Robinson grilled for MVC slot

State officials brief selectmen on designated port area process.

Ben Robinson and Jeff Kristal spar over PVC at a selectmen's meeting Wednesday. — Rich Saltzberg

During a special meeting held at the Tisbury Senior Center, planning board member Ben Robinson came before Tisbury selectmen Wednesday for reappointment to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Robinson’s reappointment process evolved into a mini-tribunal on PVC and Tisbury’s voice on the MVC. 

“I don’t have an issue with reappointing Ben tonight,” selectman Jeff Kristal said. “I do have an issue with the broader way that we treat our appointees. I don’t think we tell them what we expect of them. And I’m not saying just you …”

“I do have some issues after reviewing some of the minutes over the last year-plus [at] the MVC,” Kristal continued; “we have a stretch code in Tisbury which is one of the most stringent codes on the Island. Yet you’re there going beyond the stretch code.”

Kristal went on to say he was referring to efforts to curb PVC and plastics in relation to the Mill House and the Westman/Van Ejik project

“I think we need to as a board say, Look, we’re OK going to the stretch code,” he said. “We shouldn’t be pushing another agenda, unless it’s our agenda as a board.”

Kristal accused Robinson of pushing PVC restrictions in conversations with fellow MVC member Linda Sibley. Kristal alleged Sibley said the Vineyard’s fire chiefs back the idea of no exterior PVC on buildings. 

“I’ve checked. There’s been no discussion at any of the fire chief meetings concerning outdoor PVC,” Kristal said. “How can the MVC … enforce something that we don’t have on our books?”

Robinson said such subjects were voted on by the entire commission. “The other piece of this is that this is a position that is written into state law,” Robinson said. “It’s not a town position.” 

Robinson said “there was a bit of a firewall” between the MVC and Tisbury, and MVC planning is not always necessarily concordant with Tisbury planning.

Robinson further said that “as the town’s appointee” he did have some inclusive planning responsibilities between the MVC and Tisbury, but he made it clear that did not extend into DRI (development of regional impact) strictures or determinations, which were the purview of the commission as a whole. 

Kristal said none of the other Vineyard towns are subject to the building conditions from the MVC that Tisbury is, specifically “no PVC.”

“We’ve done that to two houses here … why would anybody want to come to Tisbury and invest in a 125-year-old house and hear what they can’t do … I mean I just think it’s a little stringent, to be honest. I’m sorry but if we’re appointing you, I should feel comfortable that you are carrying our mandate forward …”

Kristal went on to say the selectmen don’t have a history of bringing in the MVC appointee for inquiry from time to time, and that may need to change. 

“[W]hat Jeff’s point is,” selectman Jim Rogers said, “[is] that if someone is actually sitting there talking for the board of selectmen for the town of Tisbury, regardless of who the board is, that person, if they’re going to make policy decisions, whoever that person is, should make sure that policy is consistent with the policy of the board.”

“The no-PVC thing is not specific to Tisbury,” Robinson said. “This is something I would put on every DRI going forward. It’s really a horrible product, and the reason I narrowly focus on exterior trim is it’s the easiest one to replace at equal cost. So it’s not an extra burden on anybody, it’s actually a benefit. From cradle to grave, PVC is really a horrible product.” 

Robinson and the selectmen deliberated further and ultimately a unanimous vote was taken to reappoint Robinson to the MVC.

Robinson came under a political magnifying glass in October and November when he was accused of not being a resident of Tisbury. The Tisbury board of registrars convened three times on the matter. Ultimately, the accusation fizzled when at a hearing on Nov.15 when Robinson’s accuser, Mark Alexander, retracted his complaint. The issue of Robinson’s residency did not emerge at the Wednesday selectmen’s meeting, however.


Designated port primer

The board also got an introduction to what a designated port area (DPA) from Coastal Zone Management (CMZ) officials. The subject came to light after Ralph Packer, president of R.M. Packer Co. and Tisbury Towing and Transportation, made a bid to create a DPA as part of a joint effort with Vineyard Power, to transform some of Packer’s Beach Road waterfront property into an offshore wind hub. Packer and Vineyard Power’s Richard Andre both have argued creating a DPA would streamline the property transformation, and usher in 21st century jobs

CMZ staffer Lisa Engler told the board that while DPAs can vary in size, none has ever been isolated to one owner. They are usually composed of multiple owners, to form a zone for the purpose of designating shorefront for industrial use: “Developed waterfront [and] backland space that is conducive physically and in use character to generally industrial uses,” she said specifically. 

She described the DPA process as a cooperative venture that required strong support from the host community.

Much of what governs the process, she said, is Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection regulation — prominently Chapter 91 waterways regulations. 

DPA must have a connection to a roadway so goods can be transported from the water across land, she said. They may not contain residences or hospitals, she noted. 

DPA guidelines have recently been updated to include offshore wind energy infrastructure as permissible, she noted. 

“The biggest advantage to a DPA is it preserves a given area as a working waterfront?” Rogers asked. “That’s the biggest advantage?”

“That is an advantage,” Engler said. “I don’t want to make a specific value statement. That is the purpose of the program, is to protect these areas of our waterfront …”

The board took the state’s briefing under advisement.