Planners discuss relationship with commission

All-Island board suggests better communication between local boards and MVC over DRI triggers.

Planning board members discuss their relationship with the Martha's Vineyard Commission, and suggest upping communication efforts between the boards and the commission. — Lucas Thors

All-Island Planning Board members noted a significant lack of communication between the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) and town planning boards at a meeting at the West Tisbury library Tuesday evening. 

Multiple board members stated that the draft version of the MVC development of regional impact (DRI) checklist is more restrictive, and exemplifies the disconnect between local planning boards and the commission. The checklist is what triggers a project being sent to the commission for mandatory review.

Edgartown planning board chair Fred Mascolo said the commission is a very powerful entity because it has the right to change law on-Island. He also said it is a useful tool that helps the Island, but the overarching power of the MVC may “usurp” governing bodies at the local level.

“My fear is that our planning boards just become referral boards,” Mascolo said. “Many of the things we make decisions on, I feel, should stay within our towns, because we are separate and distinct.”

Adam Turner, executive director of the commission, could not be immediately reached for comment on the concerns raised by planners.

Tisbury planning board chair Dan Seidman said he doesn’t think lowering the number of parcels that land can be divided into without mandatory referral and review by the MVC is a good idea. “I want to understand why the MVC wants to reduce the number of units from 10 to 5,” Seidman said.

He mentioned a recent division of land at Greenwood Avenue that was covered under a Tisbury bylaw allowing multifamily housing by special permit. 

“Special permit is a privilege, not a right. But the process did not have to go to the commission for review,” Seidman said. “These are three duplexes on Greenwood; I don’t think that qualifies as a regional impact.”

But Tisbury representative for the MVC and member of the Tisbury planning board Ben Robinson said some of the threshold drop has to do with concurrence, not a mandatory statute.

“Now, Tisbury has a special permit process that would probably not be heard at an MVC level,” Robinson said. “Anything with concurrence, the MVC might say, ‘We don’t want to deal with this; the town can handle this because they have the applicable bylaws in place.’”

Robinson said that if the towns want more control, they should work within their bylaws to develop those controls that will “satisfy the greater regional needs of the Island.”

Oak Bluffs planning board chair Ewell Hopkins said referring a project to the commission should not be an attempt to “delay or kill” a project, but instead should be a method of making a project more comprehensive.

“We are concerned that this DRI checklist demonstrates the fact that commissioners and elected planning board members are not working together to create a consistent and streamlined process for applicants,” Hopkins said. 

He asked what it is that towns can do locally to ease some of the MVC’s concerns surrounding regional impacts, and alleviate the need for heightened scrutiny.

Hopkins said he wants the DRI process to benefit all projects that are funneled through it, instead of being an encumbrance. “Right now, that’s not the perception — there is no respect for the process,” Hopkins said.

Robinson agreed with Hopkins, saying the relationship between local government and the commission has been fractured. He said in order for all parties to communicate effectively, they must make the extra effort to advocate for themselves and be properly informed.

“It’s rare we get people from local planning boards coming in to speak to some of these larger issues at MVC hearings,” Robinson said. “It helps the commissioners to have a sense of what the town wants — it’s a two-way street.”

And since it is a bidirectional issue, Hopkins said, he would like to see directives from the commission saying if a commissioner is elected from a certain town, there is an expectation they attend local planning board meetings frequently.

“Let’s work together to demystify the DRI process, demystify the whole thing,” Hopkins said.