rosbeck felt bad enough. “I’m not interested in listening to more fiddling around with that thing. Let’s just get the place built,” Barnes said.
Commissioners voted 4-2. Malkin and commissioner Rob Doyle voted no, and Joyce and commissioner Kathy Newman abstained.
The project now heads to the full commission Thursday night for deliberation and decision.
Updated to include Edgartown subdivision postponement. — Ed.
Very happy to see the MVC LUPC vote “NO”. This is great news. Tell the developers to go off-Island and off-Cape with this energy-sucking, nature-destroying suburban cul-de-sac. I do not agree with this statement: “What happens by not allowing some of these subdivisions to be created is you drive up the cost of everything that is here.”. This is opinion, not fact.
Hats off to the real visionaries. Well done, LUPC.
Happy with the commission’s vote. A bit concerned about Mr. Joyce’s position on the matter.
I couldn’t agree with Mr. Joyce more! The article related to south mountain expansion pens that they wish to increase the size of the property from 18 to 24 employees, but if you look at their current website in the team section they have 35 employee bios. Do you think that them or a company like rosbeck are committed to conservation or stand in contrast to the “urbanization” of the vineyard, give me a break. A company on this island with that many employess is doing some serious business. This new project is a soft target, a large scale sub-division, all while small capes are being demoed in Edgartown and being replaced with gaudy monstrosities while no one makes a peep. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a huge fan of the new project, but at the same time let’s not sit here and call the the developers of this project evil while ignoring the wolves in sheep’s clothing with in our own communtity
I agree with your assessment regarding South Mountain and some of the other entrenched builders on the island and the continued march toward urbanization. At some point, we as a community, have to say ‘NO’ to some of these projects, irrespective of the economic benefits for selected landowners, builders, and local businesses. I would fully support the Land Bank’s purchase of this site!
As for Mr. Joyce, I was expecting him to abstain from the vote.
So the MVC and Island wants landowners to pay full assessed values but can’t build on their land? There are Supreme Court decisions on this, namely an unjust land taking. Unless we buy people’s land at fair market value you can’t prevent building!
Perhaps there is a way around this issue. I’d submit that all that oppose this development sell their property to the land bank for conservation. When their house was built somebody on the island was not happy with the development of the land. Each of these MVC commissioners live in houses that had a negative impact on the environment. Let’s encourage them to restore their properties to their natural state and move away.
This MVC commission made a big mistake. Its quite apparent they are trying to ‘flex their muscles’, but in the end, the developer will prevail with something, and you can bet they will now want the maximum return on their investment, which means maximum density per the current zoning. Do you really think someone is going to pay 6.6 million for a piece of dirt, and leave it ‘natural’ for the butterflies and to keep the homeowners jammed in 1/2 acre lots of Island Grove happy? (they got theirs so now this developer cant have his) OR the BS about ‘we dont need seasonal houses’. Really? Did you just get off the turnip truck? What do you think greases the wheels of the economy here. Are you going to scratch a few buckets of qhauhogs to feed your family? Go stick a swordfish? Give me a break. Talk about killing the golden goose. The people willing to come here and grossly overpay for mediocre goods and service keep the island economy going. Lets hope the MVC disregards this committees FOOLISH recommendation and approves whats been proposed. At a minimum, I’d expect the developer to come back with 108 houses, just like the 1/2 acre island grove next door…or worse… a high density trailer park… hey…this committee doesn’t ‘see the need’ for seasonal homes? How about 500 double wide trailers.. happy now?? You’ll have to put additions on every school to accomodate the offspring of the new residents… Don’t say i didn’t warn you. Look up 40b housing…
This development helps seniors and low income folks as well as providing increased tax revenue for the town. With 28 homes plus 10 townhouses for seniors and entry level buyers on 54 acre site the property is not over built by any means. 30 acres of the property will be never touched and forever green space. The developers are providing over $1 million in cash along with other deed restrictions to help low income families. Just stating a project is to big when it meets all guidelines is wrong. Zoning in the area allows for 100 homes as it is half acre zoning. The people who lose here are the seniors and low income. The debate over stopping growth here has been going on for 40 years. It is not a new feeling on MV “that I have my place so pull up the drawbridge and stop development”. All of us live in a home built by a developer at some point. Yes the island has changed but the magic is still there and this project will not change that. In fact it will help 10 needy families.
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