MVC says no to Meeting House Place

Commissioners site suburbanization, environment, and character as issues.

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A rendering of the affordable townhouses proposed for Meeting House Place. — Courtesy MVC

Updated August 5

In a landmark decision, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission denied the expansive Meeting House Place project in a 10-4 vote at their meeting Thursday night.

Commissioner Fred Hancock said he had a hard time seeing the development as “essential.”

“What we’re looking at is a development for millionaires,” Hancock said. “I don’t think we want to mortgage the patrimony of our Island. It is not essential nor appropriate.”

The project first came in front of the commission in February 2019, but has undergone several redesigns. It proposed to develop a 54-acre parcel of land off Meetinghouse Way, calling for 30 acres as open space, and to develop the other 20-odd acres with 28 single-family homes, restricted to a maximum of 3,800 square feet, and a cluster of 14 below-market-rate townhouses.

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. Their listed address is in Salt Lake City, Utah. The developers have been represented by attorney Sean Murphy and engineer Douglas Hoehn.

The project came with a laundry list of offers which included a cluster of townhouses that were to be dedicated to first-time homebuyers and empty nesters — elderly people who have lived on the Island for 15-plus years but are looking to downsize. Of those townhouses, 10 would be two-bedroom units priced at $387,000, and four one-bedroom units priced at $359,000. The sale price on the townhouses would have been fixed for one year, after which a 3.5 percent increase would be applied annually. 

The townhomes would have had a resale price capped at 4 percent per year or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher. The seller could recover the full cost of capital improvement costs.

The townhouses were not part of the project’s required affordable housing contribution. Instead, the developers proposed a flat $1.1 million contribution, in addition to a 1 percent fee paid to the Edgartown affordable housing committee on any future sale of the development’s homes. The homes would be powered by Smartflower, a self-cleaning solar array.

On Monday, the commission’s Land Use Planning Committee foreshadowed Thursday’s decision when they took a nonbinding straw poll, denying the project 9-2.

Commissioners voiced their opposition to the project during their deliberations. Commissioner Joan Malkin agreed, and said there was an essential need for year-round residences.

“I don’t think there is any need for the kind of housing that is proposed,” Malkin said. “We don’t have any need for this idea for seasonal housing. We have a need for year-round housing.”

“It does seem the developer is ready to put down a very large investment to provide some answers to our problems,” commissioner Michael Kim said. “It just seems like maybe the Red Sox payroll. For that amount of money, we deserve better pitching.”

Not all commissioners opposed the project.

Commissioner Clarence (“Trip”) Barnes focused on the economy of the Island. He felt that if the project was approved it would create jobs in construction, moving, and landscape industries — all essential to the Island.

“We’ve got to be a practical organization,” he said. He later added, “Nobody’s talking about a boon to the economy.”

Commissioner James Joyce also supported the project, calling the development appropriate for the location, and saying there would be lots of oversight over it, unlike Island Grove, another development, next door. “This applicant has met every single guideline we’ve thrown at them,” Joyce said.

Commissioner Richard Toole, who was one of the votes to approve the project, said he was fearful this decision might hurt the commission in the future.

“The plan before us is a fair compromise,” Toole said. “I fear for the continued existence of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission if we overreach and continue to up the ante. Are we saying no new, creative development, while blindly watching existing buildable lots built upon and/or expanded upon, affordable only to the wealthy?”

Commissioners did praise some aspects of the project for its environmental considerations, such as minimizing the nitrogen impact and preserving 30 acres of land, but noted paving the road, the increased sewer capacity, use of fossil fuels, and effects on a rare moth habitat and other flora and fauna.

Several commissioners balked at the affordable housing contribution. “A trust fund baby could be a first-time homebuyer … There’s something very ingenious about the concept,” commissioner Linda Sibley said of the townhouses. “But it doesn’t seem to meet the community’s needs.”

Malkin also said that the affordable housing contribution was actually a benefit because the $1 million offer was more than the MVC affordable housing requirement.

Commissioner Josh Goldstein said the commission would be setting a precedent based on its decision, and that if affordable housing was what the commission wants, they should be upfront about that.

“We have very rarely actually said no to someone, and I’m certainly not enamored of the idea of saying no,” Sibley added. “We’ve certainly given this developer plenty of feedback that might have led to some changes, and haven’t.” 

The final 10-4 vote to deny the project had Toole, Joyce, Barnes, and Goldstein dissenting.

The applicant can appeal the decision to the Superior Court. There is a 20-business-day appeal period on all MVC decisions, for approval or denial. The appeal period opens once the applicant has received the recorded decision. The commission still needs to hold a meeting with a written decision for the project. That meeting has not yet been set.

Project agent Doug Hoehn told The Times he does not know what the applicants are planning, but did say they are awaiting the final written decision.

In other business, commissioners closed out the public hearing on Patient Centric in West Tisbury.

Patient Centric is seeking to operate a recreational marijuana facility. The facility will be co-located with Patient Centric’s West Tisbury medical dispensary, at 510 State Road. 

Members of the public and some commissioners have expressed hesitancy. Traffic has been a major concern for the project.

Constance Goodwin took issue with the project and how it would affect the surrounding area. “Is the focus here on profit and not purpose?” Goodwin said. She urged the commission to keep the area semirural, rather than allow a strip mall-type feel.

The project now heads to a post-public hearing at the LUPC, before going back to the full commission for deliberation and decision.

Commissioners also gave final written approval to the Boys and Girls Club subdivision.

 

Updated with information on appeal process. — Ed.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Hancock commented “What we’re looking at is a development for millionaires,” Hancock said. “I don’t think we want to mortgage the patrimony of our Island. It is not essential nor appropriate.” He lives in a $1.2 million home in OB. Time for some new blood on the MVC.

  2. “The plan before us is a fair compromise,” Toole said. “I fear for the continued existence of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission if we overreach and continue to up the ante. Are we saying no new, creative development while blindly watching existing buildable lots built upon and or expanded upon affordable only to the wealthy?” Truly, homes selling for very fair and affordable prices. Some contractors on Martha’s Vineyard will not take a project if it is under 1,000 p.s.f.. This was indeed a fair plan. Mr. Toole fears for the future existence of the Commission – a legitimate concern and indeed perhaps given its present composition and overall performance perhaps it is time to terminate it and begin again. It is sorely lacking in most respects that really matter.

  3. Thank you courageous Commissioners who, despite the intense pressure from the commerce community, voted for the halt to further suburbanization of MV. We need protection now. Many developers made a lot of money creating lots and building houses over the last several decades. It is now time to protect what’s left of this Island. There are many individual homes being built and the early morning ferries prove that hundreds of workers come over because we don’t have any where near labor needed to handle all the work. Don’t worry about losing jobs etc. Thank you MVC for upholding your mandate to protect our Island.

    • Here is where Island Native’s theory is flawed. You probably live here and are benefiting from the Island in some way, yet every person who lives here contributes to it’s pollution in some way. Carbon from your car, waste in products, etc. Now look at a land owner who has never lived here, never polluted here, paid taxes here for 50 years that you benefit from, and now he wants to build on their land. But they can’t. So we punish someone who has paid 50 years of taxes, and never polluted anything here?

    • Actually, a good number of tradesman coming over on early morning ferries are not coming because we don’t have the workforce here. I good number of them used to live here, but have been priced out of living on island.

  4. The entire MVC review process is flawed. Without any real guidelines, the applicant is completely lost. I fear an expensive lawsuit now, and if this makes it to a federal court, I suspect a federal Judge will rule these quasi land reform commissions without any uniform guidelines as a pure land taking. Meanwhile the Hob Knob inn project is sailing the MVC through without notice, when that has a major impact. It’s always who you are, not what you do.

  5. The Commissioners followed the proper guidelines as spelled out in the Island Plan which is finally being taken seriously. So many projects have been passed through the years and finally something has been turned down with plenty of good cause. I’m sure the neighbors of the Hob Knob are ramping up for a battle just as did the folks who fought Meeting House “Place”. Definitely Hallelujah!!

  6. The MVC has outlived its usefulness. That was clearly demonstrated when they denied the gas station years ago in VH, and decided to flex their muscle on this well thought out project. I can’t imagine the property owner who spent $6+ is going to just walk away allowing the moths and butterflies to enjoy it. Allowing this to move into the court system could be a rude awakening for those who failed to agree to a compromise. A court could very well see things a LOT differently than the MVC. Don’t be popping those champagne corks and high-fiving so quickly. I doubt its over.

  7. I really dont get all the anguish over this. We dont have the wastewater treatment to handle this. I dont know why the wastewater treatment plant has been restricting pumpouts to emergencies. I dont get it unless we have a problem. Take care of our wastewater situation before building anymore projects.

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