MVC finalizes DRI checklist changes

Commissioners make affordable housing exemption to subdivision update.

The MVC will vote to implement changes to its DRI checklist at its next meeting. — screenshot

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission finalized a sweeping set of proposed changes to its development of regional impact (DRI) checklist Thursday night, and plan to vote in the changes at their next meeting.

In August, commissioners saw pushback from the public, local planning boards, and other stakeholders over the proposed changes, saying some of the changes were an overreach by the commission. Every two years the commission reviews its DRI checklist. This year, two of the major changes the committee is proposing are to the division of land and residential housing sections.

For divisions or subdivisions, the review threshold would be changed from 10 lots to five lots for nonrural areas, and six lots to three lots in rural areas. The change was proposed by the DRI checklist committee to recognize impactful developments on smaller acreage, particularly in regard to wastewater and housing.

In response to requests from the Island Housing Trust, commissioners added an exemption for affordable and community housing, provided that parcels are in compliance with the commission’s water quality policy. “The feeling was with the areas of development in the Island sort of shrinking in a lot of events, that smaller developments are going to have a potentially larger impact on the Island in those areas, especially in water quality, and energy, and affordable and community housing,” commissioner Fred Hancock said.

Island Housing Trust (IHT) executive director Philippe Jordi sent a letter to the commission in August. While appreciative of the exemption to affordable and community housing, IHT still had concerns.

IHT asked the MVC to consider exempting affordable and community housing for any development of nine or fewer dwelling units, as currently required. It also asked to exempt affordable and community housing from the MVC water quality policy, provided that the project uses state DEP–approved enhanced denitrification septic system technology, or is connected to town sewer as certified by the board of health or wastewater department in the project’s town.

“We’re going to need to explore this further with the MVC in terms of how we can actually comply with their policy,” Jordi said in a conversation with The Times on Friday. “It’s a work in progress.

Commissioners approved the subdivision threshold reduction with the affordable housing exemption and compliance with water quality policy by a vote of 14-2, with commissioners Josh Goldstein and James Joyce voting against.

Goldstein said that while the commission has the ability to update its DRI checklist biannually, it doesn’t mean it has to. “I don’t know if now is the time to change the rules of the game,” Goldstein said.

Joyce said that the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs planning boards both expressed opposition to the change. “When a lot of this was established, the local boards weren’t as well equipped to handle all this, and they are now,” Joyce said. “I don’t know if there’s necessarily a need to change it.”

Commissioner Ben Robinson disagreed. As a Tisbury planning board member, Robinson said the board operates under rules that were minimally revised in 1987, and don’t have many abilities to deal with affordable housing.

Goldstein also made a motion not to change the checklist item that requires the commission to review changes to parking areas, excluding parking lots, with spaces for 10 or more vehicles. Commissioners instead approved a change that gives the commission oversight on parking areas that are increased by 10 or more spaces, or 30 percent of the current parking, whichever is greater.

Commissioners agreed to include several other changes to the checklist: Review would be required for any commercial, storage, office, or industrial mixed-use development 5,500 square feet or less that has more than a 1,400-square-foot residential portion — a change from the current 2,000-square-foot residential portion. The proposed checklist removes the 4,500-square-foot threshold for town area development plans, and instead has towns suggest their threshold as part of an area development plan. The committee proposes to change language under transportation that would allow the commission to review construction, expansion, or alteration of “principal roads.”

Under natural and cultural resources, the committee added triggers for DRI review if there is alteration of any significant historic exterior detail or relocation of a historic structure.The committee also changed its trigger cutoff to structures 100 years or older. Also with the threat of climate change and increased development, the committee intends to review any development that proposes the alteration of more than one acre of significant habitat, a change from the current two-acre threshold.

The proposed checklist also eliminates a land division trigger for parcels of 10 acres or more, since the number of parcels triggering DRI review was reduced; requires parcels created by approval not required (ANR) within the past five years to be counted in the threshold number count; adds a minor change to allow incidental use by other Island residents of municipal buildings to not trigger review.

The committee would also review ground-mounted solar arrays with a footprint of 25,000 square feet, which the committee writes is to enable review to mitigate potential visual impacts. This is a reduction from the current 50,000-square-foot threshold.

With the final draft of the updated checklist set, commissioners will likely take a final vote to implement the changes at their next meeting.

In other business, the Meeting House Place decision was formally recorded with the Edgartown town clerk on Wednesday, giving the applicants a 20-business-day period to appeal the decision.

Commissioners denied the project in July after more than a year of public hearings, and multiple redesigns.