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.